If Bentley has its way, the most alluring and improbable GT3 car on the planet could be racing at the Rolex 24 at Daytona next January.
The famed British road car manufacturer, known for its hand-built line of exclusive luxury sedans, has embraced performance to a greater degree since it was acquired by the Volkswagen Group, and one needs to look no further than its wild GT3-spec Continental model for proof. Its return to Le Mans with Audi-powered P900 prototypes delivered a win in 2003, adding to the legend created by the “Bentley Boys” at the French endurance classic in the 1920s, but the band had gone quiet on the competition front until the broad-shouldered Continental GT3 broke cover late last year.
The 600hp twin-turbo V8 coupe, built by Malcolm Wilson's championship-winning M-Sport outfit in the UK, is closing in on its first series of track tests, and as Bentley's Mike Sayer revealed to RACER, the storied marque has received multiple inquiries from U.S.-based teams interested in the Continental GT3 for the United SportsCar Racing series.
“We obviously are thrilled and very interested in these developments in America and the rule changes that will welcome the Continental GT3 in [USCR],” said Sayer. “We originally picked GT3 as the set of rules we were going to build our car to because we wanted to go racing globally. We didn't just want to go racing in Europe; we wanted to go racing in Europe and the U.S. and Asia and the Middle East. We've already had substantial interest from several teams in the American market making serious inquiries about running our cars as soon as they are available.”
Along with the USCR, the Pirelli World Challenge series is also a destination for GT3 machinery. The SCCA-sanctioned tin-top championship actually took the lead on allowing GT3-spec cars into its GT class, requiring minimal changes to comply with its rule book.
Under Grand-Am's rules (through the 2013 season), GT3 cars have been allowed to compete in its Rolex GT category, but significant, custom manufacturing has been required from Audi with its R8 and Ferrari with its F458 to conform to the US-specific build specifications. As the USCR comes on line in 2014, GT3 cars like Bentley's Continental are expected to run in a similar, unaltered vein as found in the PWC, easing the path for owners to use GT3 cars in both series with a small number of modifications.
“There will be a few subtle changes, things like the size of the rear wing potentially, but we're talking about bolt-off/bolt-on components,” added Sayer. “So we're looking at what those will be right now to offer those options – what changes we'd have to do to the car for North America. It was designed with such things in mind anyway, so it's ready for this rule change.”
Selling customer GT3 cars for the USCR is obviously a priority for Bentley, but fanning the flames of interest among potential buyers could be aided with the presence of a semi-works program. Seeking an established North American team to partner with and demonstrate the Continental GT3, as Sayer explains, could also be on the docket for 2014.
“We're looking to run in Europe in the Blancpain Series next year with a heavily factory-supported – it's not a full works team because that's not allowed in Blancpain, but it's certainly a very factory-involved entry; that's the first target,” he said. “And then we'll certainly be looking to get cars into the U.S. We are looking at options in the U.S. for a semi-works team to help build the brand.
“We do have a motor racing heritage, but we recognize that as a motor racing constructor, we need to build awareness in North America which would benefit from factory involvement. It's just a question of if we can find the right people. If it looks like it's going to be something worthwhile with the right people, we'd look at doing it. Whether it's a semi-works deal or a customer car, I wouldn't be surprised if we had at least one car on the [USCR] grid next year.”