Bentley Motors announced today (02/11/00) its intention to return to the famous Circuit International du Mans for the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Said chief executive Tony Gott “I am thrilled to confirm that Bentley Motors will be back at Le Mans – next year. Obviously this is a terrific opportunity for Bentley Motors whose reputation was founded on its racing success of the 1920s and early 1930s.
“With an all-new chassis and body, the Bentley ” EXP (Experimental ) Speed 8″ Le Mans racing car has been quietly under development in the UK for more than a year, and will contest the LM-GTP class. For 2001, the race engine will be a Bentley version of the winning Audi Le Mans V8, which is being extensively developed and will feature new turbo technology, cooling and induction and exhaust systems.
“This transitional strategy of using proven engine technology from within the Group will enable us to return to Le Mans in 2001 and, more importantly, will enable us to ‘shake down’ our all-new chassis and body – whilst developing an all-new Bentley Le Mans engine for future years.”
The racing Bentley is being built in Norfolk by Racing Technology Norfolk, and the programme will be managed by Richard Lloyd at Apex Motorsport in Buckingham. The driver line-up and further details will be announced in due course.
When Bentley Motors founder WO Bentley first heard of Le Mans, he thought the whole venture ‘mad’! But he helped John Duff prepare his 3.0 Litre Bentley and lent him works driver Frank Clement for the first ever ‘Les 24 Heures’ in 1923.
Bentley was the sole British entry and, despite the absence of front wheel brakes, Duff led the race for a while, and finally brought his 3.0 Litre home in fourth place at an average speed of 50.05 mph. WO went to France to watch the race and Le Mans was soon in his blood.
Bentley went on to win Le Mans five times out of eight starts in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 (finishing first, second, third and fourth), and 1930. Famous ‘Bentley Boy’ and one time Bentley Motors Chairman Woolf Barnato drove the winning cars for three consecutive years (1928, 1929 and 1930), a record that was to remain unbeaten for many years.
Concluded Gott: “History is not our main reason for returning to Le Mans. Our future road products will benefit directly from our racing activities, wherever we finish in the race itself. But Tthe whole team at Crewe is thrilled to have the opportunity to take Bentley Motors back in to motor sport, especially to an event which is so much an integral part of Bentley’s history. This is also a critical part of our strategy aimed at preparing Bentley Motors for its return to independence after nearly 70 years of being conjoined to its sister brand Rolls-Royce. But thisThis new motor sport programme is only one aspect of the exciting developments under way at Bentley Motors.
“Last December we had the exterior design signed off for our Mid Sized Bentley (MSB) which will take Bentley into new market segments and sales potential over the next five years. In June we showed our high-performance Continental T Personal Commission; at the end of August we announced the Bentley State Limousine for H.M. The Queen; in Paris last month we showed the world our unique craftsmanship skills through the Arnage Red Label Personal Commission; today we are announcing our intention to return to racing. And this is only the beginning of the journey for Bentley Motorsthere is more to come from Bentley Motors!”
Bentley Motors will recruit around 400 new employees in 2000 alone and is undertaking a massive refurbishment of the Crewe site to create a state-of-the-art engineering development and test facility, and is due to complete phase two of its new £1.5 million design centre this year.