After more than a decade away from racing, Bentley makes its long-awaited return to motorsports in Friday’s Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina Circuit.
Eleven years since bowing out as overall winners in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the British manufacturer has entered its new Continental GT3 car, in what’s being considered as a development race prior to a full rollout in 2014.
The GT3 contender, developed and run by British outfit M-Sport, will contest next year’s Blancpain Endurance Series as a factory effort, with plans of also making cars available to customers for GT championships worldwide.
“I think it was timing for us because we’re both building a team and developing the car,” explained Brian Gush, Bentley’s director of motorsport.
“Hot weather is also good to test, as it’s hard to get that this late in the year. It wasn’t the race format that decided it, but more the timing. The race organizers were happy to have us, which is great.”
Nearly 5,000 miles of testing has been completed thus far, including a recent endurance run.
But the Abu Dhabi race, now in its third edition, will present its own challenges for Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Andy Meyrick, who will share driving duties over the course of the event, which is split up into two six-hour races.
“This is the first time that we’ll run with other cars on the track. So It’s really just to come here and keep extending the development project and see how we get on,” Meyrick told Sportscar365.
“The reliability has been excellent throughout the testing we’ve done. It’s never broken down on track or anything. We’ve had a really good, smooth run. It’s a good venue and distance to test it.
“We’re all going into it with the approach to see where we’re at with the competition and just keep testing things and use it as an extended test session, really.”
With the car yet to be homologated by the FIA, and some technical details still to be sorted out, according to project manager John Wickham, the Continental GT3 will race under a national license this week.
The Bentley’s Balance of Performance has been set by the race promoters, which will see it run at 1300kg and with a 38mm air restrictor, a similar specification to that of the V8-powered turbocharged McLaren MP4-12C.
According to Smith, who was part of the British manufacturer’s winning lineup in its last race at Le Mans in 2003, the objective isn’t to set the world on fire, but rather use the event as an extended test in race conditions.
“I think expectations have to be relatively low,” he said. “We’re not here to win. The main thing is Blancpain next year, so that’s the focus.
“We’ll obviously see what we’ve got and see how it compares. You can look at the other cars and see your strengths and weaknesses and what areas you need to work on.”
Despite their conservative expectations, the Bentley has shown encouraging pace in the on-track sessions thus far, with the M-Sport-run entry qualifying fourth for Friday’s race.
With the team set to run to their own plan, it’s unclear how the V8-powered beast will fare over the course of the once-around-the-clock enduro.
But getting to the finish would likely be considered a victory in itself for the latest GT3 contender on the block, which is set for a bright future in the GT world.