Bentley Continental GT3: The most unlikely racing car?
An opportunity to watch the GT3-spec Conti GT at Silverstone shows just what's possible with the right engineering…
Picture this. A McLaren 650S, Bentley Continental GT V8 S and the new Ferrari 488 GTB, in convoy. The road they’re travelling along is the sort we in the UK often fantasise about, smoothly (but by no means flawlessly) surfaced and curling through a sea of gorse. The sun is shining and the pace brisk, but then it would be, because the slowest of the three cars still makes 521bhp and enough torque from its twin-turbo V8 to crimp the tarmac. And while there isn’t much in the way of traffic out here, any that our trio does happen upon is dispatched with no perceptible break in the flow. Overtaking isn’t so much a matter of mirror, signal, manoeuvre as a kaleidoscopic explosion of Rosso Corsa, Mantis Green and Kingfisher Blue.
One whip-crack downshift as the road opens up and the Ferrari takes off in a way that only a car with 455bhp/ton can. There’s another eruption of revs as the McLaren gives chase, snake eyes at the sharp end of a 456bhp/ton chassis sniffing out the Italian car’s carbonfibre rear valance. The two mid-engined supercars are so well balanced and honed for this sort of activity that they can go on like this for as long as the road, the weather or common sense permits. Meanwhile, the Benters, bless its chrome grille, gives it everything but falls helplessly further adrift with each corner, its 2200kg bulk throwing cold water over any firepower the engine might generate. Within a few miles, it’s an entire postcode behind the others.
Keep that sequence of events in mind when you consider this next scenario. It’s qualifying at the Brands Hatch round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, the twisting 2.4-mile circuit full to bursting with gorgeous GT3 cars. The no.16 Lamborghini Huracán, 5-litre V10 giving its mounts a workout, is riding the exit kerb at Westfield Bend in search of every last tenth. It is a sight to stir the soul, a homologated supercar racer in full flight, but it’s nothing compared to what happens next, because a Bentley Continental, vast and benign in comparison to the prickly form of the Huracán, ghosts up the inside as the two cars plunge into Dingle Dell and drifts by as if it had just pulled into the outside lane of the M4. Extraordinary. And, frankly, hilarious.
It never was that taxing to imagine what the race-going versions of the McLaren 650S, Ferrari 488 GTB and Lamborghini Huracán would look, sound and go like (something along the lines of ‘fantastic’, ‘epic’, and ‘stink’). But the Bentley? Until 2012, when a Conti GT3 concept broke cover at the Paris motor show, it took no small level of creativity. Four years later we can safely say that the transformation from leather-lined boulevard behemoth to the ripped race-winner idling before us in the pits for this weekend’s Blancpain GT Series event at Silverstone ranks as one of the most charming, impressive and downright ambitious stories in modern sportscar racing. So how did it happen?