Connection
Magazine

Bentley chasing Jaguar with an Aston winning – classic British racing

There was one moment at Silverstone – and it was at 4.30pm, right in the middle of the race itself – when GT sports car competition was at its absolute zenith.

Share

Andy Soucek, charging hard in his Naim-sponsored Bentley Continental GT, was breathing down the neck of a Jaguar steadfastly refusing to move over so the Bentley could thunder ahead. That was promising to bring Soucek one more step up in the rankings, rising from 15th to 14th place. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the famous Northamptonshire track, an Aston Martin was leading the race at its half-way point.

The commentator was in rapture: “Bentley chasing Jaguar with an Aston winning – classic British racing,” he yelled. “Silverstone on a day like this just doesn’t get any better.”

Indeed, you couldn’t pick a finer event in the Blancpain GT series to soak up the full, high-caffeine flavour of what it’s all about. There are several lengths of races in this season-long endurance killer and, at three hours, the Silverstone fixture on 20 May is among the shorter. But it is surely one of the most intense.

In our long-term partnership with Bentley, designing, engineering and supplying the premium sound systems across the whole Bentley range, it’s always great to be part of anything challenging the British marque tackles. So we were right there with our Naim roadshow, cheering them on.

"Compared to the old GT3, we’ve achieved pretty much 50:50 weight distribution front and back, and for the race car we’ve moved the engine as far back as we possibly can under the bonnet to achieve that". Will Hunt, the team’s technical manager.

In this case, we’ve already collaborated closely on the system for the all-new Bentley Continental GT. Not that there is any soundtrack inside its GT3 racecar derivative, beyond the deafening, rasping yowl coming from its twin-turbo V8 engine that feels like it’s actually inside the cockpit with the driver. Bentley owners would have been shocked to peep inside and see the single, body-hugging seat for the driver, the hefty roll-over cage, and the strictly functional collection of matt black buttons, dials and digital readouts that double for a dashboard in this stripped-out workplace.

It also gets very hot in there. Really sticky, especially on a blazing late spring day like today. Adrenaline and air sucked in through a vent in the plastic side window are all that a driver has to keep his cool.

By the time we caught up with the cars around midday in the Bentley garage alongside the pit lane, qualifying had been completed. In all honesty, it didn’t bode well. Team car No8, with the driving to be shared by Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet, couldn’t complete all three sessions to find its place on the starting grid, and so was allocated a depressing last place – no, really – as the 50th of 50 starters. Car No7, with Guy Smith, Jules Gounon and Steven Kane to drive, had the 22nd spot, still not terribly heroic.

But perhaps what Naim customers and even Bentley fans didn’t appreciate was that this Bentley is a brand new car on only its second full race outing. Will Hunt, the team’s technical manager, explained.

“It’s actually a development year and a learning curve for everyone as we get to grips with the new Continental. Compared to the old GT3, we’ve achieved pretty much 50:50 weight distribution front and back, and for the race car we’ve moved the engine as far back as we possibly can under the bonnet to achieve that.”

Under the lowered, aggressively flared body profile is the identical body structure as the new Continental GT that several Naim customers already own. The difference is, thanks to a drastic weight-saving redesign, it weighs some 1000kg less despite having almost the same engine output of 550bhp

Brian Gush, head of Bentley M-Sport was, at this stage, looking apprehensive.

“This car has great traction and balance,” he said, guardedly. “We’ve come a long way with it and there’s a lot still to do, but I’m happy to say we’ve now got the aerodynamics to balance front and back.”

There was a great fanfare and building of excitement as the public was allowed briefly to mingle with the cars on the VIP grid walk. But where was the second Bentley? There was panic in the pits as the mechanics grappled a major catastrophe; the propshaft was broken and it looked as though the car’s day would be over even before it began. Learning curve indeed.

Miraculously, the almost-grounded Bentley No8 was just able to make it, starting the race from the pit-lane rather than the grid just to hobble it even more.

At 3pm, the thunder of concentrated engine noise peaked as the race started and the cars roared away. The six Bentley team drivers would each drive for a maximum of 65 minutes, and would need to do everything possible to keep pit-stops for driver, fuel and tyre changes to the tightly-rehearsed 40sec.

At 3.27, there was a Bentley disaster. A blown engine, and the car was out. Sad news, but thankfully for the Naim-backed factory team it was the privateer Team Parker Racing whose day was finished. Trouble is, Parker was campaigning last season’s Continental GT3, which has an amazing reputation for race tenacity. Now, the spotlight was fixed solely on the new Bentleys still so fresh to the furious pace of GT racing.

And, here, something incredible was happening. Within 10 minutes of the flag dropping, Vincent Abril’s car No8 had overtaken an astonishing 19 other cars, and just 15 minutes later he’d gained 26th position. This beast had open-chassis surgery within the hour but here it was pulling like a train.

Guy Smith’s car No7 spun off the track in the opening few miles, but the veteran driver – he won the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours in 2003 – got back in the game swiftly. And by 3.37, he was leaving a Lamborghini for dust to take 39th place.

By 4.08, the race a third-gone on this sun-drenched afternoon, it was driver handover. Soucek inherited No8 in 17th place and Jules Gounon took the No7 hotseat from Smith at 30th.

With both cars in the midfield, they were some way behind the excitement at the head of the pack. But the Bentley buzz was growing among the proud British crowd, and the eager Naim contingent. The largely untried cars were in the thick of things and, by just after 5pm, with Maxime Soulet installed in No8 and Steven Kane at the helm of No7, there was plenty to be joyful about, as they barged on in 14th and 24th place respectively. Even intimidating behaviour from a Mercedes, shunting Steven into a high-speed doughnut and knocking the Bentley back, couldn’t deter No7, now in 23rd place.

In the final, jostling reckoning, at 6pm, he was over the line in 21st place. But it was an even better result for car No8, as Maxime Soulet brought it home 14th. And that, it was noted with relish, was ahead of any of the McLarens.

No win, then. Motor racing at this level is cruel, hard and very fast. On this hallowed home turf, though, this was a day of spectacular battling. Both Bentleys finished with aplomb, overcoming adversity to streak their Naim liveries across the finishing line. For Guy Smith, this was an especially bittersweet final tasting of Bentley racing as he’s known it; he’s retiring from top-line competition, and this was his very last outing.

“I got my chance in 2001 as a young blood and now it’s someone else’s turn,” he said. “I thought it was time to step aside. But I’ll always be proud to be a Bentley Boy.” That’s the spirit.

Related articles

17 October 2018

We've chosen power ballads for our October playlist. 

13 September 2018

The music of Lady Soul will continue to be celebrated so we thought we’d put together a...

07 August 2018

We delve deep into the history, digging out rarities and gems from the Latin genre for our...

Mu-so Qb Red Burst
03 August 2018

Love listening to your music on Mu-so Qb?  Here are our top tips to making the most of our most...

11 July 2018

“Country is a broad church, There are hip-hop, R&B and pop influences as well as rock, folk...