Following its Bathurst 12 Hour debut in February, Bentley has continued checking off iconic circuits on its bucket list, as the British manufacturer prepares for its maiden outing in arguably one of the toughest endurance races in the world, the Nürburgring 24.
While a trio of Continental GT3s are set to tackle the iconic Nordschleife this weekend, it’s the all-British crewed entry, sporting an iconic livery based on the 2003 Le Mans-winning Bentley Speed 8, that heads in a bit as the underdogs.
Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Andy Meyrick boast a combined total of one previous start in the race, yet the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series runner-ups have been coming to grips with the rather daunting environment.
“This place is all about experience,” Kane told Sportscar365. “I think we do have the speed but you need everything to go with you. It’s not just about car performance, there’s a lot of other things you’re not in control of.
“You never know what could happen if we stay out of trouble and keep chugging at it.”
The uncertainties that the 15-mile circuit presents can catch out any driver, but the Bentley Boys feel prepared for task ahead, thanks in part to the prerequisites to compete in the around-the-clock enduro.
All three took part in end-of-year VLN rounds, with Smith also driving in Bentley Team HTP’s entry in the most recent VLN round last month.
It was that race which saw the Continental GT3 lead its first laps on the Nordschleife, en route to a fourth place overall finish.
“It’s really difficult to set any expectations because it’s such a tricky race,” Smith said. “We always aim for the top position but we’re not underestimating the challenge.
“We’ve done 24-hour races with the car before. It’s been reliable but any car that can be reliable can have issues.
“I would say that one of our strengths as a team is that we’re usually pretty good in settling down and getting into a rhythm in the race.”
As Smith points out, previous 24-hour experience can help, both from a driver and car standpoint, but the nature of the Nürburgring makes it a one-of-a-kind race unlike any other.
“Having done Spa and Le Mans, especially, they help you prepare for the race with the planning and management of yourself throughout the week,” Meyrick said.
“But this track is completely unique in terms of the way at the moment with the speed limits we’ve got, the huge speed differences in the cars.
“I’ve driven LMP1 cars at Le Mans and I think the closing speeds here between the GT3 cars and some of the lower class of cars is much bigger than I have experienced before, with such a narrow track.
“You do drive it slightly differently than you would in terms of traffic management.”
Added this year is the extra challenge of slow zones, put in place following the fatal accident involving the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in March, which sees GPS-enforced speed limits at sections of the circuit.
Bentley and M-Sport have worked to install three different speed maps in the Continental GT3, two for the 200 and 250 km/h slow zones, plus the 60 km/h pit lane speed limit.
“The most difficult thing will not to break the rules, with no penalties,” Kane said. “Then in that action, to multi-task and not have an accident with the slower cars.
“I think that’s the most difficult thing. Guy has been the one that’s been telling us everything will be OK!”
Smith, the only driver of the No. 85 car lineup to have experienced the new slow zones in race conditions, is hoping to be among the contenders for the win come Sunday at 4 p.m, a similar position from their maiden outing in Australia some three months ago.
“A bit like Bathurst, really, I’d like to be in a position where with the final couple of hours we’re in with a shot,” he said. “If we can do that, then that would be fantastic.”