Bentley has emerged as the latest manufacturer to be monitoring developments on the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Hypercar class that’s set to come online next year.
The British manufacturer, which last competed in top-level prototype competition in 2003 (pictured above), has laid out ambitions of returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the FIA and ACO’s new formula being a potential gateway back to the French endurance classic.
According to Bentley Motorsport director Paul Williams, evaluations are underway on a potential Hypercar program for the Crewe-based manufacturer.
“Everyone is interested in the new Le Mans rules that gives the ability to run both the prototype and road-based car. It’s very interesting,” Williams told Sportscar365.
“I think you can see everybody standing back and watching what everybody else is doing at the moment.
“You can see it in McLaren, you can see it in others as well. We have to see where it goes.
“Two [manufacturers] have jumped immediately and everybody else is like, ‘Let’s see what happens over the next weeks.’
“Of course with Bentley’s history at Le Mans and their background, it’s always super interesting for us. Having a Balance of Performance structure like that makes it very interesting for us to do something.
“We’re talking about it, thinking about it, but no firm plans yet.”
Williams, the former powertrain director who took over as motorsports boss on Aug. 1 following Brian Gush’s retirement, said there’s been interest within the company to produce a hypercar for the road, although admits a potential race project would likely be prototype-based.
“It’s interesting for me coming from the road car side, the interest in doing a hypercar is always there, from my previous job,” he said.
“But at the moment, I’d say a prototype side is probably more interesting to us.
“The opportunity to do something as a road-based car is also interesting for customers. You’re seeing more and more customers interested in these top-end, very unique vehicles.”
Bentley is one of several Volkswagen-owned manufacturers to have been evaluating Hypercar efforts, including Lamborghini and Porsche, although none are expected in the short term.
When asked about the levels of approval needed to green-light a top-level factory sports car racing program, Williams explained it as “complex” but indicated that multiple Volkswagen Group manufacturers could be allowed to compete in the same class.
“Internal competition is liked,” he said. “So having us racing against Lamborghini, Porsche, which are all part of the group, is not a bad thing. It is a big benefit.
“The fact is that our type of customers are very different to Lamborghini’s customers. The type of person who would buy a Bentley would be quite different.
“There’s a big brand affinity into who the purchaser is.
“As a brand, we outsell Lambo, we outsell Ferrari, we outsell McLaren so we have a lot of customers out there who buy into the brand.”
Williams admitted the “big question” is the lede time needed for manufacturers to commit and develop a car to the new regulations.
So far, only Toyota and Aston Martin have been confirmed for the 2020-2, with no other OEM likely for the launch season, according to WEC CEO Gerard Neveu.
“The lede time for the first season is really short now,” Williams said. “Even for people like Aston it’s hard to do unless you have a stable prototype that you can re-skin and carry on. You’re in a hard box already.
“I think it’s more likely you’ll see people coming in a season or two later.
“We have no fixed plans at the moment but we’re studying it and we’d be crazy if we weren’t.
“[Le Mans] is part of our history. So from a brand perspective, you talk to everyone at the factory, from engineering to logistics, you name it, everybody has this engagement with motorsports within this company.
“It’s probably the question I get most back at the factory. ‘Are we going to Le Mans again?’ They really feel that engagement.”