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Bentley Motorsport’s Paul Williams On The Way Forward

Customer focus, call for GT3 to replace GTE, prototype programme less likely than pre COVID-19

After the announcement earlier today of the cessation of the planned Bentley MSport factory-backed effort in the 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge the DSC Editor caught up with Bentley Motorsport Head Paul Williams to clarify the company’s plans for 2020 and beyond:

Paul, whilst the factory team won’t continue in the IGTC the rules permit customer cars to be nominated for manufacturer Championship points.  As things stand today, what is the intention of Bentley Motorsport for the remaining three IGTC rounds and who you think might represent you there.

“At present, we have ideas more than intentions, that would be probably the best way of putting it.

“MSport running at Spa is one possibility which we are looking at.  That would be with a bit of support from the factory but also using some of their own resources as well.

“The other thing we’ve started a discussion with is K-Pax. There’s a possibility for them to do something at Indianapolis with a bit of support from us, but we’ve just started to discuss that.”

Does K-Pax currently have more than one car still in the United States?

“Right now, they have one car in the United States. The logistics of all these things now with a compressed season, it’s part of the whole complication of everything.

“And, of course, it’s massively expensive if you have to do things in very short timeframes. A single car at Indianapolis is probably the likely outcome but this is early days in the discussion, I’ve not yet had time to talk to (K-Pax team owner) Jim (Haughey) about it in any detail as yet.”

And Kyalami?

“A lot depends on what happens with business in the rest of this year and what the conditions are for travel and all sorts of other things as well. Personally, having lived in South Africa for a long time, I’d love to go back to Kyalami.

“Last year’s race there was fascinating. We had a great strategy and it’s one of those beautiful ‘could have beens’ that we always talk about, but I’d love to get back there.”

Where currently is the relationship with M Sport moving forward.

“The intention overall is that customer racing is an important aspect of what we want to do in GT racing.

“The Works programme is an enabler for that and, as we’ve gone through the first-gen and the second-gen car, people have recognised the ability or the pleasure it can be to race with Bentley, that has become something which has become appealing to customers and our intention is to push that side of things.

“The Works racing has to be seen as an enabler, not as an absolute.

“The second side of it is what does that mean for 2021? It’s really hard to know. We’ve got a lot of scenarios in the table, which we’re looking at. A lot of it depends on what the financial situation looks like in the world and within Bentley too.”

You have also mentioned the potential for even additional customers this year. Is there anything you can tell us about that.

“I can’t give you details of who, but we have got another (European) team who has got to the point of wanting to sign up to do something which is fantastic. Hopefully, we can conclude that and get going.

“So there’s one at the table and there’s another one we’ve been working on in the last week or so somebody who has seen how our brand operates and our car is really great and competitive. They see the benefits of being with one of the smaller, let’s say cosier brands where you get a bit more personal attention and something a bit more unique.

“Even in this difficult financial situation. It’s great to see people who have an interest in the brand and they want to be with us.”

We’ve seen several announcements in the last weeks and months from VAG companies. Obviously we’ve heard from Porsche about their IMSA programme just yesterday. We heard about VW and their brand aspirations and from Audi too and DTM. How would you characterise where things are in terms of Bentley and your operation? Has this decision been taken by Bentley, or is it being driven by VAG centrally?

“This is an independent decision. There is no VAG dictat. The Volkswagen Group acts as independent brands with links, and of course, we have discussions between us but this is a Bentley decision.

“But the bottom line is that, whether you’re in the VW Group or whether you’re in any other motor manufacturer at the moment, we are in the middle of a significant downturn in the market, due to the virus and with the risk of a significant financial situation. So everybody’s faced with similar choices.

I can recall in the aftermath of the last recession, that many brands were told that their motorsport activities would have to show that it’s a profit centre and not a cost centre at the moment. Is that part of the deal here?

“The reality is that when when you’re in uptrend times and when companies are superbly profitable and you’ve got record profits, etc, then doing works type racing is something which is possible.

“When times get tighter, then anything like that which is a bit more of a luxury, a bit more of a brand exercise. It has to be done in a way which is more financially realistic. We have to make the programmes more profit-generating more income-generating to enable us to weather these financial advantages.”

It is still significant cost to go prototype racing – in the current environment, that’s that’s something which is far less likely than it was previously

What about potential involvement in either a converged GT3 Pro type of programme or indeed a converged prototype programme?

“I think there’s there are two sides to any consideration of doing something with IMSA or Le Mans.

“Despite the fact that it is a major step forward in getting the convergence and getting the possibility to do the broader things with one single investment, it is still a significant cost to go prototype racing.

“And so in the current environment, that’s something which is far less likely than it was previously.
And I think you’ll get a similar answer from other manufacturers and teams as well. It’s just become a whole lot more difficult, despite the fact that what I think they’ve done is a great step forward.

“The second side to that as to the whole debate is that whatever we do going forward, the pressure to be more sustainable and more environmentally friendly becomes even tighter in these types of conditions. People take a careful look at what they are doing in the world and what they’re spending their time and money on.

“At the moment, we don’t have huge attractiveness in terms of the sustainability of what some of these programmes are.

“LMDH has a basic hybrid but it’s not exactly something that you can go big on your marketing with. So that’s a definite downside to their current proposal and the way it’s going.

“As Bentley, we absolutely see the need to be taking on things that are sustainable and forward-looking and to really offer our customers with a motorsport side or, or road car side, something that they can stand up and be proud about.

“That’s very difficult in this current environment. I think that’s something which we all need to be looking at carefully and making sure we build into any of these future regulations.

“In the financial downturn, which we are all beset with, the ability to invest in any new form of motorsport is going to be hard. So anything that converges or anything that allows you to utilise what you’ve already invested in, is only going to be a positive to the motorsport world and we have to push for those as hard as we can.”

How would you quantify the current mood about convergence with GT racing? I’ve no doubt that Bentley would love to be back at Le Mans for instance?

“For us, the simple answer is, forget GTE, put GT3 into these series as well. I don’t see where the losers are in that possibility.”

Finally, how would you characterise the current ‘mode’ for Bentley Motorsport? What is the current vision, the current mood within your own four walls?

“What we talk about all the time is customers. For any form of motorsport programme going forward, it has to be customer-oriented, it has to be a shared investment. You have to have a manufacturer engagement, but you have to have teams engaged, sponsors engaged, etc, too, to be able to jointly share the cost involved in this.

“We’ve worked hard to get customers this year.  My team is absolutely focused on making sure that those customers have the best chance to race this year in this difficult situation.

“We still have a technical partnership with M Sport and we’ve worked hard with them to get our proposal for the rest of the year together.

“If that base, with happy and hopefully successful customers, is there, then the ability to talk about factory racing and other series is again starting to become more realistic. But at the moment, you’ve got to keep your customers happy, keep them racing, look after them, support them. And then people can enjoy racing with Bentley and that’s what we want.”

Kyalami pic Copyright Dirk Boegarts/ SRO