The Pikes Peak Hillclimb Record Was Just Broken By a Bentley

Everything about the Bentley Continental GT whispers comfort and luxury. It’s a gleaming grand tourer sporting a sloping roof and a large rectangular grille that’s impossible to miss. A peek inside is further proof of its opulence: custom-made wood trim and soft leather seats, with overall superb styling.

This tastefully posh ride is favored by celebrities and pro athletes, who don’t even flinch at its base price of $218,400. A car this sumptuous wouldn’t be expected to have the same level of performance and handling as its rivals the Aston Martin DB9 GT or the Porsche Panamera. And it certainly wouldn’t have the capability to win races, would it? 

The Secret Life of the Bentley Continental GT

It would and indeed it does. This elegant Bentley variant, like other family members past and present, has an alter ego as a motorsport monster.

On June 30, 2019, a new Continental GT shattered the production car record outright at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Driven by three-time PPIHC champion, Rhys Millen, the Bentley completed the 12.42-mile course in 10:18.488. The new record shaved 8.4 seconds off the 2015 record of 10:26.896 in a 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S. Millen averaged an astonishing 70 mph throughout the winding course.

The Course

As the world’s number-one hill climbing event, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is grueling. 

Situated in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak has an altitude of 14,115 feet. The course begins at 9,300 feet on its ascent to the summit, snaking its way through 156 bends to the finish.

The grades on the course average at slightly over 7%. Adding to the challenge is the unpredictable weather in the Rockies. On event day, Millen faced a course wet from rain and snow.

The Driver

Besides winning multiple events at Pikes Peak, Rhys Millen also happens to be a top rally driver and drifting champion. The latter distinction is key for the Conti GT’s win at Pikes Peak. This means that Millen is very, very skilled at whipping a car through a corner as fast as possible.

We could say that Millen is not only Pikes Peak’s “King of the Mountain” but maybe he’s “King of Oversteer” too.

The Car: A Powerful Beast Disguised as an Aristocrat

But Millen might not have won the PPIHC if his car wasn’t up to the challenge. The stock 2019 Conti GT certainly has the power to climb fast, with its massive 626-hp W12 engine and 664 lb-ft of torque. It’s capable of 0 to 60 mph in a mere 3.6 seconds.

At first glance, though, the car’s superlative handling at Pikes Peak seems counterintuitive because this all-wheel-drive grand tourer weighs a hefty 4,950 pounds.

And as Motor Trend’s Jonny Lieberman points out in his review of the Conti GT, it is a Bentley, a brand that is usually not known for its superior handling. His first drive of the car in the Tyrolean Alps changed his mind.

Cracking the Code of Extraordinary Handling

The car has three suspension modes: Comfort, Bentley, and Sport. The Sport mode is central to the car’s performance handling, Lieberman notes. Only 17% of the car’s torque is sent to the front wheels in Sport mode as compared to 38% for the other two modes.

Bentley also made a few tweaks in the car’s engineering for this year’s model that contribute to the Continental GT’s winning handling. The dash-to-axle measurement has increased, which puts less weight in front of the front axle. Understeer has also been reduced, making the steering more responsive.

The chassis is sportier, thanks to Volkswagen, Bentley’s parent company. The Conti GT shares VW’s MSB architecture with its corporate cousin, the Porsche Panamera. The MSB architecture is essentially a modular standard drivetrain system, meaning that it is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. 

Add to the mix the 48-volt anti-roll bars that quickly reduce much of the car’s body movement in the corners, and the Continental GT turns out to be a strong and formidable hill climber.

Bentley’s Short but Surprising History in Motorsport

For over a decade, Bentley Motors has been quietly building its reputation in motorsport.

In 2007, a Continental GT driven by former rally champion Juha Kankkunen smashed the World Speed Record on Ice on the frozen Baltic Sea in Finland. Averaging 199.83 mph and reaching a top speed of 205.67 mph, the Conti GT eclipsed the previous record set by a Bugatti EB110.

In 2011, Bentley broke its own land-ice record from 2007 twice, with two slightly modified Continental Supersports. The automaker has also gone on to compete in numerous Gran Turismo events with its Continental GT3 over the past few years.

Pikes Peak isn’t unfamiliar territory for Bentley, either, since it crushed the production SUV record there in 2018, with Millen at the wheel of its W12 powered Bentayga coming in at an amazing 10:49.9.

From Rodeo Drive to Pikes Peak

The likes of JLo and Kobe have added the Continental GT to their stables of luxury vehicles because it’s a good-looking, high-end coupe that any superstar would be proud to own.

But now we recognize this car for its true self: a fast, sure-footed grand tourer that effortlessly flattens out the corners and hurtles up hills. In the Continental GT, Bentley has kept the refinement of the traditional grand touring car but has elevated its performance to a new level that its rivals must now meet.

And we’re curious to see what the automaker has in store for next year’s Pikes Peak climb.