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No. 8 Bentley survives, but Biela comes up empty

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No. 8 Bentley survives, but Biela comes up empty
Jun 15, 2003, 10:25 AM

Bentley further extended their lead over the Audi trio during the second hour at Le Mans, although a couple of incidents involving the number 8 car showed that the team were not as solid as everyone had anticipated. Audi, however, suffered ...

Bentley further extended their lead over the Audi trio during the second hour at Le Mans, although a couple of incidents involving the number 8 car showed that the team were not as solid as everyone had anticipated. Audi, however, suffered misfortune as Frank Biela pulled off the circuit with an empty fuel tank.

The lead Bentley of Capello was lucky to survive a scare soon into the second hour. Capello locked up heavily going into Virage De Mulsanne, a very tight right-hander, and had to back off to avoid spinning into the gravel. This allowed Johnny Herbert to close right up forcing Capello to cut across and defend several times.

Phillipe Alliot suffered a suspected engine problem in his Courage Competition Courage-Ji C65 and pitted for an extended stop. The car was pushed back into the garage and the rear cover taken off while the team worked on the back of the car. He joined the Carsport America Pagani Zonda GR-Mercedes of David Hart and the Team Nasamax Reynard Cosworth of Romain Dumas who had also pitted with mechanical problems.

The three Audis lapped comfortably in third, one minute behind the Bentleys and one and a half minutes of the Dome pair of Jan Lammers and Tristan Gommendy. The three cars were covered by just 12 seconds with Magnussen in third, Lehto fourth and Biela fifth.

On lap 20 the leading pair started to approach heavy traffic and repeatedly Capello was always the unluckier Bentley driver, which allowed Herbert to close up each time. Soon afterwards the Audis hit the same traffic.

The Bentley pair swapped places again on lap 23 and Herbert’s pace was blistering as he quickly pulled out a two second gap. He then pitted at the end of the lap for a routine tyre stop and systems check, taking 1 minute 12 seconds. David Brabham took over and rejoined in third place ten seconds behind the Audi of Magnussen.

The Riley & Scott Racing MkIIC-Ford of Marc Goossens had a massive moment at Virage D’Indianapolis. The car spun wildly as he passed through the right-hand corner and passed over the gravel, narrowly missing the armco, before stopping backwards on the racing line. He spun round and toured back to the pit lane with a left-rear puncture.

Capello pitted his Bentley at the end of lap 25 for a tyre stop and to hand over to Tom Kristensen. However there was a surprise as, as Capello left, Brabham returned to the pit for an unexpected stop. He was stationary for about ten seconds with the door partially open as the car remained completely untouched, and then he accelerated out back on to the track.

In the LMP675 class the RN Motorsport DBA Zytek of Casper Elgaard returned to the lead after suffering an early problem and held a one and a half minute lead over the Noel del Bello Racing Reynard-Lehmann of Christophe Pillon.

Veloqx Prodrive continued their domination of the LM GTS category with Tomas Enge leading in his Ferrari 550 Maranello and running an impressive 17th overall. He led the Corvette Racing Chevrolet of Franck Freon by over a minute.

Kristensen moved past Lehto’s Audi and returned to the lead on lap 26. He was running about half a second to one second faster than Lehto and slowly pulled away. Brabham, meanwhile, was trying to make up time from his additional pit stop and was the fastest driver on track, lapping two and a half second faster than the sister Bentley.

Biela incredibly slowed on lap 29 as he passed through the Virage De Mulsanne. The driver desperately weaved his Audi from left to right to try to keep the car going, but he was forced to pull off the circuit with a suspected empty fuel tank. The marshals pushed him back on to the track and he tried in vain to return to the pit lane on the starter motor. He pulled off the circuit a few hundred metres later.

At the end of the second hour Kristensen’s Bentley lead team-mate Brabham by 37 seconds, with Lehto a further 27 seconds behind in third.

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