Bentley will make its return to international sports car racing with its new GT3 contender at the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi in December.
The new Bentley Continental GT3, the manufacturer's first racing car since the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours-winning Speed 8, will run in the two six-hour races that make up the Gulf 12 Hours around the Yas Marina circuit on Dec. 13.
The solo entry will be run by Malcolm Wilson's M-Sport organization, which is jointly developing the Continental for racing with Bentley.
Bentley wanted to compete against other GT3 cars before the end of the year, ahead of its assault on the full Blancpain Endurance Series in 2014. It believes that this will help it attain the correct Balance of Performance for its V8-powered racer for next season.
The final entry list for the two-part enduro has yet to be announced, but organizers have revealed that Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Mercedes will be represented on the grid with GT3 machinery.
Plans to try to get the Continental GT3 ready in time for either last weekend's Blancpain finale at the Nurburgring or the British GT Championship finale at Donington Park in October were abandoned some time ago.
"We looked at the schedule a few months back and said we couldn't do Donington, and Abu Dhabi was the next race along," Bentley Motors motorsport project manager John Wickham said. "It was vital to get out there this year to start preparing for 2014. Abu Dhabi is a good race to do, because of its format and because it is not part of any championship."
The Abu Dhabi event also gives Bentley the chance to compete in an invitation class should it have failed to complete its GT3 homologation with the FIA in time.
SMITH AND MEYRICK AMONG TESTERS
Drivers for Bentley's return to motorsport have yet to be announced, but the lineup is likely to include the names of at least some of the drivers who have been part of the test program underway since July.
Guy Smith, who has been retained as an ambassador by Bentley since winning Le Mans in the Speed 8, former Aston Martin Racing driver Andy Meyrick and one other driver, whose name has not be revealed for contractual reasons, have undertaken the testing.
The first Continental GT3 has so far completed approximately 2,350 miles of testing since its shakedown at the Anglesey circuit ahead of the race car's public debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July. It has subsequently run at the Welsh circuit again, Snetterton, Paul Ricard and is completing another two-day test at Snetterton on Thursday this week.
"The car has performed extremely well so far and has matched or exceeded our simulations in every respect," Bentley motorsport director Brian Gush said. "With [more than] 3000km of testing completed already, the team is very pleased with progress and we're gaining confidence in our package."