Ulster pair lose out in hectic Euro finish
There was a heartbreaking finish for both Andrew Watson and Steven Kane in the 1000 kms Blancpain European GT3 round at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.
The two Ulster drivers had victory denied in the closing minutes, Kane's Bentley team coming within just the final four corners of winning after six hours of racing, five of which had been led by Watson's Garage 59 McLaren.
Watson had been the quickest driver throughout practice and was only denied pole position by the Aston Martin of Matthieu Vaxiviere, Jake Dennis and Nicki Thiim which shaded the McLaren by two-10ths of a second.
But Watson sprinted into the lead during the opening stint of the race and team-mates Ben Barnicota and Come Ledogar carried on his good work, building an advantage of 12 seconds.
But in the final hour it all began to unravel when they were handed a drive-through penalty for a pitstop infringement, dropping them back to third.
The Bentley team of Kane, Jordan Pepper and Jules Gounon, who had started back in 18th place, were climbing through the field, the Ballynahinch driver leading the charge and taking them up second.
For a time in was an Ulster one-two with Watson leading Kane. But it all kicked off in the final hour. The Ferrari of Mikhail Aleshin, Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon surged past the McLaren and the Bentley to take the lead before Ledogar was forced to take his drive-through penalty.
But then the Ferrari suffered suspension damage in the final 15 minutes, promoting the Bentley into the lead. Chasing hard, however, was the Lexus of Marco Seefried, Christian Klien and Albert Costa and in the dash to the line the Bentley's bonnet came loose, distracting Ledogar enough to allow Costa to steal the victory.
Despite the disappointment Watson and Kane were upbeat at the finish, pointing out that both teams had struggled through the first two rounds of the series but were back on the pace and back on the podium.
"It definitely could of been a win after leading five of six hours," said Watson. "We got a penalty for a tiny pit stop infringement which is frustrating."
Meanwhile, four times British champion Keith Cronin dominated the Circuit of Munster Rally, finishing more than one-and-a-half minutes ahead of his younger brother Daniel.
Keith was using the event to bed in a new R5 Hyundai i20 ahead of the Ypres Rally in Belgium later this month, and set fastest times on every stage to see off the challenge of his brother's R5 Ford Fiesta and the WRC Subaru S14 of Ed Synan.