Bentley back at Le Mans

Luxury British car manufacturer Bentley Motors is to make a return to international motorsport in 2001 by entering a works car at the Le Mans 24 hours for the first time since 1930

Bentley back at Le Mans

The all-new Bentley EXP (Experimental) Speed 8, which has been under development for the past year, used the Audi R8C Coupe raced by Audi Sport UK at Le Mans in 1999 as its conceptual starting point, but is all-new. The car will race in the LM-GT category, which theoretically makes it capable of challenging the LMP-900 class, open-topped prototypes for overall victory.

No announcement has been made on drivers, but James Weaver tested the machine at Snetterton this week and 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Stephane Ortelli has also conducted shakedowns at another venue.

The car is powered by a version of the Audi V8 engine from this year's race-winning R8 car, featuring revised turbos, cooling, induction and exhaust systems.

The EXP Speed 8 is being built by Racing Technology Norfolk and the project is being run by former sportscar and touring car entrant Richard Lloyd's Apex Motorsport operation from the ex-Audi Sport UK premises in Buckingham.

Delays in announcing the project are believed to stem from parent company VW's late decision on which of its brands should badge the project. VW and Lamborghini were also options.

Bentley's reputation was founded on the back of the marque's success at Le Mans during the 1920s, when it won the endurance classic five times. The return to competition comes as Bentley prepares to become an independent company after a 70-year partnership with sister company Rolls-Royce.

"History is not our main reason for returning to Le Mans," said Bentley chief executive Tony Gott. "Our future road products will benefit directly from our racing activities, wherever we finish in the race itself."

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