If you’re a high-end automobile manufacturer with a racing pedigree then you can’t help but to enter an endurance race like the 24 Hours of Nürburgring. Like a moth to the flame, Bentley Motors brought their Bentley Continental GT3 to the Nürburgring for a grueling 24 hour endurance race. In partnership with their racing partners HTP Motorsport and M-Sport, there were a total of three Continental GT3s competing against 150 other drivers.
Bentley isn’t new to endurance racing having run the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times from 2001-2003, the 12 hours of Sebring in 2003 and the Blancpain Endurance Series last year and this year. This was also something HTP and M-Sport, Bentley’s European partners, had been preparing for, including the qualifying races they ran earlier this year.
In the end, only one of the Continental GT3s would make it through the race without suffering any signficant setbacks. On the face of it, that might not sound that great but the truth is that it’s quite impressive. It’s impressive because none of the three Bentleys faced difficulties related to mechanical failures. Of the issues the teams dealt with, one was caused when the #85 car was run into by another racer costing hours of repair work before it could reenter the race. The other injured Bentley was knocked out of the race by a self-inflicted spin that caused irreparable damage to the front end of the car.
How grueling is the 24 hours of Nürburgring? Around 150 cars started the race but only 102 finished. The track itself is 15 miles long with 73 turns, making it difficult for weary drivers to find a good rhythm.
There were scattered showers during the race. So scattered that some parts of the huge track were wet while others were dry. For most of the night, it was almost impossible for drivers to tell if the road in front of them was wet or dry leaving teams and drivers guessing on tires and how hard to push the car through the turns.
Bentley Motorsport entered two factory efforts in the race: the #84 car in the GT3’s standard white livery and the #85 car in a spectacular Tusli Green paint, echoing the paint schemes of the Bentley Speed 8’s that competed and ultimately won Le Mans in the early 2000s. Bentley Team HTP Motorsport, one of Bentley’s factory supported teams, also entered a Continental GT3. The #11 was also in the standard white livery.
The drivers were as follows:
Car #84 – Jereon Bleekemolen, Christian Menzel and Lance David Arnold. Christopher Brück, alternate.
Car #85 – Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane. Lance David Arnold, alternate.
Car #11 – Harold Primat, Christopher Bruck and Marco Seefried. Clemens Schmid, alternate.
All three cars qualified well and made the Top 30, which put them in the front of the massive field for the start of the race. The three Continentals and their experienced drivers cut through the field and after about two hours had maneuvered into the top 10.
Soon after, the #85 car would fall victim to traffic. As a group of cars was slowing due to a slow car at a turn, #85 was rear ended by a car who didn’t realize the speed of the traffic ahead of him. The green Bentley was pushed off the track where it and its driver, Guy Smith, sat for 90 minutes until they could be safely brought back to the pits. Initially Bentley thought the car would have to withdraw from the race. However, Bentley engineers quickly went to work assessing the damage and it was determined that they would work to get the car back on the track.
Bentley had strong motivation to get the car repaired as they would gain invaluable experience running at night in the German forest. After several hours of work, the #85 car was ready to head back out.
The #85 wasn’t just back on the track. With Steven Kane at the wheel, it was putting down some fast times and they were consistent. For the rest of the race, the #85’s stellar driver line-up would each drive double stints of two hours each. After that first double stint, Steven Kane said the car was not only operational, but a joy to drive. “After the repairs, I was concerned the car would feel bad or inconsistent, but I shouldn’t have worried – it was absolutely mega, a real pleasure to drive, and we were actually one of the quickest cars on the track. The mechanics did an incredible job, as always. We’re making the most of a bad situation and learning loads about running here at night. It’s great to see the HTP car doing so well too, and I’m hoping they get a great finish.”
With the #85 car back on the track, Bentley was feeling pretty good when the #84 car unexpectedly fell into trouble. With Jereone Bleekmolen at the wheel, the car spun. The damage to the car that was incurred leaving the track proved to be fatal. Understandably, Bleekemolen was extremely disappointed. “I’m very disappointed that we had to retire the car. Our pace was strong and we knew we could fight to finish in the top ten, and that was hugely motivational – but I had a big spin, and the damage that resulted was just too difficult to fix. It’s a real shame because the Continental GT3 drives really well here and with a little more luck we could’ve had a very strong finish.”
Bleekemolen’s co-driver Christian Menzel talked about the team spirit he experienced in the Bentley camp. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish, more for the learning that comes with time in the car than the final result – that’s the secret here, to get the right feeling as a driver. But I’m really proud to be part of this team – I’ve been in a lot of very good teams, but the team spirit at Bentley is special. The spectators see it too – this car and this team is definitely a fan favorite and that drives us to do better next time.”
While all this was going on with the other two cars, the HTP Motorsport entry continued to hum along posting great lap times while avoiding contact with other cars. By the time the sun started to make its appearance, the so-called ‘happy hour’, hopes were rising that they would be able to hold on through the morning to a top 10 finish. In the end, the #11 would have the best finish for any Bentley in the race, coming in eighth in class and overall.
In fact, the entire event was a testament to the Continental GT3 and its makers. Not only did the cars perform reliably, they were also fast and competitive.
Bentley next heads to Silverstone in the UK, where an M-Sport Continental GT3 won last year. Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steve Kane will be looking to build on their second-in-class, fourth-overall finish from the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza. A second M-Sport Continental GT3, driven by Andy Soucek, Maxi Buhk and Maxime Soulet, will also be fighting for a podium finish.
We will have to wait and see how the two cars compete as they will be running with a reduction in maximum turbo boost per the series’s sanctioning body. “Silverstone is our spiritual home and I really hope we can put on a good show for the crowd. It’ll be a challenging race weekend due to the stiff competition but we know what it takes to win at Silverstone and as always we’ll race as hard as we can,’ said Brian Gush, Directory of Bentley Motorsport.
News Sources: Bentley Motorsport, Radio Le Mans, HTP Motorsport