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Is Bentley plotting a return to prototype racing?

CEO hints that £1m hypercar project is underway, funding return to prototype racing

These are exciting times at Bentley. Following news that it will build 5000 Bentayga SUVs in 2016 (the business case was for just 3600), Mr Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of both Bentley and Bugatti, is already coming up with some pretty interesting ways to spend that extra revenue.

Chief of which is a potential £1m-plus hypercar, a prospect that we’ve reported on before. It now seems the project will be used to fund a return to prototype racing, and potentially see Bentley back at Le Mans for the first time since it won in 2003. “We won’t do anything until we’re racing prototypes again. Then that’s the time for a street-legal derivative,” Durheimer told us at the launch of the Bentayga.

Whether Bentley will compete against its Audi and Porsche brethren in the LMP1 class isn’t yet clear, but seems unlikely. That leaves the more cost-efficient LMP2 class, with cars based around a small selection of off-the-shelf chassis. This road-car-funding-a-race-project is something Durheimer has already tried and tested: selling 300 GT3-R road cars meant the highly-successful Continental GT3 program pays for itself. 

Durheimer refused to speculate on what form this Porsche 918-baiting hypercar will take, but we might not have to wait too long to find out. “It all depends on the success of the Bentayga,” Durheimer explained. “If we get rich it could happen in 2025. If we get very rich, 2020.”

Elsewhere, the internal debate over whether to build a sportier, coupe-version of the Bentayga, or a two-seater supercar – previewed by the Exp 10 Speed 6 Concept – first, is still raging on, said Durheimer. Our money’s on the Coupe SUV - it is low-hanging fruit now all the detailed development work has been done on the Bentayga.

The two-seater is likely to be longer in gestation, not only because it will place Bentley toe to toe with established exotica from Ferrari and Aston Martin and needs to be perfect, right out the blocks, but because it could be all-electric, borrowing its underpinnings and tech from the Porsche Mission E – already confirmed for production by the end of the decade.

“If we build a battery car it needs to be done in an effortless way,” said Durheimer. “Our customers won’t be happy untangling wires and bending over to plug them in. The problem with this type of car is if you ask US dealers they say no. if you ask German dealers they say yes. We’ll have to wait and see.”

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