UK luxury car maker Bentley last week dropped the strongest hint yet that its long awaited return to the historic Le Mans 24 hours endurance race was in sight as it revealed its Continental GT3 concept car prior to the opening of the Paris Motor Show.
An earlier report in Digital Journal “Luxury car-maker Bentley gears up to return to Le Mans 24 Hours” hinted at the possibility of Bentley returning to the world’s premier endurance race at Le Mans but, this week, just prior to the Paris Motor Show, Bentley looked to be building up some momentum towards a return to the Le Mans racetrack at Circuit de la Sarthe, probably in 2015.
Based on Bentley Motors' fastest ever road car the new GT Speed, the Bentley Continental GT3 racecar, as presently configured, does meet the specifications for competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours but the concept car already has the support of endurance racing’s governing body the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and is likely to compete in other endurance events towards the end of 2013. In 2013, the Continental GT3 will embark on a rigorous test and development schedule.
At their press conference this week, Bentley said testing the Continental GT3 would continue throughout most of 2013. After that, the company hoped to return to racing, the aim being 24 hour events. Speaking with a Bentley representative, Travis Okulski from the Jalopnik motors and motor-sport website reports, “I just had a conversation with Bentley, and I learned that the GT3 is just a starting point. ... After the testing year in 2013, one of the first endurance races the car is expected to undertake is the 2014 24 Hours of the Nurburgring, which is one of the premier endurance races for GT3.....The problem with the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring is that, while a stunning, huge event, it doesn't have the international fanatical following of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So when I spoke about Bentley's success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and how great it would be to see them back there, I got a wry smile. When pushed, Bentley told me that they have an eye to go back to Le Mans in 2015.”
For the technically minded
Bentley Motors Media Centre
Bentley Continental GT3 unveiled prior to Paris Motor Show 2012
The Continental GT3 is based on Bentley’s road car the Continental GT Speed, which will also be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show. The 205 mph (330 km/h) Continental GT Speed powered by Bentley’s new W-12 engine is the fastest road car Bentley has ever produced. The GT Speed develops 616 bhp (625 PS / 460 kW) at 6000 rev/min with 800 Nm (590 lb.ft) of torque available from 2000 to 5000 rev/min for instantly accessible high performance. Coupled with a new ZF eight-speed close-ratio automatic transmission and state-of-the-art engine management software, the GT Speed accomplishes a 0 to 60 miles per hour sprint in 4.0 seconds (0-100 km/h in 4.2s), reaching 100 mph (160 km/h) from a standing start in just 9.0 seconds.
In-gear acceleration is equally breath-taking. The advanced software of the close-ratio 8-speed transmission enables quick-shifting in Sport and Tiptronic modes. The gearbox also features ‘block-downshifting’, enabling combined downshifts for maximum acceleration. Typically, when cruising in eighth gear, full acceleration is achieved by dropping straight down to fourth.
Bentley’s gap years
In 2002, at the Paris Motor Show, the unveiling of the Bentley Continental GT concept heralded a new chapter in Bentley’s history. The following year, Bentley raced to victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours after a gap of 73 years, Bentley having last won in 1930. For more on Bentley’s Le Mans pedigree, see an earlier Digital Journal article “Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype Racer comes up for Auction.”
Dr Wolfgang Schreiber, Bentley’s Chairman and Chief Executive, comments, “The clear message from our customers is that Bentley belongs on the racetrack, and the Continental GT3 is the realisation of a dream we’ve had ever since the launch of the Continental GT. The new GT Speed is the perfect car for us to develop into a racer, and our work so far has shown huge potential. The Continental GT3 is set to show the world what the Continental GT is capable of in its most extreme form, and establishes a solid foundation for Bentley’s long-term motor-sport plans.”
Le Mans 24 Hours 2003 winner, a Bentley Speed 8 at Musée des 24 Heures, a museum at Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours race
Bentley have maintained continuity since their last Le Mans victory in 2003. Heading the development of the Continental GT3 is Bentley’s Director of Chassis, Powertrain and Motorsport, Brian Gush. Brian Gush led the programme that saw two Bentley Speed 8 prototype racers dominate the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans finishing first and second. There is no-one better placed to lead Bentley’s return to competitive racing.
The Paris Motor Show opens today September 29, and runs until October 14.