Walter Owen Bentley was a proper helmsmith.
Acquiring a taste for speed early on in his life, the Bentley founder began racing motorbikes competitively at the Isle of Man, and at the then newly-opened Brooklands circuit, neither of which can be considered idiot-friendly playgrounds.
But - according to Bentley - this racing didn’t ‘satisfy his hunger for power’.
And so with his brother, H.M. Bentley, Walter acquired the rights to sell DFP racers in 1912, and on his first run up the Aston-Clinton hill climb (the same hill climb after which Aston Martin is named) broke the class record. With his wife Leonie sitting alongside him.
This is an important facet of W.O. Bentley’s psychological make-up, because - along with his nous for engineering (he quickly understood the benefits of aluminium pistons because they afforded him more poweeerrr) - he enjoyed speed.
Bentley also understood that, in the 1920s, it was all about how fast you could take your cars on track. It’s why he engineered the famous Bentley 3-litre engine; why he raced at the British Double Twelve in 1922, why he raced (and won) at Le Mans in 1924, and through four straight victories between 1927 and 1930, a point at which Bentley’s competitive fame was the talk of the world.
It’s when the term ‘Bentley Boys’ was coined, marking the period of domination of that group of elite gentleman racers who took the winged ‘B’ to the chequered flag, time after time. Point is, racing is in the Bentley DNA, even if the firm might appear to have forgotten that for the last 80 years or so.
But now, after a long absence from the track punctuated only by victory at Le Mans a decade ago, Bentley is back racing with the bombastically styled Continental GT3. After a respectable finish at Monza at its season debut earlier this month, here are ten things we learned about the rather cool racer.
You are here
Ten things we know about the Bentley GT3
Walter Owen Bentley was a proper helmsmith.
It was developed by the same people who took Bentley to Le Mans victory in 2003
Brian Gush, Bentley’s powertrain, chassis and motorsport chief, is leading the programme to scavenge some racing spoils for the new Continental GT3, in partnership with M-Sport. He’s the same man who masterminded the Bentley Speed 8 prototype’s one-two finish at Le Mans, where Bentley took its sixth win.
The GT3 car is over 1000kg lighter than the Continental GT Speed on which it's based
The road-going car weighs 2320kg in coupe form, because - in Bentley’s words - ‘it has to feel heavy, it has to feel like a Bentley’. The motorsport guys stripped out the leather, wood, the electric motors, double glazing (double glazing!), some 57 ECUs and sound-proofing to bring the racer’s kerbweight down to a much more lithe 1300kg.
The doors on the Continental GT3 weigh just 7kg
Consider that a Bentley Continental GT door with all the trimmings weighs 57kg, and you have some idea as to how much the engineers had to play with. The race car’s doors weigh 50kg less. Each.
The doors, boot lid and bonnet are all made from carbon fibre
The road car’s body shell is carried over directly, but gets an FIA-spec roll cage that doubles its stiffness, along with CF parts to keep it light and nimble.
The steering wheel, door pulls and racing seat are still hand-trimmed in Crewe
Here’s where it gets all Bentley. Though it’s a blood-and-thunder V8 racing car that looks more likely to punch you in the nards, the craftsmen and women of Crewe still take the time to hand-stitch the Conti GT3’s steering wheel, door pulls and the carbon fibre racing seat.
The Conti GT3's engine makes 600bhp derestricted
It’s the same 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine found in the ‘regular’ Conti GT, but here treated to a Cosworth engine management system. It’s mounted near the rear of the engine bay, and feeds through a six-speed sequential gearbox and carbon fibre propshaft to the rear wheels. Many of the engine’s components are carried over from the road car.
It has done more than 10,000km in testing
That’s a significant amount, especially considering last September the Conti GT3 had only completed some 3,000km. That’s a hard, hard life for a hard, hard car.
It will cost you £368,000 to buy
Yes, you read that correctly. The Bentley Continental GT3 is available for customer racing teams to purchase and run. That’s kind of the point of this GT3 programme. In fact, it’s already been sold to Generation Bentley Racing, while Dyson Racing will contest a pair of Conti GT3s in the second half of the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge.
The factory Conti GT3s wear the same numbers as their Le Mans winning counterparts
There’s a bit of history tied up in those numbers struck over the Conti GT3’s body: Bentley Boy Guy Smith is racing the number 7 GT3 car, the same number he raced in in the Speed 8 he took to victory at Le Mans in 2003.
And don’t forget, Bentley’s 1927 Le Mans victory came courtesy of ‘Old Number 7’.
It looks absolutely brilliant
Big, fat, implausible as a racing machine and lacking the reams of test data of its competitors, the Conti GT3 shouldn’t be good. But it is. Sure, respectable finishes thus far - at Abu Dhabi and in Monza - have proved its credentials and underlined the inherently good pace of the thing. But what a Thing. It’s all blunt, big edges and aggression. It looks brilliant, and for that reason, we rather like it here at Top Gear.