Bentley chiefs say the decision to return to top-line motor racing with a GT3-specification Continental will have a positive effect on development of its road car products.
Speaking on the eve of the Los Angeles motor show, where the Bentley Continental GT3 is being given its first official North American airing, engineering boss Rolf Frech told Autocar that production of the Crewe firm's race and road cars is closely linked.
"One of the major reasons for doing this project is to give our road car engineers some exposure to the quick-fire processes involved in building and racing cars," he said.
"They can bring knowledge from the road car side to the project, but it is also clear they can take back some of the knowledge of racing to the production line. Ten years after winning Le Mans in 2003, this kind of quick thinking and problem solving is something that is very relevant to the company."
The GT3 race car was first revealed at the Paris motor show and marks the return of Bentley to front-line GT and sports car racing. A road-going version of Bentley’s new Continental GT3 race car is likely to follow. It could feature four-wheel drive, a pared-down but luxury interior and possibly a 700bhp W12 engine.
The sporty model is set to occupy a similar spot in Bentley’s range to the old Supersports model and would command a similar price of just under £200,000.
Key details have yet to be finalised, but Bentley is understood to be looking at a production run of around 300 cars to be built over a 12-month period circa 2014-2015.
The FIA’s GT3 rules allow a radically different race-car specification from the road version. Although the Bentley racer has a rear-wheel-drive layout with a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox, the road car is likely to retain the permanent four-wheel drive system that features on all current Continental models, a senior source revealed.
Insiders are talking about a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta-rivalling 700bhp as a potential power output.
Most insiders favour retaining the twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 for the GT3 because it’s the Continental’s flagship engine. However, the newer twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is also a possibility, a move that would create two sub-brands within the Continental range: W12 luxury and V8 performance, the latter topped by a V8 GT3. The race car’s extreme rear wing and the rest of the aerodynamic package would be toned down for road use.
Bentley is considering a partly stripped-out interior, but with plenty of luxury remaining. However, a roll cage wouldn’t feature, because it’s considered too extreme for Bentley owners.
Autocar understands that the first racing versions of the Continental GT3 will be ready by next autumn, and will be entered by the manufacturer in endurance events such as the Spa 24 Hours. After that, the cars will be handed over to customers ahead of the 2014 racing season.
Although official sources are tight-lipped, it is rumoured that M-Sport, the Cumbrian company run by rally guru Malcolm Wilson, is assisting the factory with the build and development of the Continental GT3.