Le Mans central to Bentley's race plans

Bentley is planning a return to international sports car racing and promises to be back at the Le Mans 24 Hours inside five years.

The British manufacturer, which is part of the Volkswagen Group, has revealed that it is already evaluating options for its return to Le Mans for the first time since winning the event with the Speed 8 in 2003. Bentley chassis and powertrain director Brian Gush, whose remit includes motor sport, explained that the company was “looking from LMP1 down”.
“We are looking at what is out there and how the rules are moving; there are new regulations coming in 2014,” he said. “No decisions have been made yet, but we are moving along the road of evaluation and have a number of ideas.”

Gush promised that Bentley would be back in international sports car racing within five years. “There is some determination about that,” he said. “We will be back: the question is with what?”

Gush, who oversaw Bentley’s successful Le Mans comeback in 2001-03, had always maintained that the historic marque would one day return to Le Mans. That desire has been formalised following the arrival at the end of last year of new Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer, who previously had responsibility for motor sport as research and development boss at sister company Porsche.

Durheimer has stated that his favoured route back into motor sport is with a customer-led GT programme. Gush said that he leaned towards an attack on outright Le Mans victory with an LMP1 contender.

“One question that needs to be answered is, ‘Can we race Porsche and Audi in P1?’ If two brands from the [VW] group can race against each other, can three?” he said. “Or would
there be more value to Bentley competing in a different class?”

A competition return for Bentley in the GTE class would most likely have to wait until its present coupé, the Continental GT, and its derivatives are superseded.

The Continental is too heavy and is four-wheel drive, which is outlawed in the GTE category, but one of Durheimer’s stated aims on taking over at Bentley was to make the model range lighter.

Gush said that one route open to Bentley was to produce a small-volume special designed with the race track in mind. The Le Mans rulebook demands a minimum run of 100 cars for a manufacturer such as Bentley.

“We would need to work out if we could compete with a racing derivative of an existing model, or whether we’d have to build a racing sports car with a derivative for the road,” he said. “If there was a clear path then we would have taken it already.”

Gary Watkins