The French Grand Prix was no thriller, but Formula One’s weekend in southern France was perfectly representative of the 2019 season being bent to the will of the sport’s unstoppable force.
Every sports fan has months of the year that they mark in their calendars as their favourites. For me those months are February and October.
My happy months are February and October because February has the Bathurst 12 hour, start of the Super Rugby season and the Six Nations. During October the footy seasons reach a climax and we return to Mount Panorama for the Bathurst 1000. In between, V8 Supercars, MotoGP, Formula 1, Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup. Wow, what a year for a sport’s enthusiast.
It all starts this Sunday with the Bathurst 12 Hour. It’s going to be a cracker with the unveiling of the mighty factory entry Bentley for the first time in Australia. This mighty beast, the Continental GT3, is in its second racing season, with two cars and six drivers from Bentley Team M-Sport coming to contest the mountain.
More than 1,000kg has been stripped off the road-going luxury Grand Tourer with double glazing, veneer, leather and over 50 engine control units and electrical systems stripped out and replaced with hand-crafted carbon fibre body parts and a carbon fibre propshaft!
All up the Bentley Continental GT3 will conform to weight regulations, but the sheer bulk of this beauty should be abundantly visible to every track novice.
To understand this, the Bentley is almost half a metre longer than both the Audi R8 and Ferrari 458 GT3. Height-wise, it’s about 150mm higher than the Audi, Ferrari and the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.
The Bentley is beautifully balanced with the 4.0 litre twin turbo engine producing up to 600bhp. The Bentley’s power-to-weight ratio is better than any other car in the category and should see it reach the top of the mountain faster than its rivals. However I think the scale of the beast will negate that benefit on the tricky downslope where nimbleness is king. I can’t wait to see where its strengths lie.
A third Bentley, the Flying B Racing entry, will also contest the race. This car, which made it’s debut in Otago late last year, will be driven by Australian legend David Brabham. Brabham will be joined by 2014 winners John Bowe and Peter Edwards. Last year Bowe and Edwards won in the Maranello Ferrari 458 and that car is back again this year with 2014 winner Mika Salo anchoring once again.
When GT3-specification cars were first allowed to enter the race in 2011, overall entries dropped dramatically as many production car teams decided not to enter. The event has now become world class, a fact acknowledged by Bentley’s Director of Motorsport. In 2015, there are a record 54 entries and 29 are GT3s!
While there are only six production car entries, the emphasis has very much changed to GT3 cars, along with world class endurance racing drivers. This shift was a master-stroke as just about every sports car maker is pursuing the GT3 class, with even Lexus having a sniff.
For sheer grunt up the mountain, across the top, and down Conrod Straight you can’t ignore the three Mercedes entries, although the Bentley is likely to match it in a straight line, but neither manufacturer has the nimbleness of the six Ferraris or the seven Audis.
Who do I think will win? Well, it’s time for the Nismo GT-R Nissan to step up and claim a well-deserved place as a supercar. But, based on last year’s performance, Clearwater Racing Ferrari, from Mercedes in second and third.
Who will I be watching? Well, three times winner, John Bowe of course in the Flying B Motorsport Bentley.
Hope the new surface holds up. Gentlemen, start your engines.