There will be some added international flavor to the Pirelli World Challenge grid this year with the arrival of Bentley Team Absolute, a championship-winning Asian-based squad that’s set to take on the North American racing scene for the first time.
The Chinese team will field a pair of factory-supported Bentley Continental GT3s in the sprint race championship, as part of its ambitious plans for global expansion on multiple fronts this year.
“Being in Asia for so long, it’s been a challenge there from the beginning,” team director Ingo Matter told Sportscar365. “It’s exciting for the whole team.
“We wanted to do something new and expand. But we also want to make a push for Asian teams that we can not only do Asia but also other things.
“There’s a couple of other teams that have proven it in the past, which we compete all the time in Asia quite closely. It’s time to show that Asia is a strong market, not only in Asia but outside Asia.”
Founded in 2010 by European expats Matter and Fabien Fior, Absolute Racing has become one of Asia’s leading motorsports organizations, fielding entries in GT Asia, the Asian Le Mans Series, Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, as well as other series.
It has also played a key role in the development of the Audi R8 LMS Cup, having operated the entire fleet of cars for the German manufacturer in the first four seasons of the popular single-make championship. Absolute was also the first team to run the R8 LMS in Asia.
“With the Audi relationship, more and more came,” Matter said. “The Audi R8 LMS Cup was built and then we needed [a further step].
“Especially in the Asian market, [drivers] look for a luxurious product. So when Bentley came, it was the logical choice to try and do something with them.”
The team gave the Continental GT3 its Asian debut in 2014, prior to winning the GT Asia teams’ championship and finishing runner-up in the drivers’ title with Adderly Fong and Keita Sawa last year, as part of a three-car effort (pictured above).
While having achieved success with the brand in Asia, Absolute was selected as the new factory supported Bentley team for World Challenge, replacing Dyson Racing, in a move that surprised many at the time of the announcement late last year.
However, according to Matter, an expansion to North America was something that had been on his radar for some time, and a program that he isn’t taking lightly.
Absolute has signed former World Challenge standout Andrew Palmer, as well as Fong, as its two full-season drivers, while bringing in ex-EFFORT Racing crew chief Riki Martino to lead the two-car GT class program.
As for the makeup of the team, Matter said it will have an international feel to it.
“We’ll bring in people from Asia and European chiefs that we have on top of the cars, plus local crew, obviously,” he said.
“It’s a very international effort because that’s what we are. We have more than 14 nationalities in the team, between all of the mechanics and engineers. We’re quite used to mingling people together.”
The team plans to have its first rollout with the former Dyson-run Continental GT3s later this month at Motorsport Ranch in Texas, prior to the season-opening round at Circuit of The Americas in March.
Matter said the team will initially be based in Texas, prior to moving to temporary workshops in the Midwest and in California as the season progresses, in order to cut down on travel.
Having recently made a trip to the U.S. to meet with Bentley America, Matter sees a huge potential in the North American market, particularly in offering a bridge for customers currently racing in Asia.
“It’s super exciting,” he said. “I was at Daytona and I was just blown away. The racing was brilliant, but it’s something [important] to be involved in.
“With our quite large Asian customer base, who want to do something else, it might definitely be an option to do more in America, also with gentlemen drivers, because they know us and they know the team.
“There’s a [level of] trust because sometimes when they run off by themselves to Europe [or the U.S.], it’s always a bit tricky.
“Most of them are not experienced and go on the market and not get what they expect to get. We’re trying to give them a comfort zone, for a bit of what they know from home, but can race overseas.”
In addition to World Challenge, Absolute will also move into Europe for the first time this year, with plans to field cars in the new Michelin GT3 Le Mans Cup.
According to Matter, its expansion to the North American and European markets will also help them develop Asian talent overseas, with the motorsports culture beginning to take off in the region.
“It’s been brilliant,” he said. I first came to China in 1996 and I moved there in 2003. You would see Ferraris parked at the night club with a driver.
“But now they drive themselves, so it’s a real change in car culture. It’s a real enjoyment of driving, which is coming more and more.”
And while representing Bentley in its two largest markets in China and the U.S., Matter is upbeat about their chances this year in both GT Asia and particularly World Challenge, in the new adventure for one of the sport’s fastest-growing teams.
“That’s why everyone’s excited because it’s something different,” Matter said of PWC. “You can’t blame anybody else, it’s just you, 50 minutes, it’s no bull**** and you go for it. You either shine or you don’t.
“Obviously we’re not here to look bad, let’s put it that way. We’ll take anything that comes along the way. But it would also be a bit overconfident to also go there and say we’re going to win everything.
“We’re honestly just going to have to see where we are in the first event. We want to be competitive and set the goals accordingly.”