The festivities kicked off at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California, which is nowhere near France.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the oldest races in the world, and in 2023 it will celebrate its centenary.
Bentley hasn't competed in the race since 2003, but that hasn't stopped the British brand from starting a year-long celebration of France's most famous motorsport event. Le Mans 2023 is actually less than 12 months away, but we'll give Bentley a pass since it's the fifth most successful manufacturer to compete in the most demanding track-based endurance race in history.
Bentley held a dynamic demonstration at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California to kick off this year-long celebration. Several Bentleys were in attendance, but the highlights were the 2003 race-winning #7 Speed 8 and Blower Car Zero, which is part of Bentley Mulliner's Blower Continuation Series.
A parade of 30 Bentleys drove up from Los Angeles and joined the Speed 8 and Blower for a parade lap of Laguna Seca.
The other cars then left the track, leaving the Blower and Speed 8 to demonstrate just how far Bentley has come. Following that, the Blower left the track, and the Speed 8 did several flying laps at race pace. If you weren't there to catch the action, you can still see the Speed 8 at the Signature Party for the launch of the highly-anticipated Mulliner Batur.
The latter is the latest bespoke Bentley, and it follows in the footsteps of the Bacalar before it.
Bentley was established in 1919, and it started racing that first year. Though we associated the brand with big luxury cars like the Flying Spur these days, founder W.O. Bentley was quite the motorsport fanatic.
The first Le Mans took place in 1923, and Bentley was in attendance with a 1923 3 Litre privately entered and driven by Capt John Duff and Frank Clement. It was the only British car there, and it managed to finish fourth and set the lap record.
There is a bit of history you need to know about. It starts with the Gordon Bennett Cup, one of the first attempts at a global motorsport series. The French disagreed with the regulations set out by the organizers, and in typical French fashion, they decided to host their own endurance race in a town called Le Mans. The rest is history.
Bentley returned in 1924 with another 3 Litre, this time winning the race. The French must have been crying in their crepes. Bentley won again in 1927, also with a 3 Litre but different drivers. It took the trophy again in 1928, but this time with the new 4.5 Litre. In 1930, it pulled a hat-trick, winning with a Speed Six. As an added bonus that year, another Speed Six finished in second place.
Bentley then left the sport and only returned in 2001 as part of a three-year race program. The EXP Speed 8 prototype finished on the podium in 2001 but could only muster fourth place in 2002. In 2003, Bentley finally claimed the top spot again when the car was known simply as the Bentley Speed 8.
We find it odd that Bentley is celebrating a race it hasn't competed in for nearly 20 years. Is this a hint that it might return to the sport now that the LMDh category has made it more accessible to manufacturers?
For the past few years, Toyota has dominated the sport because it effectively competed against itself. But the roster for 2023 includes Acura, BMW, Porsche, and Cadillac. Finally, the Americans will have a brand to cheer for, and Caddy's car looks and sound particularly good.
Will Bentley enter Le Mans once more? Considering how much money the Volkswagen Group is currently pouring into motorsport, it wouldn't surprise us one bit.