Bentley Continental GT3

Bentley has big ambitions. New CEO Wolfgang Schreiber, who used to run Bugatti, is wasting no time taking the brand to where he believes it should be — and where many car enthusiasts want it to be: back in the motorsports fray.

The company started out with racing as its key focus. There was a time when Bentley was the car to beat on the racetrack. More recently, it was the car nobody could beat at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Other than that fillip, however, Bentley's wheels have been stuck firmly to the road.

Now, it's confirmed that the automaker will join rivals from Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi and Lamborghini in the GT3 championship, with an all-new challenger, the Continental GT3, which was revealed at the 2012 Paris Motor Show.

It is as extreme as they come.

The presence of the Continental GT3 concept has perhaps given Bentley's other new car, the Continental GT Speed, a welcome extra dose of attention. It is Bentley's fastest road car ever. It just doesn't look it.

Bentley Continental GT3

Click to enlarge pictureBentley Continental GT3 (© Richard Dredge - Microsoft/Magic Car Pics)

Bentley Continental GT3

Click to enlarge pictureBentley Continental GT3 (© Richard Dredge - Microsoft/Magic Car Pics)

Bentley Continental GT3

Click to enlarge pictureBentley Continental GT3 (© Richard Dredge - Microsoft/Magic Car Pics)

Bentley Continental GT3

It is as extreme as they come.

The presence of the Continental GT3 concept has perhaps given Bentley's other new car, the Continental GT Speed, a welcome extra dose of attention. It is Bentley's fastest road car ever. It just doesn't look it.

What is it? The Continental GT3 is seen here in concept form. But don't worry — by this time next year, we'll have already seen it testing and we may already have watched its first race. Bentley wants to take on Mercedes, Audi and Ferrari in GT3 racing with this car, a challenge that will include a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

What's hot? It looks absolutely stunning, from the complex front wing to the massive rear spoiler. It's based on the GT Speed road car, but it appears born to be a racing car. Bentley's hoping the maxim that "cars which look fast usually are fast" holds true.

What's not? Well, it's not a road car, yet. There's also the question of whether Bentley can turn such a heavy luxury GT into a genuine race car — there's a lot of work to be done, including switching 4-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive. But all the brand's rivals have done it, so why shouldn't Bentley?

How much and when? While the factory effort will be run from 2013, we wouldn't be surprised to see a customer racing version of the GT3 launched from 2014, so wealthy privateers can race a Bentley. Will there be a road car equivalent, though? Watch this space, it seems.

Anything else I should know? Weight-saving measures stretch even down to replacing the traditional metal radiator badge with a lightweight sticker graphic. The side exit exhausts look fantastic, and the fact that Bentley is showing us the interior, complete with roll cage and full racing-car dashboard, suggests it's ready to hit the track soon.

Bentley Continental GT Speed

What is it? The Continental GT Speed has more, er, speed than before. At 205 mph, it's Bentley's fastest road car ever, with its prodigious power output also helping it to 60 mph from rest in just four seconds flat. It is a far faster car than it looks.

What's hot? The bellowing W12 engine has been upgraded to a full-fat 625 horsepower, with a mighty 590 lb-ft of torque to back it up. A new 8-speed gearbox handles it more efficiently and, would you know, it's even 12 percent more fuel-efficient.

What's not? We really wish Bentley could have made this car look a bit more stand-out. Yes, we know the understated approach is what customers like — but surely some of them would like to whisper a bit more loudly about the fact they're driving a 205 mph car?

How much and when? The Continental GT Speed costs from $244,863, with plenty of options such as carbon ceramic brakes pushing this inexorably higher. We'll be driving it next month and it will be in customers' hands soon after.

Anything else I should know? It's telling that Bentley says the Continental GT3 is based on the GT Speed. That suggests the racing car will get a W12 engine rather than the V8 about which some are speculating, which would give it even more clout — particularly if Bentley then launches a road-going GT3 Speed variant.