Bentley hasn’t raced a prototype car since their victory at Le Mans in 2003. That program was only ran for four years and then Bentley took a break from racing before returning in 2014 with the Continental GT3 in sports car racing. Now, Motorsport Magazine is reporting that Bentley is ready to return to racing prototypes.
Bentley has not confirmed that testing has begun on a new LMP2 program but last year Bentley’s CEO, Dr. Wolfgang Dürheimer, did speak openly with Sportscar365 about their desire to run their racing winning GT3 engine in a prototype car. That engine is the Continental GT3’s 600 hp, twin-turbo, 4.0l V8. It is based on the production car’s engine but with a reconfigured top end for racing purposes and it would be very suitable for IMSA’s daytona prototype class.
Of note is that CEO Dr. Dürheimer also has said Bentley would do the development in-house, saying Bentley has the experience to do it. Bentley previously hired M-Sport to develop the Continental GT3 racing program, but did develop the Le Mans winning Speed 8 mostly in-house. M-Sport still builds the Continental race car today.
As to why Bentley would want to undertake this challenge, the answer lies in selling cars. Bentley’s customers love to see the brand win and Bentley feels it is getting really good brand exposure through events hosted at the races. Bentley has decided for 2016 not to run their Continental GT3 in IMSA, instead staying solely with the Pirelli World Challenge series. To reach more potential customers, Bentley could run the Continental in PWC and then run the prototype in IMSA. Both of these series run here in the United States where Bentley sells more cars than any other country in the world.
Developing a new car, however, isn’t as simple as announcing you are going to race. As Sportscar365 points out, Bentley will need to align with one of the FIA, ACO and IMSA-approved LMP2 constructors and produce bodywork for the car, as well as have the engine certified.
The good news for Bentley racing fans is that if Bentley has indeed begun testing a car, it is possible we could see it appear as soon as the 2017 season.