Wednesday, February 5, 2020


Picture this – it’s about supper time, 6 o’clock, Saturday night, in the frigid cold of the pretty English village of Congleton, in Cheshire.

Brian Gush, formerly Head of Bentley Motorsport (who retired last year) is settling down in his sofa, about to while away the next 12 Hours, with eyes and ears glued to the TV.
Roughly 17,500 km away, and 11 hours ahead on the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst in Australia, it’s just as dark as it is in Britain with a little early morning chill, and some of the world’s most famous brands are blasting off to battle out the 2020 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)
For the first time since 2015, Brian is not sitting in the ‘bunker’ at the back of the Bentley pit garlanded with a headset and his credentials on a lanyard.
Bentley 'Bunker' 2019 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race
Last year, I hung my head inside the ‘bunker’ and we waved at each other during a very gruelling race for the Bentley Boys, when they just missed a podium spot. I was slumming around the paddock, while Brian was very busy working on race strategy and keeping up morale. I have huge regard and respect for his skills, astute judgement and determination.
I’ve been very fortunate to know Brian for a while, seeing as we both joined Bentley Motors in 1999. He came from Volkswagen South Africa, and was charged with chassis and powertrain development of new Bentleys; whilst I flew in from Australia and was challenged by the task of trying to ‘create’ an image for Bentley in the USA.
In 2000, when Bentley was given the go-ahead by the VWAG Board in Wolfsburg, to have a crack at winning Le Mans, Brian Gush was given a dream job, full of challenges and frustration, but also promising satisfaction beyond belief, if the dream came true.
It did - on a Sunday afternoon in June 2003 Bentley #7 flashed across the finish line winning the prestigious Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans.

The Director of Motorsport was grinning from ear to ear, and rightly so, because the previous three years had been a very steep learning curve.
Fast forward to 2013, and Bentley is once again back at the track, this time with the Bentley Continental GT coupe, participating in the Blancpain Series for GT3 cars.
Brian Gush is directing the action from the ‘bunker’, along with M-Sport chief, Malcolm Wilson on the pit wall, managing the actual racing bit.
Knowledgable motor racing fans around the world looked on in disbelief. Did Bentley really believe it could take a 2994kg grand touring coupe, with its carpeted, walnut and leather interior and race competitively against almost purpose-built brands like Aston Martin, Audi, McLaren and Porsche? Well, Brian’s resolute and uncompromising slim down delivered a car weight of just 1300kg, putting the Continental GT right in the ballpark.
So, let’s start at the beginning. On Monday night in Australia 24 hours after Bentley’s fantastic win in the 12 Hour, I called Brian at home so we could discuss how you get from challenger to winner, and the rocky road Bentley and M-Sport traversed.....
JC: Brian, what were the critical things you learned in the years before this year’s fabulous victory?
BG: The two most important elements were, first, to be in with a chance you have to be on the ‘Lead Lap’ all the time; and second impress on the drivers that they have to stay away from the walls, and watch out for track debris.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)

Now, that may sound obvious, but the first element involves a number of equally important things. Let me say unequivocally, that qualifying performance means nothing. For those who thrash around trying to get into the Top Ten, it’s all about ego and glory. Look at this year, the #8 car started from pit lane and managed to work its way up to lead the race; and the winning car started from eleventh on the grid!
Next, the drivers need to know when to ‘push’ and when not to. The first year we set a sizzling pace early in the race, and found ourselves running out of brakes, and also damaging wheel bearings.
2015 Liqui-Moly 12 Hour Race
Matt Bell was leading the race and we were on track for a win, but it didn’t happen, because we pushed out at the wrong time.
Then you need to be canny when the Safety Car appears, because you may have built up a great margin, only to lose it after several slower laps behind the pace car.
For example this year Bentley took advantage of yellow flags to change brakes, which gave them a huge advantage. Also, their strategy included ‘short fuelling’, but I’ll talk more about strategy in a minute.
JC: If you learned some great tips, what about the drivers?
BG: Ha, ha. They learned a lot from the Aussie drivers! God, they’re aggressive, but they are also bloody good around the mountain. It’s such a unique track, the locals get to know it really well, and our boys must watch and observe to see where are the good overtaking spots, and when to be careful.
Local boy Matt Campbell winning in 2019
Our guys race on some classic circuits in Europe, but Bathurst requires, no, demands total concentration for every lap, for the whole duration of your stint behind the wheel. You cannot afford to be on autopilot, following the guy in front.
As I said before, this track has these bloody solid walls most of the way, and if you ‘kiss’ those walls too often you are asking for a puncture.

Also, you have to keep a sharp eye on track debris, because running over a small piece of carbon fibre can shoot you down in a flash.
JC: On the subject of circuits, would it be true that the only really similar track challenge would be the Nurburgring?
BG: Probably, if only because it’s a long lap and there’s a lot to remember to ensure consistency, and also because of the dramatic changes in terrain, just like Bathurst. I think once you’ve, more or less, mastered Bathurst, there’s not much in the way of new tracks that you can’t face. It’s a great training ground, especially for the young guys.
(Photo: Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)

JC: Bentley’s winning team, Maxime Soulet (Belgium), Jules Gounon (France) and Jordan Pepper (South Africa) gave me the impression that they were a really solid trio.

They appeared to genuinely care about handing over a good car, and keeping the end game front of mind.
BG: Correct. They were carefully chosen last year, and ‘gel’ as a team, and have proven to have the qualities team managers dream about. This year, they truly worked as one.
JC: You talked about strategy earlier, what did you do differently this year?
BG: This year, as last year, Bentley had Christophe Besse completely in charge of race strategy. M-Sport worked with him previously, in the Blancpain Series; but he is extraordinarily experienced.
Christophe Besse (left)
He started with Prost F1 in 1998, and has been Director of Citroen’s WRC exploits, plus Le Mans strategist for both Peugeot and Porsche, and also Nissan’s Formula E team.
JC: Do you think that strategy was a key element in this year’s win?
BG: Absolutely, without a doubt. It was Christophe who pushes ‘Short Fuelling’; meaning every time the opportunity came, they topped up, to maintain track position. That takes a lot of pressure off the drivers when they are involved in tight racing among close competition.
Christophe also managed our brake change opportunities, and draws up the race plans well before the starting flag falls. 
Given his extensive Le Mans experience, he’s also a good guy to have on board whenever you have a Safety Car period. His input is invaluable.
JC: I guess, relieved of balancing the strategic concerns, that allows the team to concentrate just on the condition of the cars?
BG: Yes, they have over 200 streams of data coming in, so we know the condition of dampers, oil pressure, water temperature, tyres etc., but really, all the top teams have this information flow.
JC: So even though you’re not actually behind the wheel, you feel ‘involved’ as if you were out on the track? What about the drivers, what data do they see?
BG: That’s easy – they get revs, gear position and tyre pressures. That’s it. That’s all they need to do the job. It lets them concentrate on staying away from walls, debris and other cars.

JC: Brian, will you miss it?
BG: John, it is such an intense job, and you are so deeply embedded in every single aspect of the pre-race preparation, the strategic considerations, the mental state of the drivers, the status of the competition and not to mention the race itself, quite frankly, after leading the Le Mans effort, and the GT3 series, I am ready to have my weekends off.
But, I will definitely miss Bathurst.

John Crawford

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