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Bentley set to enter Dakar rally with new SUV

By Ben Pulman

Motor Industry

17 May 2012 11:15

Is Bentley planning to enter the 2013 Dakar rally with a race version of its new Range Rover-rivaling luxury SUV? CAR has uncovered early plans suggesting that Crewe is preparing to do exactly that, helping give its EXP 9F 4x4 a motorsport pedigree to smoothe the arrival of this rather controversial 4x4.

CAR understands that Bentley is currently buying back the Race Touaregs that VW Motorsport sold to privateer teams after leaving the event to concentrate on its Polo WRC entry. Bentley will update these SUV racers ready for the competition early in 2013, according to our sources.

Hang on! Isn’t the new Bentley SUV a few years away from production?

Yes it is. The EXP 9F concept car was only unveiled at the recent 2012 Geneva motor show and publicly the new circa-£140k luxury 4x4 has yet to be given the green light. But both the Bentley and its platform-sharing Lamborghini Urus SUV are crucial to their respective brand’s future fortunes and both are production certainties.

While Bentley R&D boss Rolf Frech has admitted to CAR that the EXP 9F will not be as good off-road as the Range Rover, the company is still keen to establish the credentials of its new 4x4 to wealthy customers as it attempts to meet its sales target of at least 3000 units a year. And remember, Bentley’s boss Dr Wolfgang Dürheimer is also head of the entire VW Group’s motorsport activities, so a new SUV from Crewe and accompanying motorsport programme are closely linked.

What else do we know about Bentley’s Dakar plans?

It’s a tried-and-tested method for VW Group SUVs: both the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg were raced. Porsche built the Cayenne S Transsyberia for the Transsyberian rally (during Dürheimer’s time as tech chief at Porsche), while Volkswagen went much further and developed the prototype-style Race Touareg to take on the Dakar rally.

The Race Touareg won the Dakar rally from 2009-2011, but after three straight wins VW officially withdrew its factory effort (to concentrate on its WRC entry) and sold the cars on to privateer teams. Bentley is now believed to be buying these cars back and readying them for competition in early 2013.

The Race Touaregs barely resembled their road-going counterparts but Bentley will graft on its own front and rear ends to differentiate its off-road racer from Volkswagen’s RT. Don’t expect it to exactly replicate the final design of the EXP 9F but it will drop hints at how the final production car will appear – CAR understands that Bentley’s VW overlords have called for the styling of the EXP 9F to be changed before the car goes on sale.

The 2011-spec Race Touareg 3 was powered by a 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, good for 296bhp and 442lb ft, but it’s not yet clear if the Bentley version will use the same engine. The flagship version of Bentley’s SUV will run a twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12, while a 500bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, plug-in V6 hybrid and even a V8 TDI are under consideration.

Bentley started actively looking potential motorsport avenues for the brand in 2011, but a spokeswoman told CAR that no decisions have yet been made.