Bentleys swept the first four places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Sunday 16th June 1929

Bentleys swept the first four places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Just 25 competitors started the race.The duel that pitted Bentley, victorious, against Stutz in 1928 was still fresh in everyone’s mind. The British team was determined to continue its momentum, entering five cars. For the engine, Bentley continued to use their 4.4 litre powerplant, but also arrived with their secret weapon: the Speed Six, with a 6.6 litre monster of an engine, driven by Woolf “Babe” Barnato and Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin. Against the British fleet, the ten French cars were no match: for the B.N.C., D’Yrsan, S.A.R.A. and Tracta, did not produce enough power to match. To find the real competition, one had to look at the American contingency: Chrysler, Du Pont and Stutz were all hoping to make a splash. Come June 15 of that year, the competitors had barely started the race that the speeds clocked started to rise. Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin shattered the lap record, with an average speed of 133 kph. At the back of the pack, teams tried to organise an attack but the pace was so high, the race looked to be more difficult than ever. The race’s first retirement was recorded after seven laps: the Bentley driven by Bernard Rubin, winner the previous year, and Earl Howe. Meanwhile, the cars continued on their hellish pace and mechanical woes took their toll. After thirty laps, a third of the competitors had already stopped, and that wouldn’t be the end of it. As the hours continued to pass, the drivers had to stay concentrated on a circuit that looked more like a rally special than a race track: the trees along the road are painted white, so drivers knew to avoid them! There was no time to lose in the pits, in which only the drivers were allowed to work on the car! And despite team orders (even back then!) imposed by W.O. Bentley, the beautiful British cars flew to the finish.Bentley, once again, were the big winners, monopolising the first four finishing positions. The No.1 Speed Six of Captain Woolf “Babe” Barnato, who would win three times in three participations, and Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, who was probably the fastest of the Bentley Boys, covered 2,843 kilometres with an average speed of 118.492 kph claiming its fourth victory, and third in a row, for the British marque. At the back, two French cars would finish the race. Two Tracta ended the day in ninth and tenth places, covering 2000 km with an average of just 85 kph!

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