Bentley and Audi in Sportscar racing
In some ways these are an odd pairing, but, as this site concentrates on more modern sportscar racing, they are inextricably linked. Some might also argue that what Bentley were in the 30s, Audi are in the early years of the 21st century.
Audi's first ventures into sportscar racing, as a marque, were as recent as 1999, (although there were a few Audi engined Group C2 cars before that), when they raced two different cars
One was a radical looking coupe, reminiscent of the Group C cars, but more modern. The other was a modern, but more ordinary open topped car, the R8. Both were powered by a turbocharged V8 and appeared at Le Mans.
Audi's Le Mans challengers 1990
Both performed reasonably well, but the coupe was dropped for 2000 and, with BMW withdrawing from Le Mans, the way was open for Audi's heavily revised R8 to begin its domination of sportscar racing.
Audi's first Le Mans win 2000
They repeated the feat in 2001, but there was another car from the Volkswagen Group on the podium, too.
Bentley first raced at the first Le Mans 24 Hour race, in 1923, and went on to win the race in 1924, 1927, 1928 and 1929 with (as Bugatti described them) "The world's fastest lorry".
After the heydays of the Bentley Boys, Bentley was taken under Rolls Royce's wing and was never seen again at Le Mans.
However, in a convoluted deal in the late 1990s, the VW group briefly owned Rolls Royce and Bentley, before having to pass the Rolls Royce name onto BMW. Cleverly, VAG continued the revival of the Bentley marque, started under Rolls ownership, and returned the marque to its traditional stomping ground of Le Mans in 2000, with two beautiful metallic racing green GTP entrants.
Bentley's Le Mans return, 2001 - If this is your photo let me know and I will credit you
The best Bentley was placed 3rd in 2001, producing lots of publicity on their return to La Sarthe.
The Audis returned in 2002 and steamrollered their way to sportscar domination, unseen for many years, with a 1-2-3 result. The Bentleys were hampered by narrower tyres. However, one of the Bentleys was placed 4th as a 'best of the rest' to make VAG's days complete.
Audi's second Le Mans win, 2001
The Audi R8s were sold into private hands at the end of 2002 and raced in the ALMS series in the US and sportscar series in Europe. They also returned to Le Mans, but in 2003, were beaten to the overall win by unexpected unreliability, accidents and t the VAG steamroller, in the form of Bentley's first win in 73 years!
The Bentleys took a dominant 1-2 to complete their reputation rebuilding exercise.
Bentley's 5th Le Mans win, 2003 - Photo : Courtesy Johnny Herbert website.
Sadly, the great looking Bentleys were retired after winning Le Mans and, in 2004, the battle for the Le Mans honours was between the Audi R8 entries of Japanese Goh Team, The US based Champion team and the two car entry of Audi UK.
Audi's third Le Mans win, 2004 - Privateer Goh team's winning car.
Against expectation, it was the Japanese team who took the victory, but Champion won the ALMS series, whilst Audi UK, took the LMES title.
Audi UK's car at Silverstone, 2004
Audi continued to dominate sportscar racing in the Le Mans series and in the 24 Hour Race.
In 2006, they switched to a V12 diesel powered car, the R10. This made history by winning the Sebring 12 hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2006 and 2007.
Audi R10 at Le Mans 2007
Audi followed the successful R10 with the R15 in 2009, a radical looking open topped prototype with shark gills, which proved contentious and needed some of its most exciting features to be removed before it was declared legal by the FIA.
Despite this it proved a successful design, winning Le Mans in 2010 (as the Peugeot effort exploded or, at least, their engines did) and the ILMC series at the last gasp in 2009, despite only entering a few races.
Audi R15 in press release photo
With changes to the regulations outlawing the big diesels, Audi switched to the R18 for 2011.
A fixed head coupe (the first from Audi since their first Le Mans), the R18 may well be best remembered for two enormous crashes with other cars at Le Mans which left the spectators, teams and TV viewers convinced there were fatalities, but from which both drivers (and everyone else) walked away.
The remaining car managed to hold off the massed Peugeot ranks to take an emotional victory in an epic Le Mans clash.
Audi R18 won Le Mans in 2011, despite two huge crashes, but was less successful elsewhere
The closest Peugeot was just 14 seconds away and the Audi had spent24 less seconds in the pits over the 24 hours...
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