Bentley Speed Eight 2003 Le Mans Winner
At 4.00 pm precisely on Saturday June 14th 2003, the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race started, the two green Bentleys leading the pack past the pits. Nearly four minutes later the sound of the two four litre, twin-turbo, 600 bhp V8 engines were heard as the Speed 8s of Capello and Johnny Herbert re-appeared. They were still leading but this time by over six seconds. The Bentleys were not just faster than anything else in the field - they were in a different class.
But being fast over one lap is rather different from staying fast for 24 hours and every time the green cars reappeared relief flooded through the team just as every time the number 8 car of Herbert, Mark Brundle and David Brabham made an unscheduled pit-stop - and it did so four times - fears that this might spell the end for one of the Bentleys were in every mind. Even after 18 hours of racing there were still four full Grand Prix distances to run.
But the Bentleys kept going, with the number 7 car lapping with the same consistency of which only the Audis were presumed capable. When it was working correctly the number 8 car was at least as fast, indeed it was Herbert who set the fastest lap in the race, but it seemed all Bentley's bad luck was directed at one car only. First a piece of headrest came loose which needed discarding. Then a low voltage light came on precipitating another stop to change a faulty battery. Unbelievably, the light came on again on the next lap so that was another battery and another stop. Finally the clutch fluid ran low and needed a top up. Happily, and despite all this, none of its opponents could come close and its second position was never seriously threatened.
And so, at 4.00 pm on Sunday June 15th 2003, two Bentley Speed Eights came first and second at Le Mans, 73 years almost to the day since two Speed Sixes had done no less. The Bentley Speed 8 number 7 driven by Tom Kristensen, Guy Smith and Rinaldo Capello was overall winner. It was an euphoric moment but one also of supreme poignancy. When Bentley announced it would return to Le Mans, it was made clear it would be a three years program with the only aim being outright victory. Among Bentley people, the will to race again at Le Mans never went away, but it was only when the company passed in the hands of the VW Group in 1998 that the way was provided too.
Paul Damiens - Photos - Bentley
Wallpapers of the Bentley Speed Eight 2003 Le Mans Winner (click on picture to enlarge)
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