The Bentley Continental GT seems the least likely of GT3 cars. In street form, the big, luxurious coupe stands – literally — head and shoulders above its on-track rivals like the Audi R8, Porsche 911 and Ferrari 488. Yet GT3 rules aren’t along the lines of ‘take a car and here’s the modifications you can make.’ Rather, each car is homologated separately, so what happens with a Lamborghini Huracán on the way from road car to GT3 racecar is radically different than the transformation of the Continental.
Thus the Continental loses a lot of weight – nearly a thousand pounds – and has a big shift in weight distribution toward the rear. It has become quite an effective GT3 weapon, taking victories in major races around the world and winning at least one race each season in World Challenge since its introduction to the series in 2014.
No team has had more success with the car than K-PAX Racing, which switched to Bentley from McLaren this season and won five races between Rodrigo Baptista and Alvaro Parente. Next year K-PAX will get its hands on the next generation of Continental GT3, which mirrors the latest generation of the road car, for Blancpain GT World Challenge America competition.
That car was introduced to North America at the California 8 Hour round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, campaigned by Bentley Team M-Sport. RACER.com took the opportunity to take a closer look at the car with Will Hunt, technical manager for Bentley Motorsport Engineering.
“The new car is altogether a different beast,” says Hunt. “It’s obviously based on the new road car we are in the process of rolling out across the world. The body shell is completely different; it’s a mix of aluminum, steel, and even some magnesium.
“It’s quite a complex construction. While the first-generation cars were predominantly steel with aluminum, this one is predominantly aluminum. While it’s a good thing in some ways, it presents other challenges, such as repairability in the event of a crash. Torsional stiffness of the body shell [is a challenge] as well, so we’ve had to work quite hard to regain the stiffness, which we’ve done with some clever cage design.”
The engine in the previous-generation Continental GT3 was already lower and more rearward compared to the road car, and in this version that goes even farther. The bottom end of the 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 has been redesigned so the dry sump is much lower. Bentley has also used the maximum amount of bulkhead modification the FIA will allow so the engine is even farther back. The oil tank is now in the trunk to further balance weight distribution, along with a new Ricardo transmission that’s mounted to the rear subframe. All this helps in making the new Continental GT3 close to 50-50 weight distribution front to rear versus the old car, which had 53 to 54 percent of its weight on the front.
“We looked at the big chunks of weight in the car and said, ‘Let’s get these in the right place,’” Hunt says. “We moved the engine back and down. We’ve moved the transmission rearwards, the fuel tank as well. And then we looked at the driver. The driver’s seat is now moved back as far as possible to the main hoop of the rollcage. It’s mounted solid, where the first generation you could move the seat. Here we have a moveable pedal box and a moveable steering wheel. Everything comes to the driver.”
The new Continental has seen some big improvements in the aerodynamics department as well. The road car has a shorter overhang, and the racecar carries that over in addition to a shorter splitter (pictured above). The front corners are tidier as well, leading to a decreased likelihood of damage in incidental contact. The shorter overhangs also help in high-compression, banked corners where before the splitter would make a lot of contact with the pavement and could wear it out during a long race. At the rear, a twisted wing makes the car look a bit more up-to-date.
Hunt explains: “The car is more aggressive in the way it looks, but we focused a lot on the efficiency of the car. Because it’s quite a high frontal area, the drag and the overall lift-over-drag ratio and efficiency is important. The rear looks quite extreme; partly that’s a styling thing, but also we were influenced by the rear gearbox, which is now longitudinal and actually intrudes into the center channel of the diffuser. So we worked hard to recover what we lost through having the gearbox in that position.
“And then, of course, that works along with the rear wing … on the first generation it’s a single profile and we have a twisted wing on the new car. Again, that’s for efficiency. We are really happy with the balance and the aero performance and the styling of the car, because we are a performance brand and we are emphasizing the performance potential of Bentley and the new Continental GT.”
Bentley, although part of a much bigger corporation, is a small company. Thus the road car side and motorsport operations work closely together.
“It’s a very small team of us at Bentley together with another small team at M Sport who work closely on the development. It’s more about how we can do a lot with a little. It’s about making your processes efficient, using the right suppliers, using suppliers that can deliver with short lead times. In terms of information back to the road car, we’ve worked with them a lot on that as well,” adds Hunt.
Road car become racecar, which influences the next road car, along with the racing department’s desires for a good base for their competition machine. It’s a process which makes for both better road cars and racecars. Next season we’ll see what K-PAX Racing can do with the latest Bentley Continental GT3.