Bentley GT3 shows potential


Bentley and Malcolm Wilson‘s M-Sport team have fired a warning shot across the bows of those that race GT cars for a living. We are going to see the Bentley Boys on the top step of a Blancpain podium next season. Let me explain.

The new Continental GT3, developed by the men from Crewe and Cockermouth, is not only reliable, as you might have expected, but it is fast. In the early hours of last Saturday morning there was much back-slapping, hand-shaking and hugging as weary engineers, mechanics and drivers celebrated a strong run through the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi.

Third in the first six-hour race, and fourth in the second after a race-long battle with the Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 of Michael Broniszewski/Daniel Zampieri/César Ramos, the green and white GT3 showed impressible reliability. Only in the final few laps was Andy Meyrick forced to nurse the car home with parts of the underfloor trailing on the asphalt, showers of sparks coming from the right front corner. In the hours after the race engineers were not revealing any details of what had gone wrong.

For the record, aggregate winners of the two six-hour races at Yas Marina were Khaled al Qubaisi/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Bernd Schneider in the Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG, followed home by the AF Corse Ferrari 458 of Marco Cioci/Michele Rugolo/Steve Wyatt and the aforementioned Kessel Ferrari.

Guy Smith: a new challenge for a familiar marque

The real story of the race, however, was the maiden race of Bentley’s first racing car since 2003 when the Speed 8 won Le Mans. In the car then, and at Yas Marina, was Bentley’s blue-eyed boy Guy Smith. “It’s good to be back, and the testing went well, but this is my first time at Yas Marina and my first race in a GT3 car, so it’s a new challenge, more physical than an LMP1, and it’s pretty hot inside the car.

“You have to really drive it, work at it, and I’m used to more power. But the car has a lot of torque, the brakes are phenomenal and all we need is a bit more traction and better handling in the slow stuff. Overall, I am really encouraged, the car has huge potential, and we’re going to gather a lot of very valuable data from coming here.”

It must be said that this was a test race for both M-Sport and for Bentley, and nobody truly believed the car would win against far more experienced competition. That said, the lap times were impressive, Smith, Meyrick and Steven Kane all on the pace of the leaders in both races. There were, of course, some weaknesses and Bentley’s Director of Motorsport Brian Gush was typically frank and articulate in his assessment.

“We had plenty of challenges, yes, but they are all resolvable, so I am very encouraged and satisfied with our first run in anger,” he told me after the race. “We need to improve the fuel consumption, we couldn’t run the tank as low as we’d have liked because of a pick-up issue, we had tyre pressure problems early on, and there were other issues which only come from getting out there and racing.

“What really pleased me was the reliability, the engine was strong and the brakes held up well on a circuit that puts huge demands on them. Now we go away, analyse the issues, and work on them. The data from this test race was what we came for, and we will be testing again this winter ahead of the first Blancpain race at Monza in April.

We took the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari, the drivers pushed the car, and we got what we wanted – a reliable run to the finish and so nearly a third place. We go into the winter period with confidence.”

Those who doubted that the handsome Continental GT tourer could be developed into a competitive racing car can eat their words. Malcolm Wilson and his men from M-Sport have given the Bentley Boys a weapon with which they can fight and the prospects for selling customer cars are looking very good indeed. Bentley is back, and back in style, their methodical and analytical approach already paying dividends. The Blancpain Endurance Series has a strong new contender and the 2014 season just got that bit more exciting.

More on sports cars
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Bentley’s return to racing

2013 WEC review
FIA GTs in Azerbaijan
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