Bentley is proud to be ‘British’ in setting new US hillclimb record

16-Jul-2019


Unlike its former stablemate, Rolls-Royce, at least Bentley can claim that it still designs, develops and produces complete cars in the UK, highlights Iain Robertson, as the brand established a new production class hillclimb record in Colorado, USA.

While our motorsporting headlines have been jam-packed with the news that Volkswagen shattered the Goodwood Hillclimb speed record by an amazing 1.7s, in a time of 39.9s, in the process beating a record established by F1 racer, Nick Heidfeld that has been held since 1999, it is worth highlighting that the car driven by French racer, Romain Dumas, was the prodigiously potent VW ID.R, the company’s prototype sportscar.

On the other side of the world, taking place every year in the state of Colorado, the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is a motoring nirvana to most Americans, even though it is scarcely known outside the state, let alone outside North America. Yet, it is as important to motorsport fans, as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Intriguingly, the aforementioned ID.R was the surprise overall victor in 2018 at Pikes Peak.

Known as ‘The Race to the Clouds’, apart from a couple of occasions, it has been held every year since 1916. Only fully tarmacked since 2011, it used to consist of both paved and gravel sections the full 12.42-miles of its length, as it courses through more than 156 varying radius turns and climbs no less than 4,720-feet to the finish at 14,110-feet, on gradients that average 7.2%.

Open to various classes of cars, trucks, motorcycles and quads, an average of 130 competitors qualify for the hillclimb annually, from a field of several hundred, many of which never make the grade. Naturally, it has been a US bean-feast for much of its existence but European competitors started to be drawn to contesting it since 1984, when Norwegian rallycross star, Martin Schanche (Ford Escort), and French rally driver, Michele Mouton (Audi Quattro), made their first assaults. Schanche failed due to a front tyre puncture but Mouton went on to win the Open Rally category, despite complaining that her car was running out of breath as it neared the top of the mountain.

An award-winning short film, ‘Climb Dance’ (1988; I urge you to search for it online), which can be accessed via You Tube, was produced by French producer, Jean-Louis Mourey, an unsurprising choice, as it featured Peugeot winning the event overall in a 405 Turbo 16, with rally legend, Ari Vatanen, at the controls. Since then, the impact of European vehicles and drivers on the American event has been monumental.

While appreciating that prestigious Bentley is owned by Volkswagen Group and is, therefore, no longer British at all, from its base, in Crewe, Cheshire, which was the home to both Rolls-Royce (now owned by BMW) and Bentley for many decades, apart from senior management, it remains as British as the Bowler Hat, Dundee Marmalade and a pot of Breakfast Tea. The company’s choice of driver, Rhys Millen, son of several times Pikes Peak winner, Rod, and many times equal victor, is helped by his New Zealand nationality and hillclimb experience. The choice of car for the hillclimb challenge was the Bentley Continental GT, a stormingly rapid road car by any definition (0-60mph in 3.6s; top speed of 202mph). The reason for the celebration: Bentley’s centenary year. Naturally, the US market is an important one for Bentley, as it continues to set new sales records annually, since VW took over its ownership.

Beating the previous record (set a year ago) by a convincing 8.0s, the prestigious Continental, carrying the extra weight of a roll-cage and additional safety equipment, crossed the finishing line in a remarkable time of 10m 18.488s. Bentley’s successful entry was supported by Mobil 1 (lubrication), Lifeline (fire extinguishing systems), Brembo (brakes), Pirelli (tyres) and Akrapovic (exhausts). You can view the on-board video on the following link: https://youtu.be/te3K0-Q_sPU

Bentley is a brand steeped in motorsports and this achievement, only carried out recently in early-July, is truly praiseworthy. Stick with the thrilling video and its popping and banging exhaust note, to celebrate (notionally) British automotive enterprise at its finest.