A marque built on motorsport should be in motorsport, right? Even if it was nearly a century ago. But for Bentley – fresh from Top-20 finishes for both its Continental GT3 cars in last weekend’s 24 Hours of Spa, yet still clinging to David Brabham’s win at Le Mans in 2003 – the time to expand its racing portfolio is now. And the Bathurst 12-Hour is well and truly in its sights.
Just hours after a Bentley board meeting discussing the brand’s involvement in motorsport, chairman and CEO Wolfgang Durheimer raised the subject of the Bathurst event over dinner and drinks, commenting on the 12-hour enduro’s increasing global profile and the high-end manufacturers it attracts.
Being the only Australian at the table, Durheimer turned to me and asked a serious question: “Should we be at Bathurst?”
I responded with equal seriousness. “F#$k yeah.”
He seemed pleased.
What it boils down to is this – Bentley has a fresh and competitive GT3-spec race car which it calls the, er, Bentley GT3 (though it’s Continental based) that it launched in Abu Dhabi last November. And it is serious about bolstering its brand image through motorsport, which gels nicely with Durheimer’s plans to “contemporise the brand”.
So far, only a handful of GT3 Bentleys are tackling the global motorsport circuit – a privateer team run by David Appleby, with his son James and Steve Tandy behind the wheel, plus a US-based Dyson Racing team, and the cars run by Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport that contested Spa. But Bentley expects that number to grow.
In conjunction with M-Sport, Bentley’s motorsport team builds the cars and shares its expertise and data with the privateers.
While a definite decision has yet to be made on Bentley’s Bathurst appearance, Durheimer’s responsibility for motorsport planning across the entire VW Group and his obvious enthusiasm for the event mean that Bentley is “very confident” it will have at least one GT3 car on the grid at the Bathurst 12-Hour next February. There’s even hope that a Bentley GT3 will contest the Australian GT3 championship in 2015.
In the meantime, a road-going V8S-based version “inspired” by the race car and dubbed GT3-R, had its first public showing at Goodwood in June. Aimed at wealthy collectors who might want to do track days, and neatly complementing Bentley’s return to motorsport, the GT3-R’s build number will be capped at just 300 cars.