“We must keep pushing, push even further now that we are the target, now that we are in the crosshairs of the competition, and we need to get as many customer cars on track as we can, to win in as many countries as possible.”
This was Wolfgang Dürheimer, Chairman and CEO of Bentley Motors speaking at the company’s Motor Sport Awards, an informal gathering to celebrate its first year in competition with the Continental GT3. This is the man who, when first arriving in Crewe after leaving Audi, asked: “So where is the motor sport department?”
Step forward highly respected engineer Brian Gush, the man who masterminded Bentley’s victory at Le Mans with the glorious Speed 8 in 2003. The GT3 racing campaign was launched in September 2012 and, in partnership with Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport WRC team in Cockermouth, Gush and his engineers set about building a new racing Bentley.
The rest, as they say, is history, the team scoring its maiden victory at Silverstone in May of this year and going on to finish second in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
“Second place gives us some room for improvement,” said Brian Gush as the team celebrated an encouraging first season at Bentley’s new CW1 showroom in Crewe on Thursday night. (CW1 is the factory’s post code). “Today we have signed a contract with the HTP team who will switch from Mercedes to Bentley in GT3 next season, so that’s tremendous news after an incredible year. M-Sport has done an incredible job, from shaking hands on the partnership to getting the first car took just seven months. The pressure was on and they have done an impressively professional job for a team that had never done any circuit racing.”
Malcolm Wilson and his engineers joined in the party, the former rally star keen to show his appreciation of the partnership with such an illustrious name. “Going from the gravel to the tarmac was not without risk,” he said, “and I’d like to thank Bentley for trusting in us with the GT3 car and I will never forget that win at Silverstone in front of all the board members. There was not only joy, but relief that we had got it right.”
It’s been a tough year, returning to racing and taking on the might of Audi, Ferrari, BMW and McLaren in the Blancpain series. Lead driver Guy Smith, who won at Le Mans with the Speed 8 in 2003, came to the party straight from Portimao after three days of testing with the 2015 car. “We go to Bathurst in February, so there’s plenty of work to do,” he told me, “and I’ve never driven Bathurst so that will be a good challenge – I’ve heard a lot stories about kangaroos crossing the track… Coming to GT3 from prototypes in America was difficult. There’s much less power and a totally different driving style, but I’ve got used to it.
“The ‘balance of power’ formula in Blancpain can be frustrating too – when we started winning they imposed a penalty and I could feel it straight away at Spa, the loss of power, so maybe next year we will have to play the game a little better, hold back a bit early on and not go for every victory, the way Audi did this year.”
As the night went on the Bentley Boys celebrated in traditional style, with a champagne toast to the queen, and that strange blue-coloured cocktail that the original Bentley Boys drank back in the 1920s after winning Le Mans. By midnight the awards had been given, films of the “overtakes of the year” had been shown and the ‘flying B’ ice sculptures had begun to melt away. Now the work continues apace, in Crewe and in Cockermouth, on the 2015 season.
As Brian Gush so succinctly pointed out, there is room for improvement.