The 2003 Bentley Boys will be sporting exclusive made-to-measure racing shoes, as they contest the Sebring, Florida 12-hour race in March and then the crucial Le Mans 24-hour classic in June in their Bentley Speed 8 prototype.
The leather-lined fireproof nomex racing shoes are custom-made to the drivers' feet in much the same way that a Bentley can be handcrafted to the exact specification of its customer.
'Bentley has always believed in the value of beautiful hand-made objects,' says Brian Gush, Bentley's director of motor sport. 'There are many things that a craftsman can make better than a robot. That includes the leather work and wood work in a Bentley cabin. It also includes made-to-measure shoes.'
Bentley has a famous tradition for hand workmanship. In an age of mass production, much of a Bentley is still created by skilled craftsmen. In addition, Bentley's Mulliner department offers a bespoke service that enables a car to be commissioned to the owner's precise taste and exact specification.
The bespoke race shoes are made by German craftsman Axel Himer in his fin-de-siècle workshop in Baden-Baden in southern Germany. He has been making hand-made shoes for ladies and gentlemen since 1988, and branched out into racing shoes in 2000.
'Made-to-measure shoes are more comfortable, because they fit your feet perfectly,' says Axel Himer. 'One crucial element is the flexibility of the sole, which has to be different for each individual driver. That is the only way to guarantee the utmost sensitivity when driving a racing car.'
The shoes take a minimum of 50 hours to craft. The first step is to measure the driver's feet and then make a wooden mould. The first pair of prototype shoes is hand made on the mould. After two fittings, a second pair is made. They are worn during test driving. Changes are then made to the third and final pair of shoes, which will be used for the actual race.
Team Bentley's six Bentley Boys all have been fitted out with Axel Himer's exclusive shoes and undoubtedly will have the best footwear, as well as the most prestigious cars, in the Sebring and Le Mans paddocks. The drivers are British Formula One stars Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell and David Brabham, who will be driving the number eight Bentley Speed 8 prototype, and Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello and Guy Smith in the number seven car.
'The hand-made shoes are not only more comfortable in a long distance race, they also increase the sensitivity and the man/machine interface,' says Johnny Herbert, who is having his first-ever race for Bentley at Sebring. 'It is surprising the difference they make.'
The Sebring and Le Mans races not only will see the drivers shod in superior footwear, but the cars too. For the first time, Team Bentley cars will be using Michelin tyres to help give them their best-ever chance of victory.
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