Elkhart Lake, WI, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country. It happens to also be home to Road America, a 4 mile road course with racing history that dates back to a time when cars would use the streets and roads around Elkhart Lake as the race course.
It is one of my favorite places to visit and it always feels like home when I’m there. For Bentley Team Dyson Racing, it was a homecoming of sorts too as it was here that Bentley’s Continental GT3 race car debuted in North America one year ago.
Road America is fan friendly place with plenty of great spots to watch the 4.04 mile, 14 turn road course. It has a nice straightaway for building speeds up to 160mph for the GT cars and plenty of room for the cars to run without bouncing off of each other. All those turns provide many opportunities for passing, making it a fast, exciting place to race.
The weekend started well for Bentley as Chris Dyson qualified in second place for Friday’s make up race that was rained out at Belle Isle. Even better than that was Butch Leitzinger’s qualifying lap which annihilated the previous track record. The Bentleys were fast and would prove it every time they were on the track this weekend.
“The conditions were perfect, I was able to get heat into the tires and I was fortunate to get a clear lap with no traffic,” said Leitzinger, who was behind the wheel of a brand new car after his previous mount was badly damaged in a practice crash at Detroit last month. “The new car was fantastic right off the trailer. The Continental GT3 has great high-speed downforce and that’s critical at this track.”
Leitzinger hasn’t gotten much of a break this season as his car was heavily damaged at Long Beach causing him to miss the next race. At Belle Isle, he had another run-in with the wall and significantly damaged his Continental GT3. This time the decision was made to get a new chassis (tub) from Crewe and rebuild the car again. There is so much that goes in to setting up a race car and the fact that they had rebuild his car makes his qualifying time even more impressive. It was also a chance to switch up the look of the car as both Bentley’s were sporting new livery this weekend that echoes what we’ve seen on the European cars.
Towards the end of qualifying, Chris Dyson had a power steering pump failure. With a short window between qualifying and the race start, the team was in a hurry to get to work on the #16. Unfortunately they moved the car from the race/pit area before the qualifying session was officially over. This is an infraction and his very fast qualifying time was thrown out for Friday’s race and he was forced by race officials to start at the back of the field.
Round #11 of the Pirelli World Challenge was eventful but without cautions – just what a race fan wants to see! Leitzinger’s #20 Continental didn’t get a good start and was quickly passed by the Lamborghini Gallardo of Tomas Enge who would hold the lead for the entire race.
After the first lap was put away, Butch settled in sixth and Chris was in 20th. Leitzinger worked hard to get around the Ferrari 458 Italia of Olivier Beretta but just couldn’t get by and would finish fifth.
Dyson raced brilliantly catching up to Leitzinger and finishing sixth. This was a great finish considering he started at the tail end of the field. His car was very, very quick and there were no cautions allowing him a lot of time to work. The race results were satisfying but frustrating to Bentley fans as they thought about what Chris might have done had he been allowed to start P2.
Round #12 was Saturday and it was a chance for redemption for both Dyson Racing Continental GT3s. Based on their qualifying Friday, they would start P1 and P2 for the 2nd race of the weekend. Once again Leitzinger’s #20 struggled at the start and he fell back to sixth, while Dyson’s #16 Bentley settled into 2nd behind Friday’s race winner, Tomas Enge in his Lamborghini Gallardo GT3.
Dyson was very quick and kept the pressure on Enge, who had enjoyed the previous race without much heat from the field. This time Chris was right there and took advantage of a bobble by Enge to move into first place. Enge would later have to pit with cut tire, allowing the field to move up one.
A full course yellow would bring the field of cars back together and allow 2nd place J.D. Davidson in a Nissan GT-R to get into position to take first place away. On the restart, the #16 Bentley was too fast and appeared to just cruise away from the field, bringing home Bentley’s first win of the season in the Pirelli World Challenge. Leitzinger was close to getting on the podium, but Ryan Daziel held him off and the #20 Continental GT3 would finish in 4th.
“I knew this would be a good track for the Continental GT3,” Dyson said, following Saturday’s race. “The Bentley guys gave me an unbelievable car today, and we made the most of it. It’s not very often that you have a car that’s so good on a specific day on a particular track and I was savoring every lap. I love Road America and it’s a great feeling to win here. I grew up coming here watching my dad (Rob) race.”
Sunday’s Round #13 saw a Bentley on the pole for the third time of the weekend. Chris Dyson and the #16 Bentley Continental GT3 would sit P1 based on his fast lap time from the day before. Leitzinger would start in sixth, but once again had problems getting off the line for the Pirelli World Challenge’s standing starts. In fact, Sunday’s race start was a nightmare for competitors as two other cars also stalled or faltered, creating chaos as cars tried to avoid each other.
The dust settled with Dyson losing first position and settling in behind Tomas Enge and J.D. Davidson. Things got worse as the race went back to green. As the cars decelerated into turn 5 at Road America, a slow left hander, Kevin Estre’s McLaren ran into the back of Dyson’s #16, sending Chris into a spin and off into the gravel trap. Dyson then had to wait in the gravel while the entire field moved by before he could safely exit.
Being the fastest helped Dyson start from the back and just like Friday’s event, hew would begin to work his way through the field. It wasn’t meant to be though, as a Ferrari 458 Italia then ran into the back of him again. Dyson spun but remained on track. He would finish 17th. It was definitely a frustrating and disappointing day for the pole sitter.
Leitzinger had a good race but didn’t gain much from his starting position. He would finish where he qualified, in sixth position. On an upbeat note, Butch set the fastest lap of Sunday’s race, while Dyson had the second fastest.
“It was great that we were able to get our first win of the season,” Rob Dyson said. “We’ve got some work to do before the Mid-Ohio races late next month, particularly on the launch-control system, which is essential for standing starts.”
I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dyson Racing and will be writing some more about how impressed I was by the Dyson organization. It is a first class operation and while they didn’t win as many podiums as they would have liked, they did gain some valuable championship points by virtue of having a Bentley on the pole for all three races. Bentley was sitting in sixth in manufacturer’s points and Chris Dyson was in seventh prior to Road America. I expect they’ll both move up and will update this sentence as soon as the Pirelli World Challenge posts the new rankings.
If you want to see the rebroadcast of this weekend’s action, tune in to CBS on Sunday, July 5th at 2pm ET.
Additional Source and Chris Dyson Photo Credit: Dyson Racing