After seven years of trying, M-Sport Bentley finally bagged a big GT3 race victory by winning the Bathurst 12 Hour, the first race of the 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge calendar. After regularly flirting with the top step of the Mount Panorama podium since their first visit back in 2015, the team re-tooled for the 2019 race with a new car to keep pace with the changing GT3 technical regulation. That year’s Bathurst was the team’s worst to date, but the year of experience undoubtably helped change the outcome for 2020.

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The first-generation Continental racer came near at the end of a significant change in GT3 regulations, where the cars would be less road car oriented. Indeed, the 2016 changes allowed manufacturers to pull chassis shells much earlier off the production line than previously allowed for an almost clean slate, 100-percent race car built. Prior to this, a GT3 car had to travel through early the stages of production fit-out and then be converted into a racer.

Additional changes for 2016 were primarily enhanced safety features, however as one by one Audi, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari and Lamborghini rolled out new models, it clearly could be seen that there was also an escalation in aerodynamics, weight distribution and modular builds for parts replacement. While GT3 remained a Balance of Performance (BoP) series for weight, ride height, fuel load and power – other elements such as lap-consistency were not able to be reigned in, and the new breed of cars proved to have more performance in hand than legacy models.

In 2018, Bentley released a new Continental model, built from a new chassis based on the MSB (Modularer Standardantrieb-Baukasten – ‘Modular Standard Platform’) platform shared with the Porsche Panamera. Built from high strength steel and aluminium, it was a lighter base than the steel monocoque chassis of the previous car. M-Sport and Bentley went to work re-arming for the GT3 battles ahead.

Body

While remaining a ‘land yacht’ in terms of its size – the 2018 Bentley Continental GT3 remains distinctive in its appearance thanks to the marques unique design cues. The large nose grille, four headlight assembly and grand tourer heritage remain, enhanced by sleeker lines and some simplification compared to the last model – notably in the rear lights.

The new race car no longer exposes any of its chassis as exterior body work.  The latest Bentley utilises full carbon fibre exterior panelling to mimic the road car lines and allows for a significant reduction in weight, while tying in some key aerodynamic developments.

Again, the road car’s 4WD system is omitted – GT3 is RWD only. All the luxury parts; leather, wood trim, double glazing, numerous electronic controlled gizmos, champagne coolers – are left on the assembly line in Crewe and never make it to the GT3. With the new chassis, and with only the essentials of racing installed the 2018 Bentley weighs less than 1300 kilogram – about the same as last model but with mass now more centralised thanks to less of it being in the chassis itself.

| Blancpain GT Series Endurance | Circuit de Catalunya | 30 September 2018 | Photo: Jurek Biegus

The nose grille is larger on the 2018 model – it dominates the front of the car and is the most unique feature about it. Where the previous GT3 Bentley had sizeable air intakes and splitters, the 2018 model follows a similar shape and strategy but now with the lower intake almost running full width of the car – no small feat when the width of the car has also been widened courtesy of new wheel arches front and rear to fit racing tyres.

The four-headlight arrangement remains but with twist; the centre primary lights increased in size, with the outer lights shrinking in size. Supplementary LED racing lights can still be fitted into outside of the lower front intake but are much more integrated than before for better aerodynamics in endurance races.

Under the skin, a full approved FIA racing grade steel roll cage is added, with emergency hatch in the roof per the 2016 regulation change.

Rolling, bumping and stopping

The 2018 Bentley Continental GT3 touches the tarmac on a uniform set of 355/705-R18 tyres, paired to new BBS racing wheels with centre lock hubs. This is all-new when compared to the previous model.

Braking is now performed by an Alcon brake system, with slotted steel rotor discs. Front wheels are served by six-piston calipers, the rear by four. For modern GT3 cars, the brake bias is fully adjustable via the driver controls and is paired to a multi-point ABS system for a wide range of interference levels.

Cooling air for the front rotors is fed from intakes on the outside of the lower intake. On the rear, a new set of ducts just behind the doors at low-level feed air into the rear brakes, among other things.

Replacing the previous model’s Öhlins TTX dampers are new Penske Racing 8781 series four-way adjustable units front and rear, paired with double wishbone suspension.

Power and transmission

The road-going Continental line is famous for its VW Auto Group derived 6.0 litre W12 engine, but once again the monstrous unit is eschewed for the Audi-sourced direct-injected 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8 with the Cosworth Engine Management System of the previous GT3 model. Again, the reasons for this are purely performance oriented: the new powerplant weighed 23 kilogram less than the W12 and it is more compact so it could be positioned easier. It is also more fuel efficient.

The engine can reliably be tuned to provide 600 horsepower, before Balance of Performance is applied and has the car usually running at around 550 horsepower.

One of the main tweaks the engine has had in 2018 was a new dry-sump system for circulating the Mobil 1 oil in the power unit. Bentley also took the limit of firewall modifications allowed to sit the engine further back. Both of these changes allowed the motor to be placed very low and very far back in the engine bay, behind the front wheel axles; it has to be seen to be believed. This makes the Bentley effectively a mid-engine car.

Despite the turbos and the unit’s small capacity, the 2018 Bentley remains an aural delight – the roaring V8 notes keeping race fans hearts beating quickly as the cars blast past. The exhausts are still tunnelled and exited down the sides of the car, under the entry doors.

The 2018 car features a rear transaxle gearbox to help balance weight distribution. A six-speed Ricardo unit replaces X-Trac as the cog-box, with pneumatic paddle control. This is connected to the engine via a full-carbon propshaft, limited-slip differential and AP racing clutch. All of this brings the car closer to a 50-50 weight distribution than the last.

Cooling for the engine comes through the front grille assembly. The nose grille and central lower grilles feed air through tunnels to the cars radiator (lower) and intercooler (upper) coils before spitting it out through two large ducts on the bonnet. The grille also houses the engine’s fresh air intake.

On the rear of the car, a large intake is moulded into the boot lid to take air flowing over the car’s roof into the boot where the gear-box oil cooler and other apparatus are located.

Aerodynamics

By retaining is large frame many regard the Continental GT3 as being as aerodynamic as a house brick when compared to the super-car opposition in the field. However, Bentley has employed a fair number of aero tricks to help optimise the cars grip levels and the way it punches through the air on the long straights of Bathurst, Paul Ricard and Spa, to name a few.

Up front (where all aero starts) the 2018 model features a shorter nose splitter, which is a lot tidier than the previous model. Closest to the ground is the lip splitter which doesn’t protrude as far forward as its rivals but still helps separate airflow for quick passage under the car and slower over it (creating suction underneath) – and into the car’s cooling system. The lower element has small diffuser tunnels built in. The front splitter is actually made of two elements, with a central element splitting the lower air intake in two parts. While not a large source of downforce it helps separate airflow to serve different parts of the mechanical system.

At the outer edges of the lower splitter are small vertical ‘fences’ that block the flow of air going back underneath the car at a low level, notably to avoid flow to the tread of the front tyres, where it would become messy flow bodies affecting aero down stream. Above these are the dive planes – now in pairs compared to the previous generations single plane. These are mounted to extra panels made to widen the Continental around its racing tyres. These also have a duct running between them and the headlights to allow for a cleaner flow of air around the sides of the car – diverting it over the front tyres. The sides of the lower air intake also feeds air through here.

The Conti GT3 now also has much cleaner rear view mirrors, with a reduced frontal area compared to the last model, reducing drag.

Over the front tyres are louvres, allowing the cleaner escape of air trapped around the rotating tyres back into the flow of air passing over the car. Directly behind the front tyres are large vents which also push disturbed airflow around the sides of the car. These flows are contained from going back under the car by large skirts running down its sides, which also house the exhausts.

Why all the emphasis of pushing air outside of the car? The only other place it could go is under it. There, it would affect the new Bentley’s aero trump card; its rear diffuser. The rear diffuser on the 2018 continental is massive. Taken it off, one can see the sheer size of it; it effectively runs over half the length of the car. In total it has six tunnels, with their exit point almost as high at the centre line of the rear axle.

Paired to this is a new rear wing design. Now connected via more outwardly located swan-neck mountings, the full-width wing now has a twisted profile and very large endplates to contain flow bodies over the wing.

With the wing and diffuser taking up most of the rear of the car, there are a few small notable elements. First is a central exit above the diffuser that allows the exhaust of heated air from the gearbox and cooling apparatus. Second is the bodywork ducts allowing air trapped around the rear tyres a place to escape.

All told, the 2018 Bentley is significantly different from the older car trough the more extreme aero package, which in turn brings it bang up to date with its rivals in the 2016 regulation changes.

Interior

The key driving change to the 2018 Bentley is a fixed driver’s position to optimise weight distribution. In the event of a small driver, the pedals and wheel can be brought forward to suit.

For the most part, the interior of the car is very spartan compared to the road car – essentially bare metal and carbon fibre.

A number of the car’s operational buttons and dials are placed on the steering wheel which is unchanged from the previous model. This did not help Andy Soucek when he once infamously turned the car off mid-race coming out of the pits! The centre console houses a few extra items on a simplified layout to compliment the wheel. The dash is also a carry-over item from the last generation GT3.

The FIA racing-grade carbon seat with six-point harness is still located on the right side of the car. Extra internal safety netting is also installed. Retained from the road car for use in the racer are the interior door handles; a small touch of luxury.

In the back of the driver’s compartment is a fully sealed FIA spec fuel cell.

Also inside the cabin are the air jacks for elevating and servicing the car during pit stops.

Future

The next generation of GT3 regulations are due in 2022, however not much is known about how far a deviation they will be from the current spec, which is the most stable the FIA and GT Committee have had since the formula was invented. However, this has come at the expense of pretty much all tuner-made cars (save for the Callaway Corvette C7) as GT3 has become the realm of large-scale manufacturers. This has not been too detrimental to GT3 on the whole – with a significant number of manufacturers now being involved and with new minimum build number rules in place.

Bentley has made a case for increasing its customer racing base, a departure from its earlier years with M-Sport for the most-part being the exclusive operator. In fact, in 2020 Bentley has now limited M-Sport to just running its Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign, with K-Pax taking on more of the marques representation in GT World Challenge in Europe. Throw in Team Parker Racing and a handful of other customer teams and it is apparent that Bentley is making a concerted effort to spread its brand further.

While the latest Continental GT3 is not cheap – indeed it is one of the most expensive GT3 platforms on the market – the longevity of the current regulation set should see it racing beyond 2022, maybe with an update thrown in.

With big wins now starting to roll in, a new hunger may keep Bentley pushing the forefront of GT3 for a few more years to come.

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