Bentley is secretly working on a new racing car that will return the marque to prototype endurance racing for the first time since it won Le Mans in 2003.
Although Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer won’t publically confirm the existence of the programme, he described it as "a good idea which we are looking at closely" before going on to give specific details about the car and where it will race.
At least initially there is no plan for the car to race at Le Mans, whose top LMP1 category Durheimer describes as "too expensive and too complicated." Clearly he may also be mindful of the fact that both Porsche and Audi have active LMP1 programmes and in its current troubled times, the VW group could probably live without three of its brands competing against each other in France.
Instead the car will be built to the new LMP2 regulations that come into force next year, and while the car would be eligible to run at Le Mans, Bentley is proud of its history of never having entered a factory car into a race it did not have at least a chance of winning it, and it’s a record it seems keen to preserve. Instead the car will focus at least at first on racing in America, most notably at the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, but also in all other rounds of the Tudor MotorSport Championship, the premiere league of sports car racing in the US. The car would also be able to race in the European Le Mans series.
Interestingly, Durheimer says the programme will be run in house, rather than contracted out, as is on-going GT3 programme has been to Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation or, indeed, like its last Le Mans programme where Racing Technology Norfolk designed, built and developed the car which was then raced by the late Richard Lloyd’s Apex Motorsport.
However Bentley will not have to design the car from scratch as the new regulations mandate that all teams use one of four nominated chassis from respected race car constructors such as Dallara and Oreca. However while teams racing at FIA events will not even have any say in the engine and even bodywork the car uses, there are no such restrictions in the US, and Durheimer has confirmed the Bentley will use its own engine that "will be taken from what we already have." Our best guess is therefore is that it will be a racing development of the 4-litre twin turbo V8 already used by Bentley, from which the 600bhp it will likely be required to develop can be easily extracted.
Durheimer would not be drawn on when the new Bentley racing car would make its debut, other than to say that 2019 was "too late". It seems likely therefore the car will make its debut in the 2018 season with a view to winning the title in America the following year, which is also Bentley’s centenary, though it is at least possible the car could race next year.
Durheimer has also confirmed that Bentley will make cars available to customer teams, though it is not clear whether they would be permitted to race the cars at Le Mans without factory backing.