As day turned to night and back to day again, the Bentley number 8 of Rinaldo Capello, Guy Smith and Kristensen continued its relentless march to the flag. The Bentleys were visibly quicker than the rest of the field, and the gentle hum of its turbocharged motor enhanced the impression of quiet efficiency. It was an immaculate performance, and at 4 p.m. the car duly cruised across the line to claim Bentley's first win in 73 years.
"It's amazing that we could complete 24 hours without any real problems," said Capello. "We didn't even have a puncture." It was Kristensen's fourth Le Mans victory in succession and his fifth in total. "To put Bentley back winning this race with the heritage it has is very special," said the Dane.
The sister car, piloted by the popular triplet of Herbert, Mark Blundell and David Brabham, had a more troubled run to the flag. Two battery changes cost the team over ten minutes, and the number 7 lost additional time when they were stuck behind a different safety car to the lead Bentley. The problems cost the trio two laps, but they would still finish the race three laps ahead of the lead Audi. "We had a number of small problems," said Herbert. "We had the speed on the track, but not the luck." Bad luck seems to follow the Englishman like a faithful dog.
By early Sunday afternoon, the top four were set fair for the finish and attention turned to the race for fifth spot. With two hours to go, the Dome-Judd of the impressive Jan Lammers was engaged in a race against the clock to catch the Courage-Judd of Jean-Marc Gounon and the Panoz of Gunnar Jeannette. Lammers grabbed 6th after the Courage spun on the penultimate lap, and he finished nose to tail with Jeanette. It was an epic performance from the veteran, who was "pleased with the result."
In the GTS category, the Corvettes were blown away by the lead Ferrari of Peter Kox, Tomas Enge and Jamie Davies, which finished ten laps clear. The other Prodrive Ferrari was heading for second place until a right-front wheel bearing failed at 175 mph, plunging Anthony Davidson into the barriers at the Mulsanne Corner. It was a huge impact, and the young Brit required medical attention. He returned to the circuit for the finish but admitted to feeling "a bit groggy."
The GT class was billed as a classic battle between Porsche and Ferrari, but the Prancing Horse never managed more than a canter. The lead was passed around the Porsche drivers during the night, but the Alex Job Racing/Petersen Motorsports car eventually won by six laps, thanks largely to a top-class driver line-up.
All the runners in the LMP675 prototype category hit trouble, and the winning Noel del Bello Racing Reynard actually finished behind the lead GT car. It wasn't the quickest prototype in the class,, but at least it kept going.
As the crowds swamped the pit lane a little after 4 p.m., they were able to reflect on what had been in many ways an extraordinary race. Le Mans has grown used in recent years to one marque dominating, but it's difficult to think of another car that has run quite so faultlessly as the lead Bentley. Peerless reliability, top-class drivers and a team packed with proven race winners proved to be an unbeatable package. The Bentley Boys were worthy of the name.