WELCOME TO THE ROCKET SLED
Motor Trend|November 2021
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICEAND 102-YEAR-OLD CARMAKERS
JONNY LIEBERMAN
A Bentley Bentayga driven by Rhys Millen set the production SUV record during the 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. In 2019, the same team set the production car record with a Bentley Continental GT. Pandemic restrictions in 2020 limited travel to the U.S. and to the hill climb, but Bentley and Millen were back this year with a wildly modified version of the company’s GT3 race car: the Continental GT3 Pikes Peak.

The aim was to win the Time Attack 1 class, smashing the existing record. Three Pikes Peak events, three wins, three records. Call it an inevitable hat trick, one that would cap Bentley’s final official entry at Pikes Peak. That was the plan, anyway, for June 27, 2021. Can you hear god laughing?

Calling Pikes Peak a “challenging test” is like calling a redwood a “big tree.” The runs begin at 9,395 feet above sea level and then climb all the way to 14,115 feet. There are more than 150 corners in less than 12.5 miles. It’s an extreme, grueling gut check of a course. Never mind the treachery of the road itself or the capricious weather inherent to such a massive Colorado mountain; the thin air (about 60 percent as dense as at sea level) causes the bulk of any technical issues. As a car climbs to those heights, the effectiveness of its aerodynamics, power, and cooling (both brakes and engines, or batteries in electric cars) all decrease. You get one shot at a run. Caveats made, Bentley appeared to have brought the right tool for the job.

The Continental GT3 Pikes Peak is a monster. Bentley starts with its Continental GT3 road racing car and goes insane from there. Bentley motorsports director and its former powertrain chief Paul Williams tells us the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 makes 750 horsepower at the mountain’s summit. So how much at the starting line? Neither Williams nor anyone else at Bentley would give a straight answer, for reasons known only to them. “A number between 750 and 1,000 hp” is the best, though still annoying, answer we got. Why so cagey? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the car runs on Porsche’s new renewable eFuel. So let’s go with the idea the GT3 Pikes Peak makes 1,000 hp at 9,395 feet. The thing is, since there’s 60 percent O 2 density at 14,000 feet, the turbos spin fast enough to maintain 32 psi of pressure—which means power output is nearly double the 1,000-hp figure at sea level. And did we mention the carbon-fiber-intensive construction means the car weighs only 2,970 pounds?

The engine is based on the stock Continental GT’s V-8, but the turbos are located out of the vee, necessitating new exhaust manifolds. In addition to the direct fuel injectors, a second set of port injectors is added primarily to assist with detonation cooling. Stronger pistons and connecting rods fire away beneath a rather attractive carbon-fiber intake manifold. A second rear-mounted radiator sits in the GT3’s trunk, and hot air escapes out of large holes in the “boot lid.” The exhaust, made from Inconel, is fully custom. The car’s aero is close to mental and produces 30 percent more downforce than the standard race car, with most of its gains made in front. The suspension boasts negative camber for low-speed corners (Pikes Peak, especially toward the top, is littered with them), and water-cooled brakes round out Millen’s ride.

There’s ice up on the mountain when the big day arrives. Race officials attack it with, logically, flamethrowers. Makes sense. However, by the time our contingent gets to the pits, the course’s fourth and top sector is canceled. This means the route’s distance drops from 12-plus miles to 8. Even if Bentley wins the class, the victory will carry an asterisk. The team is not pleased.

Pikes Peak record holder Romain Dumas and his Champion Motorsports Porsche GT2 RS Clubsport are the bogey Bentley needs to best in Time Attack 1. Dumas runs before Millen and posts a quick time of 6:31.914 at an average speed of 85.335 mph, putting it in second place overall behind an open-wheel car in the Unlimited Class. (The latter, a Wolf GB08 TSC-LT driven by 2019 winner Robin Shute, will claim the overall victory with a time of 5:55.246.)

Millen and the Conti GT3 Pikes Peak get off to a fantastic start, punctuated by the car’s outrageous noise as it takes the green flag. Our attention turns to some computer monitors, where the Bentley’s Sector 1 time soon appears: 1:32.627, appreciably quicker than Dumas’ 1:38.261. Millen’s Sector 2 time follows, 2:08.694 versus Dumas’ 2:14.961. And the upcoming final sector was the Bentley’s best one during practice.

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