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The Bentley Racers

By Mike Seddon - 12-03-2014

Performance Vehicles: Bentley Continental GT3 Prototype & #8 Team Breitling Bentley GT3

To us regular folk, a car show or indeed a festival based around cars is an enjoyable experience. One where we can demonstrate our personal stamp on the automotive culture while seeing what others have got to offer. Both individual drivers and car manufacturers get in on the action, which is why there's always a rich variety when these events take place. Competition is always encouraged with carefully planned events and courses through which participants can see how their vehicle stacks up to another in similar categories. From the daily driver to the next generation Hypercar, anything and everything usually attends. Except of course...the purpose built racing machines.

Such vehicles, if allowed into the festival events would decimate everything. Simply because the cars themselves would be accompanied by a full team of mechanics and diagnostic equipment, professional drivers and a whole host of other techno garbage that makes them so appealing to watch around a circuit. Bentley know this, and after debuting one of their vehicles at the Colorado festival back in 2012, they became almost thirsty for power and speed. Thus, they took it upon themselves to carry on with their motorsport legacy. Switching from the absolutely bonkers Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype to a more sensible Continental GT Speed GT car for use on the circuit, their lust for power and victory would eventually creep out from the pit lane and unleash its fiery wrath upon public streets. The weird part is, Southern Europe was not expecting it to happen so soon...

I was surprised one morning to find a pair of lorries docked at the main festival hub. Their trailers emblazoned with the symbolic Bentley logo and all around the open doors and service hatches, gazebos and ground sheets spread out to house toolboxes and diagnostic equipment. Surely Bentley weren't taking this great a measure to ensure whatever they were providing to the Autoshow was in good shape? Normally the cars arrive in wooden shipping crates or containers to be put on display and eventually sold to a willing buyer. This...this just screamed overkill to me. Picture the service area at a Rally stage...yeah, that's how it looked at the hub that morning. More like a rally stage than a music festival.

A thunderous roar erupted from one of the trailers, much to the excitement of the festival crowd having just seen off a battalion of cars on the daily road trip. This didn't sound like a regular Bentley...or a regular car for that matter. The smell of high octane fuel wafted through the air from the trailer coupled with a unified gasp from some onlookers as a plethora of carbon and aluminium rolled out of the trailer and under one of the gazebos. I was right to think it wasn't a regular car. This was the prototype for the Bentley Continental GT3 race car! What the hell was it doing at the Horizon Festival?! Even as a seasoned traveler to many events, to see one of these amazing machines up close gave me chills. The white and green livery shone to polished perfection, complimented by the dark carbon weave of the aerodynamic additions. I seriously though I'd died and gone to heaven.

Surely I must have, because before I could gather my thoughts at the white GT3, another voice launched its raucous bellow from the second trailer and rolled its seemingly threatening presence towards the adjacent service tent. The Breitling Bentley, carrying the iconic British Racing Green paint and adorned with the legendary winged anchor sponsorships. Not a single thing looked out of place on either machine. Now, I'd seen Bentley cars bought at the Autoshow before and personalised to their owners liking, but those were all designed to be the luxury cruisers which sit motionless on large chrome rims. Nothing like this. Nothing like this at all.

As the voracious snarling from the pair of twin-turbo engines hushed to almost a predatory purr, I managed to catch up with one of the engineers who'd come along with the cars. Though it seemed like they were preparing for the next session of Petit Le Mans, he was more than happy to take a few minutes to try and explain to me why Bentley had gone absolutely stark raving mad at this festival. "We did well in Colorado. A few of the previous Continental models got sold to buyers who put their own stamp on them" he stated like it should have been a well known fact, "but none of them sought after sheer performance. I understand that Bentleys are pretty fast straight from the factory, but nobody seemed to want to push their car to the next level, so to speak". He looked over at the white model, their flagship for a new generation.

"Oh sure, we had a brilliant run with the Speed 8 on the track, but we had no road-going variant like the Toyota GT-One or Mercedes CLK GTR. It would have meant a great deal of work to have a street version of the Speed 8, so we went back to the drawing board and entered the world of modern GT Racing". A sharp rasp from one of the cars briefly caught the engineer's attention, before he nodded in approval and returned to his story. "We looked at some of the other great cars that compete in the GT class; Jaguar, Ferrari, Porsche - basically cars you can use on a daily basis. So we took our Continental model and made it so she could keep up with the best as a prototype. Her success secured us the Breitling name for our other car".

I couldn't help but slip in the question of why they've brought racing cars to a festival which has never really seen them compete off the circuit before. "Oh, that's an easy one" replied the engineer, almost with a laugh. "Despite owning a quick car, for example a Maserati GT-S, some owners will still want to see it go just that little bit faster. It's those drivers we're out to impress and intimidate!" I could clearly see that working. For these cars certainly weren't as the manufacturer would supply them. Every inch was lightweight and built to perform in ways that a comfortable and rather large car should find it physically impossible. Bentley must employ a lot of wizardry and witchcraft when it comes to designing these machines.

Most of the exterior panels have been replaced with carbon fibre, whatever is left is aluminium. That huge front splitter which could probably slice you in half if you were unfortunate enough to step out onto the road in its path and the mighty rear wing are fully adjustable, giving the owner the ability to fine tune their aerodynamics for any given course. The rear bumper gives way to a huge diffuser to suck the car down to the ground at speed and the carbon side sills have the exhaust pipes poking out each end, spitting flames at (very) regular intervals. Lightweight O.Z wheels compliment the look for both cars, which is saying something considering black wheels on racing cars looks simply awesome.

The chassis itself is pure performance oriented. Protecting the driver is a rollcage with encompasses the entire rear cabin of the car to ensure minimal injury if there should be an accident. Fully adjustable shock absorbers and anti roll bars ensure that the car can be set up and tuned for every eventuality and those O.Z wheels are wrapped in the finest rubber that Bridgestone can offer. If you take a corner at speed in these cars, you can guarantee you'll fly out of the window before the car loses traction. Inside of course, there's bucket seats and racing harnesses to keep you in place while the car throws you about and often tries to kill you with insane amounts of grip.

The engines in these cars are works of art. Both are souped up versions of the same engine found in the street variant, yet everything is...well...bigger. Bigger air intakes to gulp in fresh air. Bigger turbos to push the car to almost astronomical speeds. Bigger intercooler to keep everything from overheating. They're basically luxury cars that got tired of being coaxed gently around and decided to break the mould. Refined exhaust systems amplify the guttural growl of these mighty W12 engines and expel waste gas and ferocious licks of flame. It's no wonder that they had to come with an army of mechanics in order to compete at the festival.

Is it fair to bring a performance racing car to a festival? I would say yes, as it gives the members of the public a chance to pit their own skill and car against the best of the best. There's the elite drivers out there of cars which are built to perform just as well as a racing car if you put your foot down, yet sensible enough to cruise back home in once the day's racing is done. Sure, these two beasts will most likely never be seen in your local supermarket car park or at the McDonald's drive through, but as long as there's a Horizon Festival somewhere in the world, you can be sure that lunatics such as the Bentley Boys will always be there to push the next generation of car enthusiasts just that little bit further.


'Mike Seddon is an avid follower of the car culture and has been present for both the Colorado and Southern Europe Festivals.  He also goes trackside whenever possible and - armed with his trusty camera - strives to capture the best moments and cars from every event he attends'.


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