Breaking news: Bentley returns to prototypes


Bentley is to return to prototype sports car racing for the first time since 2003, the year in which its Speed 8 prototype won Le Mans. Although Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer says only that “it is a good idea” it is believed that plans are in fact well advanced ahead of a first season in either 2017 or, more likely, 2018.

Durheimer has also confirmed the new car will be built to LMP2 specification in accordance with new rules for the 2017 season that would allow the car to race around the world, including Le Mans. However, at present there is no plan to race the car in France for a class win. Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, who masterminded the company’s ultimately successful bid to win Le Mans at the turn of the century has said, “no factory Bentley has ever entered a race it was not capable of winning and it’s a record we would like to maintain.”

As for Durheimer, he dismisses the current LMP1 category as “too expensive and too complicated” though he believes the regulations will soon be simplified, leaving just a chink of light through the door for those who yearn to see Bentleys racing in the top category of sports cars once more.

Instead the plan is to race the car mainly in the US, which since the slow down in China is once more Bentley’s biggest global market. The car will be eligible for the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours and all rounds of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship. However, it can also run in the European Le Mans Series provided it runs with the bodywork approved for whichever chassis constructor is chosen. Bentley plans both to field its own factory cars and to sell to customer racing teams.

As for the car itself, the new LMP2 regulations mandate that one of four chassis must be used, so Bentley will choose between Dallara, Oreca, Onroak and Riley Tech/Multimatic, but Durheimer insists the car will be powered by a Bentley engine. When asked what that might be, he replied, “we must look at what we already have”, suggesting perhaps using the 4-litre twin turbo V8 already seen under the bonnet of the Continental GT and Flying Spur as a basis. Extracting the suggested 600bhp from the engine would be straightforward, as it has already reached that target in the Audi RS6.

Perhaps most significant is the news that the project will be done entirely in house, and not farmed out to a company like Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation which developed and races Bentley’s current GT3 programme. “We have the technology and the expertise to do it ourself,” says Durheimer, “so why not?”

Durheimer would not be drawn on specific timings, but said that 2019 was “too late” for the car to be making its debut, so it seems likely the car will race for the first time in 2018, perhaps with a view to winning the championship in 2019, in time to celebrate the company’s centenary that year.

Bentley’s last prototype sports car programme began in 2000 with the EXP Speed 8, which was designed and developed by Racing Technology Norfolk and raced at Le Mans in 2001 and 2002 by Richard Lloyd’s Apex Motorsport. It scored third and fourth place finishes behind the factory Audi teams in the first two years, before an effectively entirely new car called the Speed 8 claimed a dominant victory for Tom Kristensen, Guy Smith and Dindo Capello in 2003.

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