For the first time since winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003 (for the sixth time in its history), Bentley is headed back to the race track.
It won't be with another Le Mans prototype racer – Audi has that game covered within the Volkswagen Group – but with a production-car based GT car.
Bentley revealed the FIA-approved Continental GT3 concept racer at the Paris auto show, last week, saying it remains faithful to the company’s founding motorsport philosophy of developing racing cars from their road-going counterparts.
Based on the Continental GT Speed, the race car is currently being developed by a dedicated motorsport team at the company’s factory in Crewe. Development will continue over the coming months, leading to the start of a test programme next year and an intended return to competition "towards the end of 2013."
"Bentley belongs on the racetrack, and the Continental GT3 is the realization of a dream we’ve had ever since the launch of the Continental GT," said Dr Wolfgang Schreiber, Bentley’s Chairman and Chief Executive.
"The new GT Speed is the perfect car for us to develop into a racer, and our work so far has shown huge potential," he said. "The Continental GT3 is set to show the world what the Continental GT is capable of in its most extreme form, and establishes a solid foundation for Bentley’s long-term motorsport plans."
Billed as the fastest road-going Bentley ever, the Continental GT Speed is a refined, luxury grand touring that can exert a distinctly hard-edged sporting character if the driver so chooses.
While the GT Speed features all-wheel-drive, the GT3 will adopt a rear-wheel drive chassis to satisfy racing regulations for the classes in which it will compete. Bentley says it will be eligible to race in a range of series and events, up to and including 24-hour races.
According to the company, the dramatic livery of the car enhances the muscular, sculpted form of the Continental GT Speed while remaining proudly patriotic with the inclusion of Union Jack flags.