It is no exaggeration to describe the 2003 Bentley Speed 8 as a new car. Though the previous two generations of Speed 8 performed spectacularly well, returning Bentley to the Le Mans podium in 2003, it was felt that for the final year of the three-year programme, a fresh approach was required.
Clearly the car still features enclosed bodywork meaning it remained in a class of its own and the engine retained its basic architecture, 4-litre capacity, direct fuel injection and twin turbochargers. In all other significant respects it was a new design from the ground up.
The concept driving the design was to ensure much better exploitation of the airflow over the body and particularly to the rear wing. To achieve this, the external cockpit area was much reduced, though the car is actually more spacious inside, making a smaller hole in the air and allowing the car to use a much smaller, more aerodynamic engine cover.
In addition, the air-intake that had sat on top of the car in previous generation Speed 8s was deleted in favour of snorkel-type intakes on the sides of the car. This not only further increased the efficiency of the air-flow over the car, it also lowered the height of the car, lending it a much more sleek, aggressive appearance. Early testing results indicated that not only did the 2003 Speed 8 have a more favorable downforce to drag ratio than its predecessor, it also offered much more consistent aerodynamic performance in all conditions making the car both quicker and easier to drive.
Únderneath the new skin the 4-litre engine was re-engineered around the new regulations for 2003 that dictated a 10 per cent reduction in engine restrictor size across all classes competing at Le Mans. It was necessary to redesign many internal engine components as well as evolve a new electronics strategy for the engine to minimise the shortfall in power that the new regulations brought to all competing teams.
The suspension was entirely redesigned as well, partly to improve further its behavior, but also so it can be adapted to suit its new Michelin tires. All the geometry was changed, even the mounting points of the rear suspension on the gearbox.
That alone necessitated a new gearbox casing for the Speed 8. As in previous generations of Speed 8, the internals were supplied by Xtrac.
The 2003 Bentley Speed 8 won the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans in dominating fashion, beating the previous champion Audi. Guy Smith drove the number 7 Bentley Speed 8 across the line, and David Brabham followed up in 2nd place in the sister number 8 car. This gave Bentley their first victory at Le Mans in 73 years, and their 6th victory overall. Source - Bentley Media
After 73 years Bentley Motors secured its sixth victory at LeMans in 2003. Bentley had previously revived its long association with this great racing coming third in 2001 and fourth in 2002. Early in 2003, the new Bentley Speed 8 was driven for the first time at Snetterton in the United Kingdom before heading off to the circuits of Europe for an extensive test program. Underneath the new skin, the 4-liter engine had been re-engineered around the new Le Mans regulations. And on June 15th at 4pm, Guy Smith drove the number 7 Bentley over the line to win. He was followed by David Brabham in a sister car reliving the exact same moment in 1930 when Bentleys finished first and second in the 24-hour race.