THE Continental GT3 is Bentley’s first race car in a decade and was one of the most anticipated additions to the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour. In all, three entered the ’round-the-clock enduro; two examples from the factory-backed UK-based M-Sport and this sensational example from Australia’s Flying B Racing – driven by Peter Edwards, John Bowe and David Brabham.
Despite Bentley Motors having a long and illustrious motorsport heritage (they were five-times Le Mans Champions in the 1920s and 30s, and won again in 2003), most pundits would admit the luxurious Continental makes for an unlikely GT racer.
But man, does this beast have some presence about it! It’s physically intimidating, far bigger and brawnier than the rest of the pack. On track, its 600hp (subject to FIA-regulation), twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine produces a deep, guttural growl – which is just one of the wicked beast’s many endearing features. It’s certainly been a crowd favourite wherever it has competed.
When Bentley decided to re-enter international GT racing, they partnered with the long-established and hugely-successful motorsport company M-Sport for the initial development program. Since 1997, this renowned UK-based company has operated Ford’s World Rally program, which included developing and building the Focus RS – the machine that delivered the WRC Manufacturers Championships to Ford in 2006 and 2007.
One of the most daunting tasks was to trim over 1000kg from the road-going Continental. To do this, M-Sport augmented the aluminium chassis with carbon-fibre doors, boot and bonnet. Also making use of the super-strong, super-lightweight material is the radical front splitter, rocker extensions and rear wing – it’s even fitted with a carbon-fibre tailshaft! The heavy 4WD set-up was ditched, as was the factory glass which made way for lightweight polycarbonate.
Extensive electrical wiring and over 50 ECU’s went back onto the shelf. In an effort to retain some luxury, the craftsmen at Bentley HQ in Crewe hand-stitched the steering wheel, door pulls and the cover for the carbon fibre seat.
A number of drivers including two-time ALMS Champion Chris Dyson have commented on the Bentley’s impressive handling. “I was very pleased with how much downforce the Bentley makes, particularly in high-speed corners,” said Dyson.
Liqui-Moly brand ambassador and Bathurst champion John Bowe agreed: “Being a front-engined, rear-drive vehicle, it gives you plenty of feedback on what it’s doing. This makes it an easier car to drive.”
Le Mans legend David Brabham also noted it’s very stable and well balanced. To achieve this balance and even weight distribution (52/48), the reconfigured Bentley V8 was moved backwards and downwards in the engine bay, while a six-speed Xtrac transaxle was fitted at the rear.
The race-ready Continental GT3 made a star appearance at the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed. See it’s raucous, crowd-pleasing run up the famous Goodwood Hillclimb circuit at freestylerides.com. At its competition debut in the 2013 Gulf 12 Hours of Abu Dhabi, it came home a respectable fourth, with plenty more to come.
When Bentley announced the GT3 race car, the owner of the Flying B Bentley, Peter Edwards, was immediately interested. He’s a big Bentley fan, owning a Continental GT as his everyday car. However there was some apprehension, as Peter and racing partner John Bowe had been successfully competing the Maranello Motorsport-prepared Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia that delivered them their 2014 Bathurst 12-Hour victory.
The Ferrari had been very good to them, including the historic Bathurst 12-Hour victory in 2014 and third in both the 2014 and 2012 Australian GT Championships.
As the Bentley began demonstrating its competitiveness through back-to-back victories in the Blancpain Endurance Series – world-wide benchmark for the GT3 category – at Silverstone (UK) and Circuit Paul Ricard (France), along with Dyson Racing’s win in the Pirelli World Challenge at Miller Motorsports Park, Peter was sufficiently confident to head over to M-Sport’s UK headquarters to test drive and ultimately order one.
Upon landing the car down under, Mark Coffey (Managing Director of Maranello Motorsport) put together Flying B Racing, a highly-skilled and dedicated race team to maintain and prepare the British brute.
On the lead up to Bathurst, a series of small new-car glitches stopped Flying B from getting the car 100 per cent dialled in and realising its true competitive potential. That said, a stellar effort by the team across the weekend, combined with excellent driving stints from Edwards, Bowe and Brabham, had #8 sitting second in class with just 38 minutes left on the clock. Unfortunately a dubious move up the inside at the Cutting by a Craft Bamboo Aston Martin ended their day unceremoniously.
Peter, JB and Flying B are looking to bounce back for a good showing in the 2015 Australian GT Championship and of course will be heading back to the mountain in February 2016 for another crack at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour. Watch www.liqui-moly.com.au and Liqui-Moly Facebook page for season updates.
SPECS – 2014 Bentley Continental GT3
Engine: 4.0L twin-turbo V8
Oiling system: Dry Sump
Engine power: Up to 600hp (FIA restricted)
Electronics: Race-specification ECU with ABS and
Liqui-Moly Top Tec 4200 5W-30
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential paddle shift
Diff: Xtrac transaxle
Lubrication: Liqui-Moly Fully Synthetic GL5 75W90
Suspension: Independent double-wishbone all around
Dampers: Four-way adjustable coil-overs
Brakes: Brembo six-piston (f), four-piston (r), steel discs
Wheels: OZ Racing 18×13-inch
Tyres: Michelin 310/710 R18
Weight: Under 1300kg
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story CRAIG PARKER photos JOHN CHURCHILL & NATHAN WONG