The Boys are back in town: Bentley back at Le Mans after 71 years Le Mans, 14 June 2001.... At 4.00pm on Saturday 16 June, and for the first time in a lifetime, works Bentleys will race at Le Mans once more. The start will be a hugely...
The Boys are back in town:
Bentley back at Le Mans after 71 years
Le Mans, 14 June 2001.... At 4.00pm on Saturday 16 June, and for the first time in a lifetime, works Bentleys will race at Le Mans once more. The start will be a hugely emotional moment, not just for Team Bentley who have worked tirelessly to prepare the two EXP Speed 8s, but also for the thousands of fans from Britain and all over the world who have come to see Bentley race once more.
No-one expects the brand new design to win its first Le Mans (also its first actual race), but the hope is that the cars will run strongly to the finish, giving the fans a sight to be proud of and providing Bentley with vital data for the future.
There are three distinct reasons behind Bentley's return to this most hallowed of race tracks. The first is simply that it can. During the decades that followed Rolls-Royce's purchase of the company in 1931, racing anywhere, let alone on the scale required to compete with honour at Le Mans simply could not be countenanced. But with the resource, enthusiasm and commitment of Bentley's parent, the Volkswagen Group, came the possibility of a return. Tony Gott, who joined Bentley as an engineer in 1984 and is now its chief executive, did not need prompting.
So Bentley can return. But the second reason is also that it should return. Bentley and Le Mans put each other on the map during the 1920s.
At the time of the first Le Mans in 1923, Bentley had been selling cars for less than two years while, had it not been for John Duff's 3 Litre, Le Mans would have been an entirely French national event. But by the time of Bentley's last win, it was one of the most prestigious marques and Le Mans a race with a profile rivalled only by the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. The two names, Bentley and Le Mans, went hand in hand.
Why should that matter now? Because Bentley believes that car companies that lose sight of the things that made them great lose sight of the things that keep them great. Being faithful to the marque's heritage provides the platform from which the company can move forward. And it is the future that provides the third reason for the return to Le Mans.
It is no secret that Bentley plans to transform its business over the next few years and that in order to do so it must not only retain its existing clientele, but also attract a younger audience with yet more sporting aspirations. The car charged with this task, the forthcoming Mid-Sized Bentley - or MSB - will be one of the most exciting Bentleys ever built. It is a car that will be built on foundations of speed and durability achieved through precision engineering, precisely the qualities required to succeed at Le Mans.
So, for Bentley, racing at Le Mans is not a mere stunt. Racing once ran in the company's blood and, as of now, it does so again. This weekend is just the beginning.