Team Bentley will be back in action this Sunday for the first time since its triumphant return to Le Mans last year. A highly modified EXP Speed 8 Le Mans GT Prototype has been entered for this year's 24-hours, to be driven by Andy Wallace, Eric van de Poele and Butch Leitzinger, the same combination that last year put Bentley back on the podium after 71 years.

While visually similar to last year's EXP Speed 8, the 2002 car has been extensively redesigned and, most notably, features a brand new 4-litre direct injection Bentley engine which first ran in the car as recently as March.

Although the team would be delighted to repeat last year's superb performance, this year's race should be seen as providing a platform not only to an all-out assault on the top step of the podium next year, but also the first step towards the widening of Team Bentley's activities. For the first time, Team Bentley will race outside Le Mans and will start the 2003 campaign at the Sebring 12-hours in March.

The aim for the test weekend is to perfect the set-up of the EXP Speed 8 for the race rather than to try for outright lap times. The team will be testing different tyres and downforce configurations, evaluating the fuel consumption of the new engine and tuning the car to the circuit, which this year has a new curve. With its long straights and chicanes, the track at Le Mans presents a unique challenge. Although the EXP Speed 8 has tested extensively at the similar Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France, it is impossible to optimise the set up anywhere other than at Le Mans itself.

It is to be remembered that at Le Mans, the EXP Speed 8 will accelerate to over 200mph at least four times a lap or, put another way, more than once a minute.

This places phenomenal stresses on the engine and braking systems over the course of a single lap; the strain of 24 hours of flat-out racing can only be imagined. Nevertheless and despite the newness of the design, the 2002-specification Bentley EXP Speed 8 has shown good pace and durability during testing and the team remains optimistic about its ability to continue the good work started by its predecessor.

Published : 01/05/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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