SINCE their debut in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in 2015, Bentley Motorsport has become one of the most popular international teams to visit the Mountain each year.
The combination of the remarkable Continental GT3 – a car that doesn’t look like it should be competitive against a field of low-slung Supercars – and the renowned history of the M-Sport organisation that sits behind the factory team all add to their Aussie appeal.
M-Sport already had priors in Australia thanks to their success in the World Rally Championship, while the big, brusing V8-powered Continentals suited the Mount Panorama template for ‘how to go well at Bathurst’ perfectly.
What no one would expect is how tough or resilient the Bentley’s would become.
The team’s first Bathurst in 2015 saw them bring a two-car team, Matt Bell, Steven Kane and LeMans winner Guy Smith in the headline car with a second entry raced by former runner-up Maxi Buhk, Harold Primat and Andy Soucek.
An independently-entered third car, run by Maranello Motorsport but entered under the banner of ‘Flying B Racing’, was driven by John Bowe, Peter Edwards and David Brabham, on his Mount Panorama return.
Two of the three cars failed to finish, with the Flying B car ended up in the wall at Griffins Bend after contact from an errant Aston Martin, setting up the late Safety Car that would ultimately decide the race.
The lead car, however, led a majority of the final hour of the race and proved to be a real contender for the victory.
Passed on the final restart by the flying Nissan GT-R GT3 driven by Katsumasa Chiyo, the Bentley lost its podium chance in the final corner when a late move from the Craft Bamboo Aston Martin driven by Stefan Mucke saw the car pushed wide at Murray’s, ultimately bumped from second to fourth at the flag.
The team gained some revenge the following year: The same Bell / Kane / Smith trio re-uniting to again lead more than an hour of the race and ultimately finish third – the brand’s first podium on the Mountain.
The sister car finished seventh, having also led the race throughout the day, with Bentley the only brand to bring two cars home after a bruising 12 Hours.
“A podium finish in just our second year racing here at Mount Panorama Circuit is a great achievement,” said Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, at the time.
“Both of our cars have completed 12 hours of extremely demanding and competitive racing without any reliability issues.”
The team returned looking to build on that result in 2017, Guy Smith, Steven Kane, Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek will returning while young-gun Vince Abril and former factory Audi LMP1 pilot Oliver Jarvis joined the squad for the first time.
After topping the fastest Friday on record at Mount Panorama, the team struggled in qualifying however a mighty drive by the number 17 Continental GT3, piloted by the all-British trio of Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Oliver Jarvis, saw rose from 22nd on the grid to finish on the podium.
For the third straight year the car also took time in the lead of the race.
Unfortunately for car 8, a punctured tyre preceded a brush with Mount Panorama’s unforgiving concrete walls and forced the number 8 GT3 to pit. After the early stop, a hard-fought comeback saw drivers Maxime Soulet, Andy Soucek and Vince Abril finished in twelfth place.
It was the second straight year the team had finished on the podium and the second they had brought both cars home.
2018 proved more challenging for the Bentley Boys, the late arrival of a shipping container meaning the cars didn’t even arrive until late Thursday night.
Despite that, by the eighth hour the Guy Smith, Steven Jane and Jules Gounon lead car had become a regular top three contender as the race begun to build to another thrilling finish. Sadly for the team, the car was caught up in an incident at the Elbow, causing big damage and forcing the car to pit lane for repairs.
Battle scarred, the car circulated to finish 16th in the ultimately shortened affair.
The sister No. 18 car, driven by Vincent Abril, Andy Souceck and Maxime Soulet, lost 20 laps for a gearbox issue before being bunkered in the chase after a right-front puncture. They retired after just 58 laps.
2018 would mark the final fling for the first generation Continental GT3. 2019 brings the newer car and a renewed hope that this time, perhaps Bentley can conquer Bathurst.