Bentley’s GT3 racing team served up an invaluable Silverstone spectator experience for Torque’s biggest motor racing nut.
OKAY, I can “die” now. Because I’ve ticked one of the items on my bucket list: a visit to the iconic Silverstone circuit in England. A former wartime airfield, Silverstone was first used for racing in the late 1940s. In 1950, it hosted the first offi cial Formula One world championship race, cementing its place in the annals of top-tier motorsports. It underwent major redevelopment recently, but the classic corners – Stowe, Copse, Maggots and Woodcote – are all still there. I remember watching my first F1 race on TV when I was studying in Perth in the late 1980s, and recall the British Grands Prix so vividly because the races were always eventful and intense. To finally set foot on this fabled racetrack was a dream come true.
Bentley is not a name you would normally associate with motor racing, but the British luxury marque returned to modern motorsports in a big way. Last year, it competed in all five races that made up the Blancpain Endurance Series and came away with two overall victories, including its home race, the 3 Hours of Silverstone. This year, it’s racing in the same series, and I was invited to catch the performance of Bentley Team M-Sport at Silverstone. After a night’s stay at a lovely hotel around an hour’s drive from the circuit, I arrived at Silverstone on a cool Sunday morning. As my ride wound its way inside the circuit, the large sign at the entrance and the grandstands at the various turns were logged deep inside my motorsport mind.
The British boys who drove Bentley’s racecar #7, and the English roses that welcomed VIPs to the hospitality suite.
At the Bentley marquee, set up near Woodcote corner, the friendly Bentley gals gave me a tag to access a host of activities and VIP areas, and enjoy a constant flow of delectable food and beverages that kept me refuelled throughout the day. Parked right outside the suite was a lineup of Bentley’s latest models, including the Mulsanne, the Continental GT Speed and, of course, the Continental GT3-R, which is inspired by the Continental GT3 racecar, the beast that performs in anger on the track. For the Bentley parade laps, the Mulsanne was my assigned car. Too bad I was a passenger rather than the driver. But with Bentley’s head of marketing and communications in Asia, Robin Peel, at the wheel, it was a good lap – he knew how to drive a Bentley properly!
This motorsport nut became really nutty during the grid walk.
After lunch, this motorsport nut became really nutty during the Grid Walk, which was an eyeopener for me. I knew the Blanpain Endurance Series is popular with numerous car manufacturers, but to finally see the grid in its entirety was still pretty overwhelming. I’ve visited the starting grids for F1 races, the Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race in Sepang and the Super GT series, but the variety of exotic machinery at the Silverstone GT3 race was absolutely astounding. Besides the Continental GT3, the GT3 versions of the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Huracan, Audi R8 LMS, BMW Z4, Mercedes- Benz SLS AMG, Nissan GT-R, Aston Martin V12 Vantage and McLaren 650S were all there, sitting impatiently and waiting for the race start. The entire grid numbered 60 cars.
The Continental GT3 looked like a sledgehammer – one of the fastest hammers to ever hit Silverstone – among its sleeker rivals.
The race used a rolling start instead of a standard green-light start. As the racecars were being led around the track by the safety car on the formation laps, the rumbling from the highpowered engines gave me goose bumps and made my heart pound with anticipation. When the race finally started and the drivers opened the throttles, I was beside myself with excitement as the engines revved to their redlines. I stood up, closed my eyes and just took in the moment. Then I opened them and shouted: “Woo-hoo!” What a feeling!
Next up was the Track Tour, where the participants were shuttled around the outside of the track for views of the racing at diff erent locations. It was during the tour that I finally got to see Silverstone’s classic corners mentioned earlier. It was also during this hour or so that I caught glimpses of why the 4-litre twin-turbocharged 600bhp Bentley Continental GT3 is such a potent weapon and so competitive in the races. At almost 5m long and more than 2m wide, it is by far the largest of the GT3 racecars on the track, yet the way it navigates corners, flat and fast, is surreal.
I don’t know how else to put it other than to say that it looks like a bodybuilder with the speed and agility of a ninja. And when the asphalt ahead straightened, the big Bentley’s pace became ferocious. Even though the race at Silverstone wasn’t a good one for Bentley Team M-Sport (their two cars came home in sixth and ninth positions), it was a very good experience for this spectator. This newly ticked item on my bucket list will be parked in my warmest memories – until the day I kick the bucket.