M-Sport’s Bentley Continental GT3 secured a long-awaited win last weekend – converting pole position into victory on the third round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 kms.

The win was Bentley Team M-Sport’s first in exactly two years, and also marked a return to unfinished business for Jules Gounon, Steven Kane and Jordan Pepper.

The trio came within a lap of conquering the race this time last year, before being cruelly denied when a bonnet pin came loose and hampered Gounon’s vision through the closing kilometres.

Determined to take the win this year, they qualified on pole and drove faultlessly to the chequered flag – Gounon once again on board for the final stint to this time seal M-Sport’s triumph.

Though it came from pole position, the Cumbrian squad had to work extremely hard to earn their place on the top step of the podium.

Pepper was passed off the start line, but the South African fought back between two safety car periods to hand over to Kane in the lead.

The British driver also faced stiff opposition and was overtaken before the team strategists made clever use of a safety car – stopping for fuel and fresh tyres which allowed him to return to the front of the field.

The Bentley Continental remained at the head of the pack as the four-hour mark approached, and this meant that Gounon only needed to bring the car home over the final two hours.

It wouldn’t be easy – a slow stop dropping him to second place a full eight seconds adrift of the lead – but the Frenchman immediately showed his pace.

He was taking significant chunks of time out of lead, but ultimately did not need to make an overtake as his rival was hit with a drive-through for an earlier pit stop infringement.

That gave Gounon a 14 second advantage, and he showed impressive maturity to maintain his lead over the closing laps – resisting the temptation to over-work the car while still pulling away.

When his final pit stop ran without major incident, Gounon was on his way to victory and extended his advantage over the concluding hour – eventually claiming the win by an impressive margin of 37 seconds.

“This win tastes extra sweet as it really has been a long time coming,” said M-Sport’s race team manager Matthew Wilson. “The whole team have worked so hard and all three drivers delivered a strong performance. It really was a thoroughly deserved victory for everyone.

“This track also holds a lot of good memories for us – and in six races, we have taken three wins and two second places! After missing the top spot so narrowly last year, we all wanted to come here and put that right. And that’s exactly what we did.

“We came here to win the race, but we also came to prepare for the 24 Hours of Spa and I think we have done that.

“There’s still some work to do so we can’t rest on our laurels, but we’re pleased with our performance and looking forward to the big one – the one that everyone wants to win!”

The one everyone wants to win is the fourth round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup – the 24 Hours of Spa – which takes place on the 26-28th July.

Also in action at Paul Ricard last weekend was Carlisle’s Alex MacDowall and Penrith-born teenager Frank Bird – MacDowall taking a season-best seventh place in the Silver Cup class while Bird also secured a point-scoring finish in the Formula Renault Eurocup Championship.

Making his first appearance in the annual six-hour race, MacDowall and team-mates Paul Petit and Shae Davies combined to deliver a strong performance for Belgian Audi Club Team.

Qualifying sixth fastest in the Silver Cup class, the trio ended a drama-filled contest in seventh place after running as high as third during the Carlisle driver’s opening two-hour stint.

“The pace we had in the race was quite surprising,” reflected MacDowall.