Bentley is winding down its GT3 program starting with the termination of its official factory involvement before bringing the project to a “natural end” after the 2021 season.
The British manufacturer, which entered the GT3 arena seven years ago with the Bentley Continental GT3, announced on Thursday that it will no longer provide investment to a factory-led program in the global sports car racing category.
Factory drivers will be released from their contracts after 2020, although Bentley has left open the possibility for customer teams to continue running its cars next year.
The final race for Bentley’s factory drivers will be next weekend’s Kyalami 9 Hour, where former works team M-Sport is fielding two cars as a privateer entity.
In June, Bentley announced the withdrawal of its only factory racing program for M-Sport in the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli.
It later decided to complete the IGTC season with customer teams supported by works drivers including title contenders Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper and Jules Gounon.
Bentley customers have also been active in regional competitions such as GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, International GT Open and ADAC GT Masters.
“I want to start by saying thank you, on behalf of Bentley, to each of the 16 world-class drivers that have represented us over the last seven years,” said Bentley director of motorsport Paul Williams.
“But special thanks go to Max Soulet, Jordan Pepper, Jules Gounon and Seb Morris who supported us when COVID put our works team program on stop and who stepped-up to work incredibly hard for our customer teams in a compacted season.
“The Bentley Continental GT3 was launched in 2013 to prove and promote the performance of the road-going Continental GT and, by beating the likes of Ferrari and McLaren on track, we did exactly this.
“As Bentley moves rapidly towards becoming the world’s leading luxury sustainable mobility brand, the GT3 category no longer supports the strategy.
“But there are some exciting changes in the industry right now and we are closely evaluating how motorsport can support the brand in the future.
“We made a decision inside Bentley not to invest any more into our GT3 program. That makes Kyalami, in just over a week’s time, the last of our factory directly-involved races.”
Bentley’s first-generation Continental racer debuted in late 2013 while M-Sport clinched the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup teams’ championship with the car.
Bentley then introduced a new version of the V8-powered Continental GT3 for 2018.
The second-gen car’s most recent major success came in this year’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour when an M-Sport works Bentley won with Soulet, Pepper and Gounon driving.
Bentley placed a greater emphasis on customer racing activities in 2020 with its factory program initially scaled back to IGTC only and its Endurance Cup program focusing on the efforts of independent squads K-PAX Racing, CMR and Team Parker Racing.
Williams commented that Bentley’s achievements over its seven seasons of GT3 competition will form a significant pillar of the brand’s motorsport history.
“While it is always sad when a motorsport program runs its natural course, we will all look at this with the same pride that we look at the successes of the 1920s and at the Speed 8 that won Le Mans,” he said.
“It is a fantastic chapter in our history, but every chapter must end to make way for a new one.
“But first we need to focus on Kyalami. We have all six works drivers back together for the final time; we have Max, Jules and Jordan in with a real chance of taking the title and we are ready to demonstrate that the Continental GT3 is still capable of competing at the top level.
“Thank you to M-Sport for getting out on track so we can complete our championship. Let’s send our drivers out on a high.”
Bentley’s full-season trio of Soulet, Pepper and Gounon is third in the IGTC drivers’ championship standings and three points off the lead heading to Kyalami.
They will share one of the two M-Sport cars while Morris, Alex Buncombe and Oliver Jarvis form the other crew.
The nine-hour contest in South Africa on Dec. 12 coincides with the seven-year anniversary of the first Continental GT3 race appearance in the 2013 Gulf 12 Hours.