Bentley motorsport returns to North America with Continental GT3 racer

Today’s Bentley Continental GT is as fast as it is luxurious, but few would look at this gargantuan two door and think “race car.”

Luckily, those few happen to work for Bentley, and they launched a new racing program in Europe for the 2014 season. At the 2014 New York Auto Show, Bentley announced that its Continental GT3 is coming to North America as well.

With factory backing, Dyson will race a pair of Continental GT3s in the second half of the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge series, in preparation for a full season next year.

Dyson drivers Guy Smith and Butch Leitzinger will fly the Bentley flag in the U.S.

Both drivers have ties to Bentley’s last major motorsport program, which involved top-level Le Mans Prototypes, not converted road cars.

Smith was part of the Bentley team that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003, and also won the 2011 American Le Mans Series championship with Dyson Racing. Leitzinger raced with Bentley at Le Mans in 2001 and 2002, and is a staple of U.S. sports car racing.

Those cars, have very little in common with the Bentleys civilians can buy. It features a 600-horsepower version of Bentley’s 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8, rear-wheel drive, and a six-speed paddle-shifted transaxle.

While a racing Bentley is a novelty today, the brand once had a reputation for performance, thanks to the exploits of the “Bentley Boys,” who won multiple Le Mans victories in the 1920s.

Those days are long gone, but perhaps the Continental GT3 will restore some of that luster when it takes to North American tracks later this year.