Bentley power to first 24-hour victory in seven decades

The two British Racing Green cars could not choreograph a grand finale, but they flaunted their absolute superiority all day and all night, to the rapturous approval of those who crossed the Channel anticipating nothing less.

Bentley dominated this Le Mans 24-hour race with an irresistible combination of pace, reliability and efficiency, and Audi's "customer'' teams were unable to match them. Denmark's Ton Kristensen, lured from Audi's treble-winning line-up to lead Bentley's decisive push, duly completed a record fourth consecutive success, in partnership with Rinaldo Capello, of Italy, and the little-known Briton Guy Smith.

The more experienced and renowned British drivers, Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell, along with the Australian David Brabham, in the other Bentley, were inhibited by minor glitches, gradually lost contact and had to settle for second place, two laps down.

The American Audi entry was third, a further three laps adrift, with the Japan-backed Audi fourth. The UK Sport Audi retired in ignominious circumstances after less than two hours. Germany's Frank Biela, another member of the treble-winning team, was left stranded on the circuit, out of fuel, after missing the turn-off for the pit lane.

Third place was the best Biela to which could have aspired on this occasion. It was, from the start, Bentley's race and the privilege of taking the winning car to the finish line, as planned, was handed to Smith, at 28 the youngest driver in the team. "Those were the longest two hours of my life, doing that final stint," he said. "I'm just so grateful Bentley put their faith in me, but I've been able to repay them. I know I'm not one of their high-profile drivers, but I hope I'll get some attention now."

This victory provided the perfect climax to Bentley's three-year campaign. They withdrew the factory effort after their previous win, 73 years ago, and are widely expected to bow out at the top again. The official line is that they will consider their future when they return to base. However, they have no programme in place beyond this race and mission has been emphatically accomplished. Perhaps it will be another 70 years before they return.

Bentley, like Audi, are part of the Volkswagen group and the corporate strategy may be to divert resources back into another works venture for the German marque. Audi are designing a new sports car and appear to have abandoned any thoughts of embarking on a Formula One project.

Another Briton, Anthony Davidson, had a sore head to take away from his Le Mans experience. Davidson, who competed in two Grands Prix for Minardi last season, lost control of his GTS-category Ferrari at 150mph when a wheel bearing failed. The car spun, smashed into a barrier, banging Davidson's head against the door. He was taken to hospital for a brain scan, but later returned to the circuit.

Estimates of the British contingent here ran as high as 70,000, their tents and motor homes pitched in every nook and cranny. Not that all the pilgrims found their way to their temporary homes on Saturday night; many merely curled up where they dropped, still clutching drinking vessels.

They awoke to find the Bentleys grinding remorselessly ahead, with the surviving Audis in full-on pursuit. The Davidson crash apart, the race was mercifully devoid of serious incident, but also produced little in the way of drama. The pattern at the business end was settled on Saturday afternoon.

Herbert briefly steered his Bentley ahead of the sister car, but the other crew led for all but a handful of laps and battery changes in the second half of the race effectively scuppered the challenge of Herbert, Blundell and Brabham.

Audi were conscious the hares had to stumble to open the way to them. Their prospects were further undermined when Biela overshot the entrance to the pit lane as he attempted to negotiate another car. He tried to complete an additional lap, but the tank of the R8 ran dry. He had to abandon the car and prepare his apologies to his colleagues.

LE MANS 24-HOURS RACE: 1 G Smith (GB), R Capello (It), T Kristensen (Den), Bentley, 377 laps; 2 D Brabham (Aus), J Herbert (GB) M Blundell (GB), Bentley, +2 laps; 3 E Pirro (It) S Johansson (Swe), J J Lehto (Fin) Champion Racing, +5 laps; 4 S Ara (Japan) M Werner (Ger), J Magnussen (Denmark), Audi Sport Japan, +7 laps; 5 G Jeanette (US) M Papis (It), O Beretta (Mon), JML Team Panoz, +17 laps; 6 J Lammers (Neth) J Bosch (Neth), A Wallace (GB) Racing For Holland, +17 laps; 7 J-M Gounon (Fr) S Gregoire (Fr), J Cochet (Fr) Courage Competition, +17 laps; 8 S Sarrazin (Fr) J-C Bouillon (Fr), F Lagorce (Fr) Pescarolo Sport, +21 laps; 9 S Ayari (Fr) N Minassian (Fr), E Helary (Fr) Pescarolo Sport, +25 laps; 10 J Davies (GB) T Enge (Cz Rep), P Kox (Neth), Veloxq Prodrive, +41 laps.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits