Driver Rhys Millen boldly predicted his Bentley Bentayga SUV would beat the production SUV record at Pikes Peak this year by a staggering one full minute.
And he could actually do it.
The record was set by a Range Rover Sport in 2014 at 12 minutes, 35 seconds. Now, the Range Rover Sport in 2014 was a fine and sporty SUV. The most powerful trim level offered a supercharged V8 engine that made 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. This for a vehicle that weighed over 5,000 pounds. Those good at math will see that works out to something like 10 pounds per hp, which is definitely in the sporty category.
Millen’s Bentayga, meanwhile, is powered by a 600-hp, 664-lb-ft W12 and weighs 5,379 pounds, about the same as the Range Rover Sport. Thus, power-to-weight ratio (or weight-to-power, which is the accurate phrase but doesn’t sound as cool) is in the eights. Of course, it’s not supercharged, so it may have to give up something as the air gets thinner on the way to Pikes Peak’s 14,115-foot summit.
But yeah, I think he could make it happen.
I got a sense of it when Bentley invited me to come to Willow Springs Raceway and see for myself. Not drive it myself — Bentley isn’t run by idiots — but to ride with Millen as he, Bentley and tire-sponsor Pirelli shook down the race-Bentayga at Willow Springs’ one-mile road course, Horse Thief Mile. This track is slathered on a hillside with every section running either straight uphill or straight downhill. In between are horseshoe turns. It’s not the greatest road course on Earth; that distinction could go to Willow’s Big Willow or the smaller, tighter Streets of Willow. Horse Thief is used mostly for shooting tire commercials. And, apparently, for shaking down Pikes Peak SUVs.
“Horse Thief Mile is a very tight, intense circuit with some elevation change on the corners and some short-burst straights and some tight hairpins as well, so it really replicates what you’ll see at Pikes Peak,” said Millen.
The Bentayga, like the Range Rover Sport before it, is very close to stock. Apart from racing seats in front, no seats in back and a roll cage, almost everything else was left stock. That even includes the stability control, which was left intact and which is switched on during the runs.
“We’re still running the stability control because we tried without it — and you can switch it off as you can in the road car — but we found that, because this car has open differentials, it was allowing that inner wheel to spin a lot more, a lot quicker, with it on,” said Bentley motorsport engineer David Argent. “When we apply the stability control, it counters inside wheelspin by applying the brake to the inner wheels to push the torque to the outside wheel. That was actually beneficial.”
The Bentayga also has the stock electric antiroll bars front and rear, which flatten out corners remarkably well for such a heavy car.
“You’ve got your standard antiroll bar with a motor in the middle,” said Argent. “What it effectively does is, if you turn right traditionally you would roll to the left, so it applies torque to the left side. Just to prop it up again. So you have a flat corner.”
So in I climbed, on the right-hand side, into what felt a little like a gun turret. All strapped in, off we went, slowly at first for a lap then Millen stood on it. Indeed.
The Bentayga is remarkably flat in corners. That active antiroll bar really works, even at maximum cornering. And the torque from the meaty and powerful W12 felt unmatched. Anywhere you stomp on the throttle, the engine had reserve available and twisted it out on the spot.
On Horse Thief’s intimidating downhill turns, the great and powerful 17.25-inch front discs with their 10-piston calipers simply grabbed hold and brought the Bentayga down to whatever speed Millen wanted.
It was a heckuva impressive show, especially for something approaching 3 tons. Can he knock a minute off the Range Rover’s time? Pikes Peak is scheduled for June 24. Look for a new record in the stock SUV class.