The Bentley Speed 8 of Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith won the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours with a dominant display that including leading at the end of every hour. The Bentley pair quickly pulled out a large lead over the pursuing Audi...
The Bentley Speed 8 of Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith won the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours with a dominant display that including leading at the end of every hour. The Bentley pair quickly pulled out a large lead over the pursuing Audi trio in the opening laps and they were never challenged. A strong night-time stint by Kristensen helped give the #7 Bentley a comfortable gap to the sister car and the two cars crossed the line shortly after 4pm two laps apart.
“This was a great way to win my fifth Le Mans, “said Kristensen. “We had a near perfect race on the track and a perfect one in the pits. I was able to do quick laps, especially at night.”
Numerous problems in the pit lane put the #8 Bentley of Brabham, Herbert and Blundell out of contention for victory. The first incident occurred early in the race when Brabham was forced to make an extra pit stop to remove a loose piece of interior trim from the cockpit. The car suffered an electrical problem during the early hours leaving Herbert stranded in the pit lane while the mechanics took four minutes to fit a new battery and, incredibly, the battery had to be replaced again a few hours later during an unplanned pit stop by Brabham.
“I think, as a race car driver, when you’re not winning you’re always frustrated” said Mark Blundell, “and I know for sure Johnny, David and myself we had some frustrations there that there were a few things that went wrong. It is just one of those things. Le Mans turns many many things and sometimes you have the luck run with you and sometimes you don’t. We just kept our heads down and kept pushing, and as much as we hoped nothing would go wrong with car seven we hoped something would go wrong with car seven because we would love to be first, but congratulations to them. Their car was faultless, they drove faultlessly, we did the best we could but it was not good enough.”
The challenge from the three Audi R8s gradually faded over the first fourteen hours of the race. The Audi Sport UK R8 retired on early on in the race after running out of fuel with Frank Biela at the wheel. The Team Goh Audi R8 first pitted to repair accident damage and pitted again after further problems occurred. Finally the Champion Racing UK Audi R8 lost nearly five minutes after the car was unable to get away after a pit stop and suffered another brief delay in the pit lane near the end of the race.
“We had a few minor minor glitches” said Stefan Johansson. “We had a problem with the battery twice and we had to replace the battery. We had two punctures. That was about it - nothing really serious.”
“It turned out to be a 24 hour sprint race,” said JJ Lehto. “We chased the Bentleys but they had no problems. I spun on oil on Sunday morning. The nose of the Audi went into the gravel and bounced into the tire barriers but thankfully it caused no damage.”
Biela, aiming for his fourth consecutive victory at Le Mans 24 Hours, was forced to retire from the race after making a mistake before the two hour mark. Biela was about to pit for fuel but the entrance to the pit lane was blocked by a back marker forcing the Audi driver to start another lap. “I knew it would be almost impossible to get round and the car started ‘coughing’” said a disappointed Biela. ”I had to park it and then I tried to get it back to the pits using the starter but it was impossible. I’m devastated.”
Behind the Bentleys and Audis there was a long and intense battle for fifth place which ultimately came down to a straight fight between the JML Team Panoz LMP-01 Evo of Gunnar Jeannette and the Courage Competition Courage-Judd C60 of Jean Marc Gounon. Ultimately Gounon fell back with a clutch problem and he was overtaken by the Jan Lammers in the Racing for Holland Dome S101-Judd, who was recovering from an earlier spin, in the closing laps.
The only serious accident of the race happened shortly after 4am when Anthony Davidson suffered wheel bearing failure at Virage de Mulsanne and his Veloqx Prodive Ferrari 550 Maranello and hit the barriers backwards. Davidson was bruised after knocking his head and was taken to the medical centre for a check-up.
The sister Veloqx Prodrive of Peter Kox, Tomas Enge and Jamie Davies, despite early pressure from Davidson’s team, lead for most of the 24 hours and went on to win the LMP GTS class, finishing an impressive tenth overall in the standings.
The Noel del Bello Racing Reynard-Lehmann of Christophe Pillon, Didier Andre and Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere won the LMP675 class. The car led comfortably for most of the race after the RN Motorsport DBA 4-Zytek spent a large amount of the race in the garage with mechanical problems and the Intersport Racing Lola-MG B2K/60 retired early on Sunday morning.
The Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 of Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr and Emmanuel Collard dominantly won the LM GT class after leading for most of the race. The car suffered a couple of problems during the race but overcame this to take these to take the class win.
“I have wished for this win since I have come in second here twice. It is a really special race for me and the whole team. We had little problems but the Porsche was great. The Michelins as usual were good and I couldn’t ask for a better 24 hours,” said Sascha Maassen.