Fans of GT racing are in for a treat this weekend at Otago's Highlands Motorsport Park in the South Island. Sure, there's the final round of the Australia GT championship with an assortment of racing exotica, and the Highlands 101 endurance race, but aficionados of GT racing will be keen to see the new Bentley GT3.
It's the first time one of these new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 Bentley Continental GT3 race cars will be turning a wheel in anger on a Southern Hemisphere track. Australian GT championship contender Peter Edwards has brought the vehicle over for a bit of a shakedown run before taking on Mount Panorama in February for the Bathurst 12 Hour.
The Bentley was built by long established and successful British motorsport constructors M-Sport and will be run by Edward's regular team Maranello Motorsport.
"Peter Edwards has been a long-time fan of the Bentley GT3 car, and in fact drives a Bentley Continental GT every day," said Maranello Motorsport's Mark Coffey.
Edwards will be joined in the hot seat by legendary V8 racer John Bowe, who continues to punt various race cars around a number of circuits and events. The Bathurst winner and Australian Touring Car champion normally flings a Ferrari around the place and is looking forward to experiencing something a bit different.
"I'm excited about driving the Bentley, that's for sure," Bowe said. "It'll be a bit of a test as it's a very different car to the Ferrari I normally race. For a start the engine is in the wrong place [Ferrari engine in back, Bentley up front].
"I've only ever seen it from the outside before so I'm looking forward to actually sitting inside it. It's a gorgeous looking thing and makes a great sound."
Edwards tested the Bentley in the UK at a small track just outside M-Sport's headquarters before bringing the car home.
Reigning Bathurst 12 Hour champion Bowe says it's a bit different to the Ferrari 458 he normally races and said it was "interesting to say the least and a delight to drive".
The Continental GT3 has been campaigned in the Blancpain Endurance Series this season notching up two wins and at one stage was in with a chance of snatching the title.
"I did a test for a motoring magazine I write for about 18 months ago and drove an old Bentley Speed Six like the one that won Le Mans in the 1920s," Bowe said. "I feel like I have to get one of those silk scarves when I race the new one to stay in character.
"For me, I've been in motorsport for 40 years and it's great to be able to drive the car with Peter Edwards. This is a new adventure for us - we're the Bentley Boys now. That's what the Bentley drivers back in 1920s and 30s were called. I love all that and it's like a Boy's Own adventure for me."
The Australian GT race will no doubt be action-packed and motorsport fans will get a double dose of door-to-door racing tomorrow when the Highlands 101 endurance race starts. Leading V8 Supercars drivers Shane van Gisbergen, Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander have made the trip across the Ditch. Van Gisbergen will be in a McLaren GT3 with Australian GT championship top-five contender Klark Quinn while Lowndes joins Kiwi motor racing legend Inky Tulloch in the new Camaro GT3. Circuit owner Tony Quinn will partner with Garth Tander.
Van Gisbergen has the advantage over Lowndes of having previously raced at Highlands and also having raced the McLaren MP4 12C with Tony and Klark Quinn in February's Bathurst 12 Hour Race, where he set a new lap record for tin-tops at the Mount Panorama circuit.
"I have visited Highlands a few times now and have driven a number of cars around there," van Gisbergen said. "The McLaren is awesome to drive - I love driving GT cars so I'm certainly looking forward to having another go.
"I saw Inky's [Tulloch] Camaro up close a couple of weeks ago at Highlands; it's really cool. And I raced the Bentleys at the Spa 24 Hour.
"They are huge cars and very intimidating in the mirror, that's for sure."