It’s been 16 long years since Bentley last raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and yet somehow it still seems entirely appropriate that the Crewe car maker should choose to grace the great race once again in 2019 – at least as a parading guest if not as a competitor – as part of its summer of celebrations. In case you hadn’t noticed, Bentley hits its big 1-0-0 this year.

Back in 2003, the marque ended a three-year campaign with a memorable – if barely opposed – victory at Le Mans with its svelte Speed 8. As Tom Kristensen tells us below, the car is now remembered as a modern classic, particularly as it succeeded in delivering Bentley its sixth Le Mans victory – and first since 1930. But the gap between those two landmarks only emphasises the luxury car maker’s lack of competitive activity over its 100 years. 

And yet that symbiotic link to La Sarthe remains unbreakable. This year, the l’Autombile Club de l’Ouest – Le Mans’ organiser for whom tradition means so much – even named a street ‘Rue des Bentley Boys’ after the heroes who pedalled the cars that won those six races. The first five wins were written into history in the great race’s first decade of existence, and it’s perhaps this aspect that has made the seal between British car maker and French motor race so strong. Bentley was there from the start (well, the second year, at least) and is still the fifth most successful constructor in the race’s 116-year history, behind Porsche, Audi, Ferrari and Jaguar.

But Le Mans is about more than victories – and actually even race entries. The journey down to La Sarthe is as much a part of the race weekend as the action on the circuit itself. Ours begins at Brooklands, another old race track intertwined with Bentley’s heritage, with a bacon roll and a coffee before we join a cavalcade heading across the channel.

Bentley lemans 001