After a challenging couple of years, highlighted by one-off drives and rides that had failed to materialize, Butch Leitzinger was sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the next big opportunity to come.
The old adage ‘good things come to those who wait’ came true in April when the sports car racing veteran was announced as part of Dyson Racing’s factory Bentley program in Pirelli World Challenge.
It not only marked a return to the Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based team, where he achieved a considerable amount of success with, but also a reunion with the famed British manufacturer, which Leitzinger drove for more than a decade ago.
“For me, personally, after the last few years bouncing around from car to car and things falling apart in the middle of seasons, it’s fantastic to be in such a comfortable place as Dyson Racing with Bentley,” Leitzinger told Sportscar365.
“Being with Bentley was one of the things I was really proud of in my career. I haven’t been able to wipe the smile off my face.”
While the Dyson-prepared Bentley Continental GT3 is a far cry from the Bentley EXP Speed 8 that he piloted in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2001-02, Leitzinger has settled right into his new surroundings and the task at hand in the growing GT sprint championship.
The longtime IMSA prototype squad made the switch to World Challenge this year, debuting the new M-Sport-built Continental GT3 at Road America in June, just one month after the car’s maiden victory in Blancpain Endurance Series competition at Silverstone.
“It’s been much smoother [transition] than I was thinking,” Leitzinger said. “Everything came together very late. The car is pretty much brand-new worldwide.
“I think all of us went into this thinking we’re just going to spend this year planting our feet and look to be more competitive next year but the first race at Road America went so well, all of us got pretty excited pretty quickly.”
Sixth and 4th place finishes in the car’s North American debut at Road America was followed up by a challenging outing on the streets of Toronto, which saw the V8-powered beast — the largest car in the GT class — record 19th and 9th place results.
“Toronto was a bit of a [challenge] as the car hadn’t seen bumps until we went there,” Leitzinger said. “It took us a little bit to find out what made it happy. By the end of the weekend we were in a good direction.”
Leitzinger is also enjoying his return to sprint racing and single-driver approach, which brings him back to his Trans-Am days, where he earned three victories and finished runner-up in the championship in 2002.
“I really loved it and had a great time when I did Trans-Am,” he said. “For one thing, it’s nice to be totally selfish with the car. You don’t have any consensus going around with a setup with the car.
“With [the Bentley] being a fairly big car and about the same horsepower, I was expecting it to drive like a Trans-Am car. But the downforce is actually quite good and is much more responsive than that car was.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise how much fun the car is to drive.”
With support from M-Sport, including two chassis and engine engineers, as well as the experience of Dyson’s Peter Weston, who also engineers the Generation Bentley entry in the British GT Championship, Leitzinger is upbeat about their chances for the remainder of the World Challenge season, including this weekend’s double-header at Mid-Ohio.
“The potential is there but there are a lot of variables,” he said. “Road America was a very wide-open, fast track. Toronto was the total opposite of that and [Mid-Ohio] is back to a smoother track with much more switchbacks.
“I think we’re going into all of this with a pretty open mind. The most important thing is filling out the data book to know what the car does in different circuits and in different conditions. I think we’ll be competitive.
“The races seem to be unpredictable enough that if you’re in the top-five, you have a good shot.”