The Bentley EXP Speed 8 is a LMP race car that competed in the Le Mans series from 2001 to 2003, taking first place in 2003. It has a strong resemblance to and shares some technology with the Audi R8C (which cars won Le Mans the preceding 3 years). The Speed 8 marked Bentley's return to racing after a 73-year absence.
The most developed version of the Bentley Speed 8 was powered by a 4.0-liter V-8 producing 600 hp, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The car weighed 900 kg (1984 lb) in with the minimum weight mandated for 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2001 Bentley returned to the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race, after a gap of 73 years, for a three-year campaign with the EXP Speed 8. The car, a closed-top sports prototype, built to the ACO LM GTP regulations, had a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-8 race engine from parent company Audi, who were campaigning their successful R8 prototype since 1999. The same basic V8 engine was also used in the Audi R8, although separate developments were made to each engine. Developing around 600 hp, the Bentley achieved 105 mph in first gear, and went on to a top speed of over 220 mph. The two-car entry gained 3rd place in 2001, with the other car retiring in a fireball after a strong run in the rain. In 2002 the lone entry achieved 4th place, now powered by a 4.0-liter turbocharged version of the V-8 engine and carrying revised bodywork. Both 2001 and 2002 races were won by the works Audi Sport Team Joest team. Being the only entrant in its classâ€”all other prototypes were of the open-cockpit varietyâ€”the Speed 8 always finished 1st in the LM GTP category.
It had been rumoured that the Volkswagen Group intended the 2001 and 2002 events to be solely 'warm-up' races for Bentley so that the works Audi Sport Team Joest outfit could try and claim a hat trick of wins in 2000, 2001 and 2002 (which they did do, emphatically) and then leave Team Bentley to go for overall honours in 2003 after the works Audi team quit in 2002.
So, for 2003 Bentley returned for its final race with an all-new car simply called Speed 8, featuring new bodywork, new chassis, and a much-improved drive train. Starting from pole and with no works Audi team participating, the no. 7 car led the field away at 1600 hours on Saturday, June 14th, and on it went, through the night, closely followed by the no. 8 car, which was only slowed by battery problems. 24 hours later, and after 377 rounds of the Circuit de La Sarthe, the green machine drove under the chequered flag: Bentley had won at Le Mans, and given the Volkswagen Group a remarkable 4th straight Le Mans victory.