Markus Palttala and Lucas Ordonez will make their Bentley Team M-Sport debuts at the California 8 Hours next weekend (March 28-30) as part of the squad’s new-look driver line-up.
Long-time partners Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril contested the season-opening Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli round together at Bathurst in February. However, the latter’s subsequent departure has offered Bentley an ideal opportunity to prepare two of its new drivers for the Total 24 Hours of Spa where M-Sport is expanding to four cars.
Indeed, it was at the same Belgian event in 2015 that Palttala scored his greatest success by claiming victory with BMW. The Finn has remained a constant presence in GT racing since the early 2000s but makes his California 8 Hours debut this season.
Fellow debutant, Ordonez, originally found fame as the very first Nissan GT Academy winner in 2008 before successfully moving across to NISMO’s factory GT3 roster where he remained until the programme concluded late last year.
“Racing for a legendary brand such as Bentley is undoubtedly a privilege, even more so in its Centenary year,” said the Spaniard. “Making my debut at Laguna Seca, a circuit that is steeped in so much history, will just make this experience even more exciting, and I am looking forward to working with the fantastic Bentley team and my fellow drivers to try to deliver the best result.”
The new recruits join experienced Bentley Boy Soulet, while the team’s second factory Continental GT3 is again crewed by Jules Gounon, Steven Kane and Jordan Pepper. All four competed with Bentley at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in October when the historic circuit hosted 2018’s #IntGTC season finale.
Soucek is set to return alongside Soulet at Spa where Palttala and Ordonez will be joined by Alex Buncombe.
But, before that, there’s the ‘small’ matter of the California 8 Hours. Bentley arrives there third in the standings after both #107 and #108 finished inside the points at Bathurst. However, its Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, is setting his sights much higher than that next weekend.
“Last year’s campaign was largely developmental, but now it is time to really step up our game,” he said. “Success is an expectation rather than hope, so we want to be fighting for wins at every round.
“I am confident that both Lucas and Markus will settle into the challenge ahead. Giving each of our drivers solid race time behind the wheel is essential, and Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to start that process. At the same time, we’re looking forward to engaging with our US Bentley fanbase and showing them up-close the performance that this latest generation GT3 is already becoming known for.”
Bentley are joined in California by fellow full-season manufacturers Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes-AMG, Nissan and Porsche. The event begins with paid practice next Wednesday before the first official track action takes place on Thursday 28 March. Qualifying and the race itself follow over the subsequent two days.