Published on October 8th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Bentley Motorsport begins Project NBR15 For 2015 Nürburgring 24 Hours
Bentley Motorsport reflects on a successful debut season for the new Continental GT3. Having completed the five rounds of the Blancpain Endurance Series in Europe, and the second half of the Pirelli World Challenge in the U.S.A. in preparation for a full series next year, the Continental GT3 has scored three victories on two continents and finished a championship in second place.
The European season started at Monza, where the car proved itself to be a fast and durable competitor from the outset. The three-man driving team of Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Duncan Tappy and Antoine Leclerc in car #8 drove a superb race to finish 6th in the Continental GT3s first competition race outing, while the #7 car came home two places behind in 8th. The M-Sport Bentley team left Italy satisfied but with a list of areas on which to progress.
Improvements were demonstrated in compelling fashion at the second round, at the home of British motorsport, Silverstone. With works-supported Bentleys starting their first race in the UK in 84 years, it was clear that the team’s hard work to improve the setup of the Continental GT3, and the speed and efficiency of their pit stops, was paying off. After an enthralling three hour battle, Steven Kane took the chequered flag in car #7, capturing the car’s first win in only its second full competition race. Steven, together with teammates Guy Smith and Andy Meyrick, celebrated Bentley’s first race victory since the famous dominance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003.
The team continued their form in impressive style at the next event, the evening race at Paul Ricard. After another gruelling contest, the #7 Continental GT3 scored its second victory in a row, and M-Sport Bentley left France sitting at the top of both Drivers and Teams Endurance Pro Championships.
Meanwhile, in North America, Dyson Racing Team Bentley had taken delivery of the first of two Continental GT3s. Using the second half of the Pirelli World Challenge series to prepare both team and car for 2015, Bentley Boy Butch Leitzinger immediately showed an impressive turn of speed, finishing 6th in the team’s first race at Road America.
Back in Europe, Bentley Motorsport arrived at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in July, to face the Continental GT3’s toughest test yet – the Spa 24 Hours. While the cars showed good pace in practice and qualifying, luck was not on the team’s side in the opening two hours. The #8 car suffered suspension damage after being hit by a competitor, while car #7 sustained damage to a brake line after running over debris from incidents between other cars. After repairs to both cars, the fight back through the order began from 55th and 50th positions respectively. Only then was the real pace of the car obvious, as by the end of the race both cars had climbed to finish in the top 20, with car #7 9th in class and so scoring vital championship points. The #8 car also finished strongly, proving the durability of the racer and once again contributing vital data and experience to the team effort.
Before the last race of the Blancpain Endurance Series came the finale of the Pirelli World Challenge. With Dyson Racing Team Bentley now running two cars, the second piloted by Guy Smith, the development of the car was going well – Butch Leitzinger had scored the team’s first podium at Sonoma in August, while the car recorded fastest laps and broken track records. The final round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah proved to be the highlight though, as Guy Smith steered his Continental GT3 to victory in the 50-minute sprint race, joined on the podium by Butch in 3rd. This win was Bentley’s first ever outside Europe, and will undoubtedly be the platform on which to build a strong campaign in the U.S.A. for 2015.
Bentley finished the Endurance season with the iRacing.com Nürburgring 1000 km, knowing that they were in contention to finish in the top three in both Drivers and Teams championships. Atrocious weather conditions made for a very difficult first four hours of the race for both Bentleys, but as the track started to dry both cars were in the top 20. With the Continentals making strong progress through the field as their competitors faltered, it became clear that a 5th-in-class finish for car #7 would secure the runners-up spot in both championships. With 20 minutes to go, Steven Kane made the pass from 6th to 5th, and at the chequered flag the championship was decided. Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane finished as runners-up in the Pro Endurance Drivers Championship, while Bentley secured second place in the Teams Championship.