When Shane van Gisbergen was confirmed for a second season in the Blancpain Endurance Cup, it came with the slight caveat that he would not be able to do all five rounds. After making the switch over the winter from Tekno Autosport to the V8 Supercar’s gold standard team – Roland Dane’s Red Bull Racing Australia (nee Triple 8) – van Gisbergen was given permission to continue his European odyssey with McLaren GT, but will have to miss the Blancpain finale at the Nürburgring due to a clashing V8 meeting at Sandown.
McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente is the most obvious choice to replace the Kiwi, but his commitments with K-PAX Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge at Sonoma that weekend would appear to preclude him too. But before Garage 59 go and place an ad in the Woking News and Mail, the solution to their problem could well be staring them in the face.
Although the last few seasons of Duncan Tappy’s career have had more than their fair share of ups and downs, the 31-year-old’s raw speed has never been in question and a victory for Garage 59 in the International GT Open at Estoril, alongside newcomer Michael Benham, may have come just at the right time to bump his name a few places up on Andrew Kirkaldy’s list. It followed a strong drive from fourth to the lead in the first race, before losing time in the pits and dropping to sixth.
— Duncan Tappy (@duncantappy) April 24, 2016
“Andrew was there and very heavily involved as he always is,” said Tappy. “I’d like to think that he was really happy but he wasn’t actually there to witness the win – he left hallway through the race to catch a flight, but he ended up not getting the flight and came back to the track to see that we had won. At least he had a smile on his face anyway!”
It was Tappy’s impressive performances at the wheel of an ART McLaren in 2012 and strong track record in developing the 650 and P1 road cars that earned him the chance to join Bentley as a factory driver ahead of their first season in 2014. At a shootout held in Portimao, M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson offered him the drive by lunchtime and at the first race of the year in Monza, the no. 8 car he shared with Antoine Leclerc and ex-F1 driver Jerome d’Ambrosio finished 7th, ahead of the the sister no. 7 car of Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Andy Meyrick. The result was all the more notable considering their limited testing, having only finalised the line-up at the end of March.
But after that promising start, almost everything that could have gone wrong, did. While the 7 car won twice and finished second in points, the 8 car didn’t manage another top ten and at season’s end, Bentley took the decision to start from a clean sheet and change all three drivers for 2015.
“The guys in car 7 were quite clearly bonding very well, they were mates and they were getting results from working as a team and I think the guys from M-Sport and Bentley didn’t really see that with us,” said Tappy. “Sure enough at the end of the season the decision came that they were going to change us all, which was quite a tough one for me to take. I was there as a factory driver, it was a dream come true for me and then it wasn’t. It felt like it was all over before it had started.”
But as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining and Tappy was given his shot at redemption in the GT Asia Series. He didn’t let anybody down, taking victory in the final round at Burinam alongside a guesting Benny Simonsen to help Bentley Team Absolute to wrap up the team’s championship.
— Duncan Tappy (@duncantappy) November 24, 2015
“Brian and the guys from M-Sport were really good to me, and when Absolute asked them which of their guys they could use in GT Asia, they put me forward for it,” he said. “That was really good for me because I got a real chance to prove myself against their current factory drivers and show that the reason why they put me in the car in the first place was because of my pace and the job I could do.
“The championship is awesome and with the market the way it is, it’s surely only going to get bigger. I loved being out there and I always looked forward to those 12-14 hour flights because everyone was so friendly, they really look after you out there. I was hoping it was going to carry on for me in Asia this year, but unfortunately Absolute had to go for people with budget.”
If Tappy’s loosening of ties with Bentley did have one upside, it was that he could reprise his association with McLaren. A frank conversation with chief test driver Chris Goodwin in 2013 gave Tappy an assurances that the door would always be open in future and sure enough, he was soon placed back on McLaren’s track-focused Pure McLaren programme, where he formed an instant connection with Benham, a loyal McLaren customer of many years. After a successful outing in GT Cup, a deal was quickly struck to run in GT Open with a Garage 59-prepared 650S, and it wasn’t long before the new partnership bore fruit in Estoril.
“When my Bentley drive came about, my relationship with McLaren had to take a bit of a hit, because at the Festival of Speed you can’t be driving a P1 up the hill when you’re a factory Bentley driver!” he said. “But during 2015 when I was still doing the Absolute thing, I wasn’t as closely tied to Bentley and they stated to use me more again on a bit of development and their Pure McLaren events, which is where I met Mikey.
— Duncan Tappy (@duncantappy) May 11, 2016
“GT Open seems the perfect place for him to learn, it’s not got 50 cars on the grid that will be crashing into each other every weekend, but it’s got some experienced, high-level drivers and the racing is good as well.”
Tappy and Benham will have their work cut out to score a repeat win this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, with an beefed-up entry list and the Teo Martin BMW M6 setting the early pace in practice. McLaren factory driver Come Ledogar will step in to partner Alex West in the second Garage 59 entry after missing Estoril to win the Blancpain Endurance Cup round at Monza (Kevin Estre had returned to the team for a one-off cameo in his place) and will provide an interesting reference point for the team to gauge Tappy’s performances over the duration of the season.
If he shows well against Ledogar, he might just earn the chance to race alongside him one weekend in September…