Arguably the highest-profile addition to this year’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour has been Bentley, which arrives at Mt. Panorama for the first time with its two-car factory Continental GT3 effort, seeking overall glory.
The M-Sport operation, which finished runner-up in the Blancpain Endurance Series championship last year with a pair of victories, enters its second full season of GT competition with plenty of momentum, although there are a number of firsts for the British manufacturer this weekend.
It’s the debut of the Continental GT3 on the Mountain, while four of its six drivers, including the entire No. 10 car lineup of Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Matt Bell are making their first Bathurst starts. Bell, Maxi Buhk and Harold Primat, meanwhile, all make their factory debuts.
Yet, the Bentley Boys can’t stop talking about the awe-inspiring nature of Mt. Panorama, which has, as expected, taken some time to come to grips with.
“We’re in a lot better place than this time last year but I don’t think you can ever substitute coming to a track like this, especially here,” Kane told Sportscar365. “It’s an amazing track. I don’t think there’s anything [else] like it in the world.”
Both Kane and Smith compared the demanding 23-turn, 3.861-mile Mt. Panorama Circuit to a combination of the Nürburgring Nordschleife and Macau, circuits the Continental GT3 had experience on last year.
With a baseline setup and previous track knowledge from the now-Bentley squad HTP Motorsport, which finished on the podium here last year with a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, the M-Sport squad arrived in Australia well prepared for the task at hand.
“We had high expectations coming here because the car is very good in medium to high speed corners and it’s starting to really work now,” Kane said. “Everything we’ve thought is coming to fruition but we’re just trying to manage what we’re doing with the car and seeing what our strategy will be and tire compounds as well.”
The other challenge has been staying out of the walls, something the No. 11 Bentley of Andy Soucek faced on Friday afternoon when the Spaniard had an accident in Turn 3, which sent the car to a local body shop overnight for repairs.
Despite the minor setback, the pair of factory Bentleys, along with a privately entered Continental GT3 for Flying B Motorsport, have shown encouraging pace this weekend, although not having yet been able to show its true strength due to the high concentration of traffic.
The number of red flags has led to limited track time for drivers, including Bentley newcomer Bell. However, the Petit Le Mans GTD class winner, who has driven nearly all current GT3 models, has gotten up to speed quickly, having posted the car’s quickest time in final practice.
“Bentley come to win. That’s why we all came here,” Bell said. “You saw the car winning in Europe last year. There’s no reason why we can’t do it here.
“There’s a little bit for us to learn, but hopefully by Sunday we’ll just about know where we’re going and we can let the car loose to see what we can do.”
Smith, meanwhile, is also upbeat about their chances on Sunday, with the team taking the same approach from any other endurance race, in what will be a year focused on some of the world’s biggest GT endurance races for the M-Sport squad.
“We know it’s a tough race. Twelve hours in any endurance race is a long time,” Smith said.
“I think the main thing is keeping it on the lead lap, keeping it intact with the leaders and being in a position with two hours to go that you’ve got an opportunity to fight for the win. That’s our aim but endurance racing always presents challenges.”