And then there’s history. Back in the 1920s, when the Bentley Boys ran riot at La Sarthe, winning the Le Mans 24 Hour four times straight, Bentley forged a reputation for not only being strong at endurance racing, but for supporting customers who raced production-based cars designed and developed by the factory. Today’s GT3 category, which features racing versions of road-going sports cars such as the Porsche 911, Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren 12C, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Mercedes-Benz SLS, and Chevrolet Corvette seemed the perfect modern analogue.
Brian Gush, Bentley’s director of motorsport, knows the Continental GT very well. He began working on the development of the car not long after VW Group acquired the storied British luxury brand in 1998. Over the years, he’s also served as Bentley’s powertrain and chassis development chief, and now the genial South African, who collects and races vintage motocross bikes, heads Bentley’s GT3 racing program.
The Bentley Continental GT3 race car was developed entirely in house at Bentley’s HQ in Crewe, England. Bentley had previously competed in the LMP1 prototype sports car category, the team run by Gush winning the fabled Le Mans 24 Hour race with the Speed 8 in 2003. The decision to focus on the production-car-based GT3 category instead came when fellow VW Group brand Porsche announced it would be competing at Le Mans in LMP1 alongside Audi in 2014. “Three brands in LMP1 was one too many,” says Gush.
Though it looks recognizably like a Continental GT, the GT3 racer is 2,200 pounds lighter than its road-going cousin. Making the race car rear drive instead of all-wheel drive and choosing to go with the 4.0-liter V-8 instead of the 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine were two key decisions Gush made at the beginning of the car’s development. Getting engineers at the factory in Crewe to develop the race car was a third. “Taking 2,200 pounds out of a car is a challenging exercise,” says Gush. “So we pulled in the production car body engineering guy to show where stiffening in the body-in-white could be removed and taken up by the rollcage. We got the electronics guy in to design the wiring harness. We got tremendous equity and engagement from the workforce in the whole program.”
The GT3 race car’s engine shares its internals with the 4.0-liter V-8 in the Continental GT3-R road car Gush’s team also developed. The major difference between the two powertrains is that the race car’s turbochargers are located on each side of the engine, while the road car’s are tucked in the vee. “The engine is quite new in development terms,” says Gush of its performance potential. “There’s a lot left in it.” British rally car preparation guru Malcolm Wilson has been signed to build, prepare and service Continental GT3s for customer race teams around the world.
“When I approached Malcolm, he said, ‘I know nothing about traditional racing.’ I said, ‘That’s perfect.’ ” Gush smiles. “He has no preconceptions and no bad habits. He’ll build our cars the way we want.” Wilson’s M Sport organization, which has built and run World Rally cars for Ford factory and customer teams since 1997 (winning World Rally Championship titles in 2006 and 2006), currently provides support for more than 700 cars worldwide. “He knows how to look after customers.
That was a big part of our decision.” Gush has been pleased with what he calls a terrific response to Bentley’s return to the track. “People wanted Bentley back in racing,” he says. But he insists motorsport is more than just egos and testosterone and corporate belly bumping. “It’s a valuable business tool,” he says. “It has helped generate high enthusiasm and engagement among our workforce, and people who are interested and passionate about racing tend to be younger. We’re keeping Bentley in front of that audience.”