THE reigning winner of the Bathurst 12 Hour – the works Bentley squad – is no more.
The luxury marque will shut down its factory M-Sport run operation at the end of the disjointed 2020 season, which it began with a breakthrough victory in the Bathurst 12 Hour in February.
Bentley paused its factory program with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with final confirmation coming ahead of this weekend’s final round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge at Kyalami in South Africa, where M-Sport will run the previous factory Continental GT3s as private entries.
Its roster of six factory drivers, including Bathurst winners Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper, have all been released from their contracts, while Bentley’s distinctive Continental GT3s will run in private hands in 2021.
The company has outlined new sustainability plans in its ‘Beyond 100’ strategy which will see it bow out of GT3 racing entirely after the 2021 season.
“I want to start by saying thank you, on behalf of Bentley, to each of the 16 world-class drivers that have represented us over the last seven years,” Paul Williams, Bentley’s director of motorsport, said.
“But special thanks go to Max Soulet, Jordan Pepper, Jules Gounon and Seb Morris who supported us when COVID put our works team programme on stop and who stepped-up to work incredibly hard for our customer teams in a compacted season.
“The Bentley Continental GT3 was launched in 2013 to prove and promote the performance of the road-going Continental GT and, by beating the likes of Ferrari and McLaren on track, we did exactly this.
“As Bentley moves rapidly towards becoming the world’s leading luxury sustainable mobility brand, the GT3 category no longer supports the strategy but there are some exciting changes in the industry right now and we are closely evaluating how motorsport can support the brand in the future.
“While it is always sad when a motorsport programme runs its natural course, we will all look at this with the same pride that we look at the successes of the 1920s and at the Speed 8 that won Le Mans – it is a fantastic chapter in our history but every chapter must end to make way for a new one.”
The history of Bentley at the Bathurst 12 Hour is covered extensively in the book Bathurst: Going Global – 10 years of Australia’s International Enduro, which details the first decade of the event’s GT era and contains a photograph of every single car to take part in the event from 2011 to the most recent running in 2020.
It’s now in stock in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop – click HERE to order!
The works Bentleys have been a mainstay of the Bathurst 12 Hour since their first trip to Mount Panorama for the 2015 race, when they were unlucky not to post a first-up victory.
The team’s #10 entry led the field on a late-race restart, but took the chequered flag in fourth after a wild final few laps that culminated in the Bentley squad losing a podium place on the final corner of the race.
Bentley finally cracked it for a podium in 2016 with Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Matt Bell bringing the #10 car home in third place, having led 28 laps throughout a day where the big white machines were afflicted by tyre issues.
Kane and Smith, joined this time by Oliver Jarvis, matched the result in 2017 in a year where few cars had pace to rival the winning Ferrari, while the best Bentley came home a delayed 16th in the 2018 race after being involved in a multi-car tangle on the exit of Forrest’s Elbow.
The second generation Continental GT3 made its debut at Bathurst in 2019 with both cars finishing inside the top 10, but the marque’s run of outs finally ended in 2020.