Hillclimbing a Bentley

Focus is a vital part of any motorsport discipline, and it was not difficult to conjure up as I edged towards the start line at Shelsley Walsh. Not only was I running through what was required to put in a good time, I was also somewhat preoccupied with the £200,760 list price of the Bentley Continental GT Speed I was driving.

Folding the mirrors in is very serious Al!
Folding the mirrors in is very serious Al!
How did I end up here? It's all part of the Multi Car Hillclimb Challenge, where we aim to drive a different car at each round of the British Hillclimb Championship and reported on in depth last year on PH. So far this year, we've used everything from a SEAT Leon Cupra 290 to a Lexus GS F and a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT too, so diversity is part of the plan. The Bentley certainly added to the unusual mix of cars and also happened to be twice as expensive as anything else we'd driven to date.

Fortunately, the nice people at Bentley seemed unperturbed by the fiscal implications when we enquired about using the Conti in this way. An enthusiastic thumbs up and, well, that's how I found myself flicking the windscreen wipers to maximum just before the green light.

Yes, the rain on Saturday for the big August meeting at Shelsley came to dominate the day's proceedings. Every time it looked like it might just be dry enough for a better run, a shower would soak the track.

This made Saturday practice more about re-learning lines and getting to know the car better. With 2.3 tonnes to shift, even the 635hp twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 had its work cut out on the steep Worcestershire gradient. Still, consistent 2.3sec times to 64ft - wet or dry - were impressive.

Coming through!
Coming through!
Some other stats also helped the GT Speed's cause: 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and 607lb ft from just 2,000rpm being the two most important. We'd not be worrying the 206mph top speed on Shelsley's 914-metre hill that rises 100 metres in that distance, though.

So, the first of four practice runs on Saturday kicked off with a 39.55-second time. Better than I'd hoped for given the conditions and the next two runs each knocked a second off the previous one. By late afternoon, when the organisers offered an extra run to anyone who fancied it, my 37.15-second score seemed like a small victory. It also helped get my eye in for where to brake for the Bottom Esse that is notoriously difficult to get spot on.

Teammate David Finlay was ahead of me on 36.24, so when it dawned bright and dry on Sunday I knew the timed runs would be significantly faster. That was proven immediately, with a first time of 35.72 seconds. The car felt surprisingly able and agile for such a big machine, digging in through Kennel and Crossing, but I'd braked too early for Bottom Esse, so more speed was needed on the second attempt.

A good start resulted in a sub-eight-second time to Kennel for the first and only time of the weekend, followed by a much better approach speed to Bottom Esse of 82mph. My sector time through the Esses was also markedly better and, even though I was 1mph down on my previous 92mph over the line, this second and last run netted a 34.90 time to edge me ahead of David. Then he romped up in 34.39 seconds, so all credit to him for such a rapid ascent.

Huge traction and power definitely works here
Huge traction and power definitely works here
To put this into some context, a Porsche 996 GT3 turned in a 35.97-second time, while the class was won by Roy Standley in his heavily modified Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V running on very soft, sticky tyres. The Bentley was standard and using Pirelli P-Zero rubber.

We never for a moment thought the Primo Insurance-sponsored Multi Car Hillclimb Challenge team would worry the podium, but then we never really thought we'd be competing in a two hundred grand Bentley either. The fact that we did went down very well with Shelsley's spectators and competitors, helping raise awareness of the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes, which does a brilliant job supporting the NHS.

After competing in such sybaritic fashion, it took a while to refocus on normality; however, the GT Speed made this easier thanks to its comfort during the trudge up the M5 and M6 to drop it back at its Crewe home. It's supreme at cruising in these conditions and now we know it makes a surprisingly able hillclimb machine too!

Previous reports:
Mercedes A45 AMG

Abarth 695 Biposto

BMW i8

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Ford Fiesta ST
Seat Leon Cupra ST

Audi S8

Toyota GT86

Subaru WRX STI
Honda Civic Type R

[Photos: Track Action Photography]

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Comments (10) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Rindergulasch 29 Aug 2016

    I hope a video exists of your run?

  • Lockhouse 29 Aug 2016

    That's a quick time. Did you make the podium? (Apologies if I missed it).

  • AdamIndy 29 Aug 2016

    We were sat at the esse's wondering what kind of bloke would run a £200k Bentley up the hill. It all makes sense now!hehe looked quick from where we were sat.

    Top job!thumbup

  • alisdairsuttie 30 Aug 2016

    Sadly no podium, but the Bentley gave a very good account of itself. Despite its weight, it felt surprisingly nimble and carbon ceramic brakes helped when braking into Bottom Esse. I'd really like to go to the Shelsley Hillclimb School to find the ideal line through the Esses.

    And sadly no video as the camera decided to play up during the weekend.

  • Lockhouse 30 Aug 2016

    Thanks for the reply.

    Harwoods very kindly lent me a GT Speed at the weekend for a few laps of Goodwood. When you consider they are not "sports cars" in the strictest sense the GT Speed is a very impressive car indeed. As an owner though I am somewhat biased...

    I also had a go with the V8S which although it didn't have the Thor's Hammer W12 was a great drive too.

    The ceramic brakes although a relatively expensive option really do make a huge difference.

    Edited by Lockhouse on Tuesday 30th August 10:32

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