Le Mans, 3 May 2002.Choosing who should crew the sole EXP Speed 8 for the 2002 Le Mans 24-hours was one of the few easy jobs that has faced Team Bentley since its return to the podium last year.

With a strategy to treat 2002 as a development year for the new Bentley engine and with a one car entry, it was simple common sense that led the Team to reunite the same team that had coped with the worst race conditions in living memory to bring their Bentley home second only to the winning works Audis. Between them, Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Eric van de Poele dodged the myriad accidents and negotiated an often flooded track to produce a result that nobody within or outside the team had dared predict.

As a team they possess not just the raw speed to be one of the most competitive driver line-ups on the grid, but also the consistency, mechanical sympathy and experience without which it is impossible to race successfully at Le Mans.

Andy Wallace

Born: 19 February 1961

Nationality: British

Lives: Oxford, England

Unarguably the finest British sportscar driver racing today, his record speaks for itself. His first Le Mans in 1988, brought outright victory and since then he has won the Daytona 24-hours three times (1990, '97, '99) and the Sebring 12-hours twice ('92, '93) making him one of a handful in the history of the sport to have claimed its three premier races. He has also won the only other race to rank alongside the greatest events on the sportscar calendar, the Petit Le Mans 1000miles. He was the BPR Global Endurance GT Champion in 1995 and won the Professional Sportscar GT Championship in 1998.

Outside sportscar racing, Andy's career started in Formula Ford where he won 21 races between 1980-3. In 1984 he won five FF2000 races and was runner up in the 1985 British F3 championship. He won the title outright the following year with 12 wins and moved into F3000 in 1987 before being hooked by sportscar racing.

Blessed with great natural speed, consistency and mechanical sympathy he has this year already added a fourth at Daytona and second at Sebring to his record. At Le Mans last year Andy provided the EXP Speed 8's qualifying time and drove both the first and last stints, avoiding the carnage early in the race and nursing the car over the line at the end.

Butch Leitzinger

Born: 28 February 1969

Nationality: American

Lives: State College, Pennsylvania

Had the total number of wins and championship already accredited to Butch Leitzinger accounted for his entire racing career, he would have rather more reason than most to be proud. In fact Butch is just 33 years old yet has won the Daytona 24-hours three times (1994, '97, '99), the World Sportscar Championship twice ('97, '98) and the CanAm title in 1999. As a result of these and his many other victories, the authoritative 'On Track' magazine chose him as their sports car racer of the decade.

Butch's career started in 1985 but it was winning the GTU class at the 1990 Sebring 12-hours that really got him noticed. By 1993 he was the GTU champion, winning six races from just eight starts; he won his first Daytona 24-hours the following year.

Though he was by now a career sportscar driver, he still found time in his schedule to try some Busch series NASCAR racers, clocking up three straight wins at Lime Rock from 1994-6.

He won five WSC rounds in 1997 and '98 to claim back-to-back championships before adding the CanAm title in '99. This year he has already come fourth at the Sebring 12 hours.

During Le Mans last year Butch encountered the worst weather conditions he had ever experienced on a race track but it seemed to have little effect on the metronomic consistency of his lap-times - exactly what you need to make it to the end of a race like Le Mans.

Eric van de Poele

Born: 30 September 1961

Nationality: Belgian

Lives: San Diego, California

Despite a career that has seen success in all major formulae, including F1 and F3000 (where he finished second in the 1990 championship, ahead of Eddie Irvine), it is as a long distance expert that Eric has really made his name. A double winner of the Sebring 12-hours (1995, '96), he has also won Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (1999), the Spa 24-hours (1987) and the prototype category at Le Mans (1998) despite having to drive over half the race single-handed after a team-mate became ill.

Eric was the last driver into Team Bentley, but if some thought he'd have some catching up to do, Eric clearly thought otherwise. During the 2001 race Eric's outstanding contribution was a series of blindingly quick stints in changeable conditions in the middle of the night. It was this that helped consolidate the EXP Speed 8 in its third position, and built up a comfort zone from the fourth placed car that thereafter never looked likely to be threatened.

Published : 01/05/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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