Actual Le Mans-Winning Bentley Drag Races a Modern W12 Continental GT Speed

Bentley Continental GT Speed Le Mans Edition versus Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans winner drag race 8 photos
Photo: carwow / YouTube thumbnail
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If you are tired of all the spanking dished out by the current crop of instant-torque, perfect traction control EVs in every drag race they're part of, then this is probably the best cure you could have asked for but were too afraid of a refusal.
These two are by no means the quickest or most powerful gas-burners out there, and, if you think about it, they're not even all that suited to drag racing. And yet, despite appearing a little out of place, there's something very wholesome about seeing them lining up next to each other. It feels like a family reunion; no, like a passing of the baton, if you like; a father and son moment.

You're looking at two Bentleys that, even though have a lot in common, couldn't really be any more apart. Well, they could have replaced the Conti GT with a Bentayga, but you probably would have moved on by now, if indeed open the article at all, if they had because that would have been stupid.

Well, it's not like the actual lineup is what one would call "balanced" either. Yes, the Continental GT Speed Le Mans Edition is powered by a massive 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine with 660 hp and 663 lb-ft (900 Nm) of torque, all sent through an eight-speed double-clutch automatic transmission to all four wheels, which sounds pretty close to an ideal setup for a quarter-mile drag race, but it also weighs a little less than an aircraft carrier and is configured to offer maximum comfort for everyone inside above all.

And as if all that wasn't enough to weigh down its chances of winning, it's up against an actual Le Mans-winning race car - granted, one that has to talk about its victory in the very past tense as it happened twenty years ago, but a very successful race car nonetheless.

However, like all vehicles purpose-built to go quickly around a track, the Bentley Speed 8 focuses on cornering ability at least as much as on sheer maximum speed. Even so, its sub-one-ton weight (1,995 lb or 905 kg), coupled with the streamlined silhouette (no amount of downforce-producing wings can bring the Speed 8's drag coefficient even close to the Conti GT's, I would assume), should prove enough to give the street car more than it bargained for.

Besides, it's not as if the Speed 8 is underpowered or anything. With a four-liter twin-turbo V8 engine producing 600 hp, the Le Mans winner has almost the same amount of power while weighing about 40 percent of the Continental's total mass. Factor in the race-grade transmission that, according to the car's driver, Mike, can do close to 100 mph (160 km/h) in first gear, and the GT's chances of saving face with a narrow defeat seem to be getting slimmer by the second.

So, to sum everything up, the Bentley Speed 8 has weight and aerodynamics on its side, while the Continental GT Speed Le Mans Edition has power (only just), torque (no info on the Speed 8, but given the smaller engine and the even smaller need for a huge twisting power given the low weight, you can probably bet your house on it), and improved traction thanks to its all-wheel-drive system.

A quick look at that list suggests the GT actually holds more trump cards than its rival. Common sense, however, tells you there is absolutely no way in hell this ends with anything other than a win for the Speed 8. And if it does, we riot.

The thing is the Le Mans winner basically has an antidote for every area where the Continental holds the upper hand. Power? It's 660 hp versus 600 hp, so not much of a difference. Besides, which of the two engines do you think will rev quicker and higher? Torque? Maybe, but then again, the Speed 8 has next to no weight and definitely some torque, so the torque-to-weight ratio is almost certainly in its favor. Finally, the street-legal car has all-wheel-drive, something that Bentley engineers should have been mad to use on the race car. What they could (and did) do instead is to fit it with high-grip slick tires that stick to the tarmac better than any road tire out there, especially when warm.

Given how the Speed 8, with its rich history and all, has an estimated value between 12 and 18 million dollars, carwow's Mat smartly chose (if there was any choice involved) to drive the much more affordable - even if still mouthwateringly expensive at roughly $400k - Continental GT Speed Le Mans Edition. I can't say he was as clever when choosing how the hostilities should start, reversing the "drag race then roll race" structure that carwow's been doing for ages to honor the rolling start of a Le Mans endurance race.

Mat essentially shot himself in the foot there as a start from the dig was his car's only possible chance of winning. The two Bentleys went head to head with different starting speeds as Mat desperately grasped at straws, but to no avail. The Speed 8 would easily win each and every time, even if not by that big of a margin.

Mat's desperation reached new heights when he proposed one of the weirdest starts you've likely ever seen. I'll be honest, I didn't quite understand what the setup was, but it involved Mat's GT launching from a standstill as the Speed 8 was still turning around somewhere behind him. It didn't make any sense, but at least Mat was frank about it: "That will allow me for at least a period of time to be ahead of you." We get it, Mat, we've all been there at some point, hopelessly outperformed by our rival, taking any resemblance of a win we could get.

However, the fact the race car still managed to beat the GT to the half-mile mark didn't bode well for the final drag race that was to come. This was essentially still a roll race for the Speed 8, but I can't imagine it kept too much speed when turning (it all happened off camera), so it was essentially a staggered and delayed start for the race car that it still managed to overcome.

It wasn't just Mat's car that was outperformed, but also his own reflexes. The carwow presenter is usually very quick off the line, his reflexes even making it look sometimes as if he's jumped the start. On this occasion, either he felt there was no point in focusing too much or forgot he was up against a racing driver, but the fact is that Mike canceled this last potential advantage Mat could have held by being the first to get his car moving. With no wheel slip whatsoever, victory was never in doubt. To be fair, it was never in doubt right from the off, but am I sorry I still watched the clip to the end? No, and neither will you.

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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