CAPE TOWN - What comes to mind when I mention Bentley? English oak wood cabin, a storming W12 engine and possibly a grey-haired executive who wears a garish Breitling watch and has an oversupply of designer clothes?
Well, I drove a Bentley that simply blows the notion as an artsy fartsy old person's car out of the window: Meet the Continental GT3-R, based on the V8 S model, it has undergone a diet, weighing 100kg less , carbon ceramic brakes, and is festooned with carbon fibre inside and out and features a crazy rear carbon fibre wing!
The Bentley Continental has been around since 2006, and 9 years later it has spawned its most outrageous derivative yet: the GT3-R. It uses the same 4.0-litre V8 from the Continental V8 S but adds a 37kW to produce an enormous 426kW, torque is increased by 40Nm to a massive 700Nm. Top speed is a manic 304km/h and it demolishes the 100km/h sprint in 3.8secs (the quickest Bentley in history to do so)
WHY DOES BENTLEY NEED A CAR LIKE THIS?
The Bentley boys are racing again, this time in the GT3 class and they need to have a link or road-going link at least to it. Spawning the GT3-R, and at 4806mm long and 2227mm wide it certainly isn’t one of those many Instagram-famous models.
WATCH: Bentley Continental GT3-R on track
To stand out even more, there are decals that pay homage to the real racing GT3-R car in a green hue, plus a union jack at the bottom of the front sill. It retains the same hue as the race car; Glacier white.
Step inside and black Beluga leather greets you like a porter at the Savoy, an alcantara steering-wheel, electrically adjustable (important to a Bentley owner) sport's seats and more importantly no rear seats.
This is a genuine two-seater sports car. Green stitching (motorsport heritage again) contrasts with the black leather to look classy and not too garish. Nice touch Bentley. A Breitling clock sits in the middle of the centre fascia like a huge slice of pepperoni on a mini pizza.
But what amazed me was still to come.
It looks like a race car from the outside, but surely it couldn’t feel like one, and still maintain what a Bentley should be? Luxurious, cossetting, comfortable and smooth: hallmarks of what makes them grand touring cars: able to drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg without breaking a sweat.
A TRACK-DAY CAR? SURELY NOT?
I hopped into the left-hand drive GT3-R, adjusted the seat and popped the long gearshift into ZF eight-speed auto into S for Sport, immediately the revs rise and I gingerly make my way out of the pits lane onto the track.
A sighting lap was needed before I joined the main straight and floored the throttle with the weight of the San Andreas Fault waking up a few million Californians.
IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Bentley GT3-R
Gripping the relatively small steering wheel I quickly became accustomed to how nimble the car felt, it weighs 2.2 tons and flinging it around Killarney was aided by an all-wheel drive system that works with the torque–vectoring to manage power during a corner. (The first for any Bentley)
It enabled me to get on the accelerator earlier and power out of the corner, with delicious V8 emanating from its new titanium quad exhausts. (7kg’s lighter than the normal ones) The paddle-shifts are connected to the steering column (like all proper race cars have), but I was happy to keep the 'box in S and power around the technical circuit with the surefootedness of Richard Branson on Dragons Den. (the car, not me)
The GT3 R, riding on forged 21" rims (in black spec) shod with Pirelli rubber hardly felt out place and the grip is phenomenal despite its weight.
I couldn’t help feel that the GT3-R has a more than a touch of old school feel in the way it drives: it only has two settings (normal and sport) and the uncluttered steering wheel doesn’t feel overly assisted. It’s frantic V8 sounds more normally aspirated than turbocharged AND it feels comfortable when driven sedately.
Shorter-gearing ratios mean it’s more Usain Bolt than Haile Gebrselassie, and new cylinder heads and turbo’s changes stretch to beneath the skin too. It even has something called continuous damping control which helps when pushing the 2.2-ton beast.
Pop it into D (drive aka geriatric or Hugh Hefner mode) and it’s as docile as a trained Labrador. It’s something the engineers have got spot on; however it when it’s needed the GT3-R can become an accomplished track day toy (for the mega-rich)
So, have Bentley done a good job with the GT3-R? Well talking to Owen Lloyd, the chief development engineer on this project, it earmarked against some heavy competition. Lloyd said: "The GT3-R goes up against the Aston Martin Vanquish S, Mercedes Benz S63 coupe and the Porsche 911turbo", illustrious rivals in their own right with the exception of the new kid on the block Mercedes.
It’s a good recipe isn’t it? Use the lighter engine in the range, delete rear seats, add chunks of carbon and hike up the power to over 400kW! Stiffen the springs and dampers and shorten the gear ratios to make an old school weapon. My goodness they’ve done a good job! With only 300 made, it’s safe to say they haven’t made enough!
South Africans can place their order for the GT3-R , however it is subject to availability worldwide.
Price: Available on application
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