Bentley intends to remain in motorsport after its withdrawal from GT3 competition with electric racing high on the British manufacturer’s agenda for the future.
The brand announced on Thursday the termination of its investment in the Bentley Continental GT3 program as part of a winding-down process that will see the now customer team-only project come to a “natural end” after the 2021 season.
Bentley’s exit from GT3 comes amid the manufacturer’s push for sustainability under its ‘Beyond 100’ strategy, which prioritizes the development of an electric road car fleet.
Last month it announced steps to “reinvent every aspect of its business” including carbon neutrality and a switch to offering fully electric road vehicles only by 2030.
Bentley motorsport director Paul Williams told reporters on a video call that motorsport remains a key part of the business under this new corporate strategy.
“The decision was nearly 100 percent related to the brand direction,” he said.
“We’ve taken a very clear step this year, and we’ve communicated very clearly that our brand has to be a leader in sustainable motoring and electrification.
“It was absolutely necessary that motorsport followed that direction as well.
“We’re not saying that we’re stopping motorsport. We’re saying that we’re changing direction. We’re not going to invest in our GT3 program and look forward to the future.
“We are heavily looking into various forms of sustainable motorsport. In the meantime, our customer teams can continue to race.
“We will make sure that they get the support they need through M-Sport with parts supply and technical support to make sure they can continue to race if they choose to.”
Bentley is leaving its future motorsport options open with Williams expressing interest in a variety of categories that share an electric focus.
Those mentioned included Formula E, which Williams described as “obviously a consideration” and Extreme E, which he noted, “has gone onto the list in the more recent past.”
Sports car racing continues to be of interest but only if the permitted technology matches with Bentley’s electrification focus.
A return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which Bentley has won five times, would likely hinge on the implementation of electric motor technology that goes beyond the hybrid offerings to be found in the upcoming Le Mans Hypercar and LMDh prototypes.
Bentley has looked at both of the upcoming top-level prototype formulas before, but these currently appear to sit below several other potential categories in the company’s sporting agenda.
Williams indicated that Bentley would be “far more inclined” to pursue LMDh if the 50 kW spec electric motor produced more power or a higher share of the total output.
“There is a massive cost difference between doing Hypercar and doing LMDh,” he said.
“For a brand of our size, that makes it very challenging. I think if you were to talk in relative interest for us between those three, I would probably say that electric/hydrogen would be the highest, Hypercar second and LMDh third, purely because hybrid is not an overriding, convincing direction.
“What I’m fascinated to see is how these will work out in terms of having three very different forms of car racing at the same time. It’s going to be an interesting future.
“At the moment we are studying, investigating and doing a lot of technical and commercial work in the background to see where we could participate. Le Mans is one of the options.”
The prospect of electrified GT racing infiltrating the market could also be attractive to Bentley.
In October the FIA GT Commission issued an invitation for interested parties to submit proposals for the promotion of a new electric-powered GT series.
“We’ve engaged very closely in a number of different forms of future racing,” said Williams.
“[Another] is the electric GT-type direction which we’re also deeply engaged in. The options are very wide.
“The principle is that we want to be involved in motorsport in the future, but we want to be sustainable. We have to look at something which ties into where the brand wants to go.
“[Hydrogen] is one of the things I’m particularly interested in. It’s a great option. People talk about hydrogen at Le Mans, but it feels so electric. It is a form of electric endurance racing.
“Definitely it’s on my list of things that are interesting. As a brand, we love the Le Mans principle. It’s a nice place to be. But it’s not that we’ve decided to go that way. It’s definitely on my list of things to look at.
“We are still in the process of looking at various forms of motorsport.”
No Timeline Set for New Venture
Bentley has not defined exactly when it plans to return to motorsport with factory backing as it surveys its varied list of options.
“We took the decision to take a little bit of time over this on purpose,” explained Williams.
“It’s not like we suddenly stopped GT3 and said, ‘hang on a second, what’s next?’.
“We have been involved in some working groups for quite some time now. We feel there’s a lot of change in the motorsport world at the moment. A lot of people are making changes and swinging towards sustainable motorsport.
“It’s not clear yet what are going to be the great places to be. There’s a very mixed feeling about Formula E. I think there will be a period where there’s some settling into some direction.
“I can’t say that we will be in something inside the next months, but there definitely will be motorsport activity inside 2021, no doubt about that.
“At which point we commit to a new area or formula of motorsport, I can’t say.”