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Naim for Bentley - Nurburgring

A 24-Hour Battle at the Season’s Peak

Bentley’s Continental GT3 race cars were on fighting form for an epic tussle at Germany’s ‘green hell’; and there’s plenty more speed and fury to come for Europe’s most demanding tracks.

Condividi

The Bentley Motorsport racing team has reached the crucial mid-way point in the frenetic 2017 GT3 season.

It’s a great partnership for us; for years the world-famous British luxury carmaker has consulted with Naim on its in-car entertainment systems. The Crewe-based marque is a perfect fit with our technology-and-craftsmanship thinking, and the Naim logo sits discreetly yet distinctively on the flared contours of the Continental’s GT3 flanks.

The mid-season highpoint of the annual series is the always-punishing Nürburgring 24 Hours on 27-28 May. It’s a non-stop, night-and-day race around Germany’s awe-inspiring, world-famous circuit. The ‘Ring has a lap distance of almost 13 miles with countless twists and turns, together with switchback undulations boasting variances of 1000ft. Race legend Jackie Stewart once called it “the green hell” because it powers its way through dense forest.

So much of fielding a successful assault to rooted in tactics, and for this event Bentley Motorsport director Brian Gush decided to pool resources with ABT, the European team that races factory-supplied and supported cars.

That way, he could combine the most detailed experience of both circuit and car, sharing knowledge with engineers and drivers across both squads. It also meant he could boost the line-up from two to three cars. As Brian told Autosport magazine beforehand: “The Nurburgring 24 Hours appears to be a numbers game, if you look at the amount of cars that Mercedes and BMW put out, so we wanted to give ourselves a better chance. I couldn’t ask for a more experienced team to be representing Bentley.” A podium finish was his stated aim.

Guy Smith was one of three Bentley drivers, including team-mates Maxime Soulet and Stephen Kane, to travel to Germany for the event.

“It’s a crazy circuit and a crazy race but that’s what makes it so special,” Guy told us. “There’s nowhere else like it on the planet. The margins are small and the risks are high so you need to be totally focused the entire time. It is narrow – especially in terms of run-off – and the closing speeds between us in the GT3 class and the slower cars is incredible. It only takes one wrong move when passing a back-marker and your race is over immediately. Our average speed over the lap is the same as the highest speed of some of the lower classes…”

According to Guy, the broad and ultra-powerful car is truly at home on the fast sweeping corners of the Nordschleife. He says it “gets into a rhythm with the car hooked up and working well”, which really lets the driver stretch the machine’s legs.

With a crowded field, and torrential rain finally piercing searing temperatures just half an hour before the race finished – slick tyres as found on GT3 cars don’t do well in such steamy conditions – one of the ABT Bentleys came home 15th. The ‘Bentley Boys’ were five places behind. The highly unlikely overall winner was an Audi that had spun off and separately sustained crash damage before clawing its way to victory.

Guy won the famed Le Mans 24 Hours race in 2003, so he’s a very experienced hand. Even so, the race in Germany was extremely tough.

“It's probably one of the hardest 24-hour races I’ve done – more like a 24-hour sprint than a classic endurance race,” he said. “You’re flat-out every lap for the full race, which demands 100% concentration.”

A technical issue early on held the car back, so the podium endgame was frustratingly denied. But Guy, Maxime and Stephen fought back for the remainder of the long hours to just stay in the top 20 finishers. “You have to drive a near-perfect race to be in the top 10,” he sighs.

It was a terrific achievement nevertheless – a rock-solid finish after sustained high performance. And to put it into proper perspective, the Bentley team completed 147 laps against the 158 laps pf the winning car. ‘Our’ Bentley averaged a storming 95mph throughout the entire 24-hour event, against the winner’s 103mph.

Looking ahead, there are two key fixtures to go: an endurance race at the Paul Ricard circuit in France on 25 June, and another 24-hour marathon at Spa, Belgium kicking off on 30 July.

“We’ve done really well there [at Paul Ricard] in the past, winning in 2014 and finishing second in 2015,” says Guy. “Then comes Spa, the biggest and most important race in the Blancpain GT Series. It’s another huge one for us which is very important for points towards the championship. An outright win would be amazing… and we’re all hungry for it!”

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