British luxury car maker Bentley recently recruited Graham Humphrys, who designed the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hour-winning BMW. It’s seen as a major step for Bentley making a possible return to the world’s greatest endurance race, the Le Mans 24 hours.
Bentley soon to relive 1920s glory days at Le Mans 24 Hours?
Luxury car manufacturer Bentley, now owned by Volkswagen, have recruited Graham Humphrys who designed the BMW V12 LMR at Williams Motorsport which was victorious 13 years ago at Circuit de la Sarthe in France, venue for the world’s greatest endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours or the 24 Heures du Mans as it is known in France reports Autoweek.
The new Bentley project team also includes John Wickham who was Bentley’s team director a decade ago.
Brian Gush, who is director for chassis and powertrain development at Bentley, but whose responsibilities also include motorsport, is reported as saying, “Graham is helping us out with the feasibility work; he has a lot of experience in both GT and prototypes.” Gush was non-committal when it came to a firm decision on a return to Le Mans stressing that Bentley were looking at a number of motorsport options such as GT classes but he had last year expressed a desire to return to the prototype ranks of endurance motorsport. He did, however, have reservations, suggesting that the complexity of the 2014 rule book for Le Mans entries might mitigate against an imminent Bentley return to the Le Mans 24 hour race.
Bentley is now owned by German car-manufacturer Volkswagen and Wolfgang Dürheimer, head of motorsports for the entire Volkswagen Group is known to strongly favour Bentley returning to the most prestigious endurance race of all. Dürheimer has also raised the notion of Bentley race cars being sold to customers.
If Bentley were to make a return to endurance racing, initially, the most likely scenario would see it competing in the GT3 category since Bentley does not, at least for the moment, have a car capable of competing in the GTE division.
Gush has previously suggested that Bentley would fit well in the GT class, specifically the GT3 category. The company could, conceivably, mount a race campaign with a version of its existing Continental Supersports. Another possibility is for the car manufacturer to delay re-entry to the Le Mans 24 Hours until its successor Continental model becomes available.
Other manufacturers returning to Le Mans
Whilst there is, as yet, no firm timetable for a Bentley return to Le Mans, all the signs are pointing in the direction of Circuit de la Sarthe. Bentley will see its sister German company Porsche re-enter Le Mans, officially, in 2014 and British speciality car maker Morgan will be back this year.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for car manufacturers with Peugeot withdrawing from endurance motorsport earlier in 2012 but despite that setback, the trend seems to be set for prestige car brands to make a return to the racetrack.
A supercharged 1920s Bentley 'The fastest lorry in the world', at Musée des 24 Heures, a museum at Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
'The world's fastest lorries'
During the 1920s, Bentley enjoyed huge success at the Le Mans 24 Hours and Bentley cars, driven by a group of Bentley enthusiasts known as ‘The Bentley Boys’ were victorious on no fewer than five occasions along with numerous times when they were placed high in the field. Their great rival, Italian, Ettore Bugatti, is reputed to have paid Bentley a back handed compliment, describing Bentley as manufacturing ‘the world’s fastest lorries’, a reference to the sheer weight and bulk of Bentley’s 1920s racing machines.
A long wait
Bentley enthusiasts will be hoping that this time round, they don’t have quite so long to wait until their next Le Mans victory for, after the 1920s, it took almost 75 years before Bentley next won. In 2003 a Bentley Speed 8 was overall winner and Danish driver Tom Kristensen set a record with his fourth straight victory at Le Mans. The 2003 Bentley team of David Brabham, Mark Blundell and Johnny Herbert finished second.