By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
Bentley is one of the few auto manufacturers to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans more than once, including a string of four-in-a-row between 1927-'31. It successfully returned to Le Mans in the early '00s with help from corporate parent Audi, winning overall in a Speed 8 EXP prototype after three years of trying.
Things have been quiet on the Bentley racing front for almost a decade, until now. The company is embracing the FIA's popular GT3-spec class that currently sees cars like the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Audi R8 BMW Z4, Porsche 911, Lamborghini Gallardo, Ford GT, Chevrolet Camaro, McLaren MP-12C, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and more. And the vehicle it's picking to convert to racing spec?
The Continental GT Speed.
Confused about how a ginormous GT car is going to mix it up with the smaller and more nimble sports cars? Well, in some ways it makes sense. The original 'Bentley Boys' used hulking Bentley 4½ Litre models as their steeds, which were like locomotives compared to the lithe machines from Bugatti and Alfa Romeo.
Now, there are most definitely serious modifications needed to make Bentley's heavyweight cruise missile suitable for track action, but the most serious is a weight reduction of nearly 2,000 pounds. I guess all the inch-thick carpets and hand-sewn leathers - not to mention the rear seat - are missing in action. Lightweight construction, body modifications, vents, new suspension, brakes, transmission, etc. Oh, and that wing...
The biggest change will be the adoption of rear-wheel drive, something mandated by the series and adopted by rivals like the R8 and Nissan GTR. No word on how much power the 6.0-litre W12 engine will produce, but the FIA goes through a painstaking parity process before every season to ensure that it'll be the drivers who make the difference.
Chances are we'll see them back at Le Mans in the not-so-distant future... Can't wait!