We get up close and personal with the car that’s bringing Bentley back to motorsport – the Bentley Continental GT3.[Not a valid template]
Amid all the concours show cars and classic race cars at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, there was a new car that attracted considerable attention from the public and the motorsport community alike. Sitting in a non-descript tent in the paddock, next to two Speed 8 Le Mans cars, was the all-new Bentley Continental GT3, making its first public appearance.
When we arrive there’s already a small crowd around it, gawping at the huge white race car and ignoring the driving talent around it. WRC legend Juha Kankkunen is standing idly by, and test driver and Le Mans winner Guy Smith, in full racing overalls is chatting with five-time Le Mans-winner Derek Bell in the background. Just behind us, Le Mans racer Marino Franchitti arrives to have a look at the new kid on the block, as does Pink Floyd drummer and über-petrolhead Nick Mason. But everyone still focuses on the car.
The Continental GT3’s arrival comes 10 years after Bentley triumphed at Le Mans with the Speed 8, and marks the return of the brand to competitive motorsport. About bloody time too, say we. But what took them so long?
“The 2003 Le Mans programme was to build the brand and get more enthusiasm for more sporting cars,” says Brian Gush, Bentley’s director of motorsport and the man behind both the Le Mans and GT3 programmes. “With that victory and the Continental GT rolling off the line, we concentrated on building the business, getting production of the GT, the Flying Spur and the Convertible off the ground. We got that up to 10,000 units and then it was time to get back into motorsport. The financial crisis came along so we postponed it for a while, but once we got back on track it was time to get it up and running again.”
But after such success at Le Mans, why not go back to what many consider the World’s Greatest Race and try again? Why GT3, which doesn’t feature at Le Mans? The answer, according to Bentley brand ambassador Derek Bell, is that Le Mans just doesn’t work as a viable option.
“Although I still think that Le Mans is the jewel in the crown and the one you have to be at, to be honest, with Porsche coming in next year, against Audi, which is part of the same group, it seems a bit stupid for us all to go rushing in following suit. Although I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic in the beginning, I wanted Bentley to race something. They should be out there racing, and the only real option was to do this.”
Bell points out that to the general public, only the overall winners of Le Mans get any kind of publicity, and it’s an event that only happens once a year. Great if you win it, not so great if you don’t. GT3 races, on the other hand, happen regularly all over the world.
“The great thing is that the public do associate themselves with the road car. GT racing worldwide has always been the one that the public identify with because they can see the 911, Ferrari 458 and that sort of thing on the road. Eventually we’re going to go around the world and go to different areas where Bentley market their products and show people that we’re not just a family car, we build race cars too. I think it’ll get a lot of publicity, because people can’t believe that they’re going to see a racing Bentley in their different countries. We’ll go to different arenas in the world, people will see the car, marvel at the beauty of it and the way it functions and the dealers in those areas will be able to hang their hats on it.”
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