Bentley Team M-Sport’s 2018 motorsport season and Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign get underway in Australia next weekend when two Continental GT3s line up for the Bathurst 12 Hour.
The British squad travels to Mount Panorama eager to claim a third consecutive overall podium at one of the world’s toughest long-distance sportscar races, before heading back to Europe for the defense of its Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup teams’ title.
Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush:
We’re pleased to once again begin our racing season at Bathurst, which has become a firm favourite amongst the team and drivers since our first appearance there in 2015. It’s also one of the most challenging races we’ll contest this year, and despite our past success here, we always approach it with caution.
It’s important to make a good start to 2018, especially given our Intercontinental GT Challenge commitment this year. Another podium would not only represent a great achievement for the team, but would also mark out the Continental GT3 as one of the most successful cars in Bathurst 12 Hour history.
Five of the six Bentley Boys that contested last year’s race return 12 months on, with Steven Kane (GBR) and Guy Smith (GBR) bidding to seal a third podium in as many appearances alongside new full-season recruit Jules Gounon (FRA) in the #17 Continental GT3. Meanwhile, Bentley’s #8 entry is once again piloted by the familiar trio of Vincent Abril (FRA), Andy Soucek (ESP) and Maxime Soulet (BEL).
The dramatic 23-turn, 6.2 km circuit in New South Wales is considered one of the world’s toughest thanks to its high speeds, narrow mountain section and steep elevation changes. Total commitment is required at all times around a track that reverts to being a public road post-event, while the 1.9 km Conrod Straight – where the Continental GT3 can hit speeds of 170 mph (270 km/h) – is one of the longest to be sanctioned in world motorsport.
This year’s event marks Bentley Team M-Sport’s first full-season assault on the global Intercontinental GT Challenge, which features three further endurance races at the Spa 24 Hours, Suzuka 10 Hours and California 8 Hours of Laguna Seca.
Maxime Soulet – #8 Bentley Continental GT3:
We didn’t have the best of luck at Bathurst last year, but after seeing what our other Continental GT3 achieved in the race and ending the year on a high we’re returning refreshed and full of confidence. We know the car inside out and understand what it’s capable of over both a flying lap and race distance at Mount Panorama, while stability within the driver line up is also very important. The competition will be tough – it always is at Bathurst – but I think we have a great chance of fighting for a podium once again.
Guy Smith – #17 Bentley Continental GT3:
Bathurst has been good to Steven [Kane] and I over the last two years, and we only just missed out on a first podium there in 2015, too, so hopefully we can continue that run of results this season. Having Jules [Gounon] with us this year obviously adds a new dimension to the crew but I have no doubt he’ll demonstrate the sort of pace and consistency that helped him win the Spa 24 Hours last season. The Continental GT3 is also a proven package around Bathurst where experience counts for a lot, so I think we’ll be in the hunt.
Bathurst 12 Hour Schedule (all times local)
Friday 2 February
08:25 – 08:55: Practice 1
09:00 – 09:45: Practice 2
10:45 – 11:30: Practice 3
13:35 – 14:20: Practice 4
Saturday 3 February
08:55 – 09:35: Practice 5
11:55 – 12:25: Qualifying (Class A/GT3)
16:15 – 17:00: Qualifying Top 10 Shootout
Sunday 4 February
05:45 – 17:45: Bathurst 12 Hour
Note: Press release courtesy of Bentley Motors.