The Cinderella story of the Bentley Boys' return appears to have succumbed to electical gremlins. The ...
The Cinderella story of the Bentley Boys' return appears to have succumbed to electical gremlins. The #7 Bentley, as driven by Martin Brundle, had held the lead at the end of the first hour, and even after the highly favoured factory Audis recovered from their earlier misfortunes, it had held down third position as late as 20:00 (four hours into the race).
However, with rain continuing to fall down on most of the famed circuit, the Bentley suffered from water leaking into the closed cockpit, causing not only fogging of the windshield, but also intermittently short-circuiting the gearbox electrics, causing the gearshift selector to skip gears.
"This is crazy," said Rinaldo Capello, piloting the #2 Audi. "It's crazy driving under these conditions. The water is like stones in your eyes, but you have to drive with the visor open to see anything."
The car finally failed with Guy Smith at the wheel, abandoning the Briton on the course. The car caught fire on the back of the circuit, but as of right now, the team has not yet been able to determine the exact cause of the fire, although electrics are suspected.
While the factory Audis continued their strong run, the Gulf Audi team -- which had brought the legendary light blue and orange back to this famed circuit -- had to abandon the race after two hours and fourty-five minutes. Stefan Johansson, who had piloted the car since the start, stopped between the two chicanes on the Mulsanne straight.
"There was no warning," said Johansson. "The engine just cut out on me. We are not exactly sure why we stopped, but it's probably a minor electrical fault."
The rain was definitely a factor, with the safety car coming out three times in the first four hours -- giving Cadillac its only opportunity so far opportunity to lead the field, as the leading Cadillac was barely inside the top 10 after foru hours.
The Panoz team, which showed so strongly in the first hour, suffered reliability problems relatively quickly. The #11, which had run in second place, lost a wheel on course, and later pulled into the pits with gearbox problems, followed by the #12 sister car.
"It's very slippery out there," said Jamie Davies after getting out for a driver change in the Panoz pits. "Every time I pressed on the accelerator, the rear end stepped out."
At the end of five hours, it was an Audi 1-2-3, with the cars even in numerical order, but with #1 a lap ahead of the other two, with the surviving Bentley (piloted by Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Eric van de Poele), followed by the Courage-Peugeot and the first of the Chrysler LMPs.
But the long night is yet to come ...