It has taken three years, but the time has finally come for Team Bentley to face the ultimate test. At Le Mans this weekend outright victory is the only goal that will enable Bentley to realise its dream of winning – for the first time since 1930. Its two Speed 8 prototypes will aim to race twice around the clock, with the team’s sole focus being to deliver the drivers of one of the Bentleys to the top step of the podium on the 80th anniversary of Bentley’s first appearance at the inaugural Le Mans 24-hours.
However nothing is certain at Le Mans and history shows that merely having the best car, drivers and team is no guarantee of winning. Defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory too many times at this race for anything to be certain. And Team Bentley knows that it takes just one errant back-marker, some maverick weather or the failure of just one of the many thousands of components that makes up the Speed 8 for the dream to turn to dust.
So all that Team Bentley can be sure of is that it has done all it can to bring victory at Le Mans back to Bentley for the first time in 73 years. With talents like Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell, David Brabham, Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello and Guy Smith, it has undoubtedly the strongest line-up of drivers at Le Mans this year. In the Bentley Speed 8 prototype that lapped the circuit at the official test weekend an astonishing 3.5 seconds quicker than any other car, the team clearly has a car with all the pace to do the job. And its ability to appear at the Sebring 12-hours, claim pole position (a time eventually disallowed over a minor technical infringement), fastest lap, fastest stint and then complete a further 12-hours the next day without significant problems, suggests it has not just the speed but the durability, too.
But the team also knows the competition will be extremely strong, not least among the three Audi R8s, cars that have hitherto proven unbeatable at Le Mans and almost everywhere else they have raced in Europe and America.
Team Manager John Wickham said: ‘We have completed another long distance run since the test weekend, which means the car has now the equivalent of three 24-hour plus tests under its belt, all of which were successfully completed with no problems that would have stopped the car under race conditions. We’ve all been here too many times and know Le Mans too well to predict how things will go in the race, but it is fair to say that, given all of this, the team is feeling very positive and extremely keen to go out there and get the job done.’
The new Continental GT will also be at Le Mans and, for the first time, it will be seen in action. Five times Le Mans winner and Bentley Motors consultant Derek Bell will be doing demonstration laps in the new 560hp, 198 mph coupe which goes on sale this autumn. Indeed it is fair to say that the Continental GT, the most important new car in Bentley’s history since the very first 3-litre in 1919, is the reason Bentley decided to return to Le Mans. By proving itself on this most hallowed and historic of race-tracks, the aim was to prove also to a new generation of Bentley enthusiasts that the company has become once more what it once always was: a marque equally at home on road or track.
The Bentley enthusiasts, who have avidly supported Team Bentley since 2001, also deserve a win at Le Mans as a reward for all of the encouragement they have given to Team Bentley over the last three years.Published 14 June 2003