While there’s been a lot of attention paid to the outgoing Bentley Continental GT3 in the past few weeks, with multiple customer programmes being confirmed for 2018, as well as its final run as a factory car at Bathurst, the debut of the new car, lest we forget, is right around the corner.
The new Continental GT3 will make its first appearance at the Blancpain GT Series opener at Monza in April, M-Sport developing the car and campaigning it in the full Endurance Cup which of course, features the Spa 24 Hours. It won’t be an easy ride, with the new machine up against a 24 other high quality cars in this year’s Pro class, which is stacked with quality entries
Both the Brian Gush, who’s heading up the programme and factory driver Steven Kane are confident that the new car will have a strong first year though. And in speaking to DSC, the pair were keen to point out just how much positivity there is behind the scenes, as the new car’s per-season testing programme – which DSC understands has included at least one 30-hour test – continues.
“The current car is a great car, still very competitive, but as happens with the cycle, you bring out a new model of road car and change the race car,” Gush told DSC. “When you have the chance to change, you develop and use all you’ve learned to improve the new car. That part of it has gone pretty well, after four years of experience and data.
“We’ve met all the objectives we had, we just need to understand how to set up the car properly now. But it’s where we expect it to be, certainly in the performance side, we’re really satisfied. We just need more hours pounding around to perfect the reliability.
“We’ve got two chassis, doing both endurance and functional work, alternating. We’re satisfied with the mileage we’ve managed to so far.”
After plenty of long runs in the car, Kane feels that it’s an big step over the previous model, and that with the experience from developing the first iteration back in 2013, M-Sport and Bentley’s factory drivers have had an easier time getting the car to where it needs to be.
“There’s improvements in every area, a lot of things have changed in terms of the chassis weight distributions,” he explained. “We’re going to work through testing it through to the start of the season.
“Overall it feels like a new car, it’s an evolution, but a big evolution. The aerodynamics are improved, but other aspects like weight distribution, and the cockpit, things like the pedal box, and your seating position, it’s all better. Nothing feels the same.
“And M-Sport’s work this time round on the second car has been great. Last time because it was their first race car there was a lot of learning involved. They’ve learned so much over the past four to five years.
“They’ve created a car which is a masterpiece in engineering. It means we’ve hit the ground running, this time everything is moving a lot faster, and all the drivers are involved and getting feedback. With the first car, it was only really me and Guy (Smith) testing and developing it, this time it’s all of us.
“If you’re a customer, you’re guaranteed to be quick with it I’d say. We’ve barely touched the set up and it’s already rapid. The base is really good, it’s light years ahead. The traction control, pure traction, and how it is under brakes, it’s all better. Going through different tyres on different tracks, it’s been great on tyre wear too, the window of performance appears to be really big.
“What’s more, is that there’s a few more tests planned before Monza too, it’s been pretty intense.”
And a good first year is crucial to customer sales. In a contrast to Bentley’s first Continental, of which 29 were produced since it made its debut at the 2013 Gulf 12 Hours, the Crew-based marque is hoping to sell a lot more of its new chassis (40 is the target) to customer teams, in a drive to get brand racing in more series globally. Gush stressed though, that Bentley’s customer experience is still the main priority.
“We want to sell more cars, we’re hoping that everyone knows us now, and understands the quality of the product,” he said. “Judging by the amount of people who are speaking to us about the car, there should be more out there next year. We’ve got so many people interested in it, and asking us what the programme is, and we’re wanting to talk to all of them.
“The FIA are still debating whether there should be a minimum quantity of cars produced by each manufacturer, and what that quantity is, so it’s still up for debate. But in number terms, we are not governed by that, we’re governed by getting enough customer cars out there for a worldwide programme, but not so many that we can’t focus on individual customers.
“We want to make sure that every customer has a proper Bentley experience, we’d rather that than just have large numbers. We’re not going to produce hundreds of cars, we’re going to produce the new car in smaller numbers to prioritise the customer experience.
“For now, all eyes are on Monza, we need to get it right there, and then at Spa. Then in the second half of the year we want to start delivering cars to customers. That’s the programme.”