After their successes at Estoril and Spa Francorchamps in the International GT Open, the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 was forced to run with a power reduction in the third round at the Paul Ricard circuit over the weekend.
“It’s a power reduction on the boost control, which probably lost us about 1.2 seconds a lap. It was also applied to the Garage 59 works McLarens too, but it’s got to be reviewed again,” Ancaster’s Shaun Balfe explained.
Team-mate Rob Bell was out in the first qualifying session and finished fourth overall and second in the Pro Am class. “It was a case of looking after the tyres really as it was hot for the whole weekend,” Balfe added.
From the start of Saturday’s race, Bell was into second place. Mikkel Mac’s Ferrari got by on lap four and Bell had Giovanni Venturini’s Lamborghini closing too, until all four began to close up.
“Mac had started to catch Augusto Farfus in the lead BMW, which was dumping oil,” Balfe said.
Mac became the new leader for a while but was one of many caught out on the oil. Bell maximised the opportunity and was in second place when he too was caught out.
Balfe jumped in for the second stint and was almost immediately jumped by Vito Postiglione’s Lamborghini and Mario Cioci’s Ferrari, before settling in ninth place and fourth best Pro Am.
“I lost those early places and then managed to hold station. The track temperature was very high and we suffered a bit from lack of grip. The early leading BMW was on fire in the pitlane and others had fires too, so we were pleased to still be in the points. Without our power reduction and the pitstop success penalty, we maybe would have been fifth or sixth,” said the Grantham driver.
It was Balfe’s turn to qualify for race two on Sunday morning. “It was a one shot session for me, due to our tyre usage. I was only two seconds off Rob’s time but 20th overall, which still made me one of the top Bronze level drivers,” he said.
Balfe started the race and was immediately embroiled in a race-long duel with Valentin Pierburg’s Mercedes. They exchanged places twice on the first two laps, before Balfe headed the fight from lap seven, in 18th overall.
As the pitstop window opened, he was first to stop with Bell back in the car to take it to the finish. A steady climb over the next few laps brought him back to 13th before taking Mikael Grenier’s Lamborghini for 12th.
“It was another tough weekend for us, but we salvaged points and managed to consolidate with the penalties we were given; so we are still in with a shout for the title,” Balfe concluded after taking fifth in the Pro Am class.
The championship now moves on to the Hungaroring on July 2/3, before visiting Silverstone for the UK round.
The Balfe Motorsport team are still second in the Pro Am class and seventh overall.