The EXP Speed 8 marks Bentley’s return to racing after 71 years
At a first glance it might seem that little has changed from the car that last year drove through the worst Le Mans weather in living memory to claim third place overall. In fact every component has been analysed and then retained, revised or replaced as required. By the end of this process little more than half of the original components were retained for the 2002 design.
As in 2001, the EXP Speed 8 will be the only car in the LM GTP category for closed prototypes. The regulations differ principally from those that apply to the more commonly contested open prototype class by allowing a 1mm larger engine restrictor, but mandating two inch narrower tyres.
A new Bentley 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine has been developed for the EXP Speed 8 to replace the 3.6-litre unit used last year. Unlike the earlier unit that was closely based on engines used by Audi’s Le Mans cars, the 4-litre powerplant was commissioned by Bentley and designed to a unique and exclusive specification.
Perhaps surprisingly, the increase in engine size was not prompted by a desire for more power. Le Mans regulations stipulate that 4-litre cars use a smaller restrictor than those displacing 3.6-litre offsetting all possible gains in outright power. However, and as importantly, the 4-litre configuration offers the opportunity of creating more torque and spreading it over a wider area, so greatly enhancing the car’s driveability. So impressive are the gains made here that, in testing, the drivers reported that the engine’s characteristics were more like those of a large capacity, normally aspirated engine, than a small, turbocharged unit.
The most important innovation in the engine is the use of direction injection or DI. Injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber greatly improves engine efficiency, the most dramatic manifestation of which is better fuel consumption. Yet it is only with the huge advances made in modern electronics that the combustion control needed to make the system effective has been realised.
The Xtrac-supplied six speed semi-automatic gearbox used last year has run faultlessly throughout testing despite the extra strains put on it by the larger capacity engine. It will be retained for 2002, albeit with revised ratios to exploit the new engine’s power characteristics.
The front suspension of the 2002 Bentley EXP Speed 8 is brand new and designed to provide not just more front end grip, but better feel to the driver too. Every major component from the wishbones, rockers and anti-roll bar system, to the torsion bars and dampers have been redesigned for 2002.
Bentley has continued its partnership with Dunlop, the most successful tyre constructor in the history of the Le Mans 24-hours. For 2002 and after a lengthy winter test programme, Dunlop has produced entirely new constructions of tyre for the EXP Speed 8.
During testing the car has shown considerable advances over last years model in all important areas. Nevertheless it is to be stressed that 2002 is very much a development year and primarily an opportunity to test new components and systems prior to the major push for outright victory in 2003.
2001 Bentley Speed 8 002-3 – sold for $2,530,000
First Team Bentley to finish on the podium at Le Mans in 71 years. Third Place at 2001 24 Hour of Le Mans. Last raced at Road America in 2007. The Bentley EXP Speed 8 Coupe on offer today is the very first in this short-lived but glorious episode in Bentley’s racing history. The seller, who has extensive racing history of his own, last exercised it at Road America in 2007 but declares it fully prepped and race-ready for its next owner. In their day, these Bentleys were voted the most handsome cars on any course where they competed, so concours d’elegance invitations are bound to be plentiful. Auction Source: Monterey 2012 by RM Auctions