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2001 Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype news, pictures, specifications, and information

Sport Roadster
Designer: Peter Elleray
Chassis Num: 002-3
 
Sold for $2,530,000 at 2012 RM Auctions.
In 1924, the pairing of John Duff and Frank Clement would win the second running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They would earn the victory driving a Bentley 3 liter Sport. Then, from 1927 through 1930, Bentley would enjoy an incredible run of success winning four-straight Le Mans. Though Bentley would start out the dominant manufacturer at Le Mans it would take more than seventy years before the manufacturer could claim another victory at the famed circuit. But, finally, the Bentley Speed 8, driven by Guy Smith and the greats Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello, would bring home yet another victory for the famed automaker.

On Saturday, August 18th, 2012 one of the famed Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans prototype cars will cross the block at RM Auctions' Monterey event and will provide the opportunity not only to own an incredible Le Mans prototype, but one bearing one of the most famous names in Le Mans history.

The goal was simple: to return Bentley to the top at Le Mans. But though the goal was simple and straight-forward it would be execution that would be the most difficult aspect of the endeavor.

The endeavor would have a lot of help though. In 1998, Rolls Royce would become part of the Volkswagon Audi Group, otherwise known as VAG. The chairman of Volkswagen at the time of the acquisition of Bentley would be Dr. Ferdinand Piech. Piech was the grandson of the great Ferdinand Porsche, the designer of the extremely powerful Auto Union grand prix cars of the 1930s. Auto Union would come onto the scene toward the end of Bentley's dominance in racing. But now, generations later, the famed Bentley name was part of the same group that Piech was a part.

At the same time of the acquisition, Piech would approach Dallara about building a sports racer. Under the direction of Audi Sport Team Joest director Wolfgang Ullrich, the R8 would take Audi to incredible fame in sportscar and Le Mans racing. The logic was simple. Race-born technology could be applied to production cars and would only increase the strength of the group. But Piech still had the famed Bentley name right there as part of the group. Therefore, after nearing 70 years, it would be announced in 2000 that Bentley would begin a three year program, which the company ultimately hoped would end in the manufacturer's sixth Le Mans victory.

The advantage Bentley would have would be the engine it would have at its disposal to build a car around. Audi's R8 would begin to dominate the endurance racing world. Part and parcel to that success would be its 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. This same engine would be held over for use in Bentley's new chassis.

The new chassis would be designed by the team at Racing Technology Norfolk. Racing Technology Norfolk was familiar with the VAG as Tony Southgate had been employed to design what would become known as the Audi R8C, which would race at the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, at the start of Bentley's three year program, it would be Peter Elleray that would be given the task of designing a winning car for the legendary automaker.

Elleray knew he had the engine, but everything else would have to be designed and built from scratch. The VAG wanted to maximize its potential outcome at Le Mans. Therefore, it would be decided that the Bentley design would incorporate a closed-cockpit element and be entered under the LMP GTP category while the Audi R8s would battle in LMP 900. This way, the company had the potential of scoring two victories, one overall and another in class.

Originally, Elleray was planning on using Bentley's W12 engine, but it just wasn't suitable. A former designer and engineer with the Arrows F1 team during the 1980s, Elleray was looking for a potent engine comprised in a tight package, to which he could design a tight and tidy chassis around. The 600 hp, twin-turbocharged V-8 would certainly do the trick.

Elleray would start with the cockpit and the survival monocoque structure. The cockpit would end up being made of carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb and would boast of three carbon fiber hoops added for rigidity and strength in order to help protect the drive. One of those hoops would be over the driver. Another would be in front while the other would be around the footwell to protect the driver's legs. Incredibly, this whole structure would weigh just a little more than 150 pounds.

Elleray's design would be elegant, and yet, sharp at the same time. The somewhat pointed nose would flow back almost seamlessly into the steeply-raked windscreen. Each of the front fenders of the car would stand tall on either side of the low-profile bodywork. The long tail would swoop down low on the backside and would dramatically sweep upwards at the tail to help with rear end stability. Complete with a large vent positioned on the top of the cockpit feeding air to the turbochargers, the Speed 8 Prototype just looked fast, even when it was sitting still.

Complete with an Xtrac, electro-pneumatic shifting six-speed transmission, huge four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes and an incredible aero-package, the first of the Bentley Speed 8s would be completed in November of 2000. Three more completed cars would follow. One of the three examples finished would end up going to Monza for high-speed testing but would also be placed on Bentley's stand at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show.

With a total of four Bentley Speed 8 chassis completed, it was time for the manufacturer to prepare for its assault on Le Mans. They had their car, now they needed to build a capable team around the car.

The new Team Bentley, first and foremost, needed a team manager. To fill this role, Richard Lloyd would be contracted. Lloyd had run Audis as part of the British Touring Car Championship, as well as, the R8C Coupe at the 1999 running of Le Mans. Lloyd wouldn't be doing everything on his own. In fact, the team would hire a very capable coach to further help the team. The coach would be five time winner Derek Bell.

The team managers were now in place. One of the next important components would be the drivers. Bentley would enter two cars in the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the team's first car, Martin Brundle would be paired with Stephane Ortelli and Guy Smith. The second car, number 8 at Le Mans, would consist of veteran Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and Eric van de Poele.

The car offered at the RM Auctions event in Monterey in 2012 would be the second of Team Bentley's two Speed 8 entries in the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car driven by Wallace, Leitzinger and van de Poele.

Chassis 002-3, would start the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans from the 9th position on the grid. However, the car would be in far worse position during the early running of the race. An early tire change would cost the team and the car would be running all the way down in 17th place while its sister car spent some time in the overall lead. This would be just the beginning of what would be a hard-fought Le Mans campaign.

Before midnight, the number 8 Bentley had fought hard and was running in the 3rd position when the car became jammed in 4th gear. Leitzinger would be forced to crawl around the circuit but would make it back to the pits for repairs. It would take 45 minutes to resolve the issue, but after some hard driving by all three drivers, number 8 would find itself back up into 3rd place overall.

The rain was causing havoc to Team Bentley. The sister car had fallen out of the running after rain had penetrated the cockpit and helped lead to an electrical fire. Radio communications would fail on the number 8 Bentley as well, but this would be rectified with a portable radio stuffed in a plastic bag.

The team consistently had to deal with adversity throughout the 24 hour campaign. This would be expected given this was the team's first year of its three year long program. Number 8 would be back in 3rd place when its pneumatic-shifting would fail. This would cause more valuable time to be lost in the pits.

Still, by 3p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Bentley number 8 was still in 3rd place, almost two laps behind the leading Audi R8s. All of the remarkable hard work would pay off as number 8 would pass over the line at 4 p.m. in the 3rd position, the first time Bentley had been on the podium at Le Mans in over 70 years!

Chassis 002-3 is that car, the car that earned Bentley its first podium at Le Mans since its days of dominance in the late 1920s. It would provide Bentley the confidence and the encouragement it needed to go on to victory in the 2003 edition of the famed French endurance race. Chassis 002-3 would go a long way to helping restore the identity and the reputation of Bentley. It would be confirmed by the one-two victory a couple of years later.

After the victory in 2003, at the conclusion of the three year long program, Team Bentley disbanded and the cars became available to private owners. As a result, many of the Bentley Speed 8 prototypes make appearances at Goodwood and other such events. Voted one of the most handsome cars wherever they competed, chassis 002-3 will certainly attract a crowd wherever it goes. Fully race-ready, this particular chassis was last raced at Road America in 2007.

Adorned in the beloved British Racing Green, this elegant Bentley certainly provides a great source for conversation and reflection when it takes its place alongside its much older brethren. Expected to draw between $1,900,000 and $2,500,000 at auction, it is very clear the Bentley Speed 8's place in Bentley history.

Sources:
'Lot No. 233: 2001 Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype Racing Car', (http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarID=r192). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarID=r192. Retrieved 8 August 2012.

'2003 Bentley Speed 8', (http://www.supercars.net/cars/2301.html). Supercars.net. http://www.supercars.net/cars/2301.html. Retrieved 8 August 2012.

'Bentley Speed 8', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1605/Bentley-Speed-8.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1605/Bentley-Speed-8.html. Retrieved 8 August 2012.

'Races: Le Mans 24 Hours 2001', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Le_Mans-2001-06-17.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Le_Mans-2001-06-17.html. Retrieved 8 August 2012.

By Jeremy McMullen
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