The biennial Le Mans Classic race on July 9 and 10, is for cars which raced in the Le Mans 24 Hour race prior to 1979. Jonathan Turner’s green No 10 was the first Bentley to be raced at Le Mans by the firm, after a privately entered Bentley won in 1924.
In 1925, the works Bentley No 10 lasted only 19 laps, driven by Herbert Kensington Moir and Dudley Benjafield. It was retired and became a factory demonstrator. The 1926 race was a another no-finish but Bentley and its heroic drivers, known as the Bentley Boys, then swamped Le Mans, winning in 1927, 1928, 1929 when they took the first four places, and 1930. By this time the company, based in Cricklewood, London, was broke thanks to its expensive racing and was taken over by Rolls-Royce. Under Volkswagen ownership It returned to the event in 2001 and won in 2003.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of Bayford Group, is a collector and racer of old British cars and No 10 is one of several vintage Bentleys he owns. “I have always been a Bentley guy”, he says, speaking at his headquarters at Bowcliffe Hall, near Wetherby. It houses a members-only drivers’ club and restaurant, furnished with all things motoring.
In 1997 as a 31-year-old he drove a 1929 Bentley on the Peking to Paris rally, through Pakistan and Tibet over summits of 17,000 feet. The 10,000 mile route took 45 days. His conclusion: “I thought, that’s a great car”. It gave him a passion for Bentleys which have since taken him on jaunts as far away as New Zealand. That’s why he has no qualms about driving his Bentley to the race, nor the drive back to do enjoy a few celebratory laps of Berkeley Square and a reception at the Bentley showrooms.
“They are strong, quick and robust”, says Jonathan, whose co-driver to Le Mans is David Hall, the son of the famous Yorkshire rally driver Anne Hall. In the race at Le Mans he is partnered by William Medcalf, a Bentley restorer from Liss, West Sussex, whom he met on the Peking-Paris event.
On Wednesday they take the ferry to Le Havre and then have a pleasant 130-mile cross country route to Le Mans. He says the car will cruise at 70 and reach 80mph. Fuel consumption? “Maybe 10 mpg” he laughs. Showing his faith in Bentleys, the back-up car is the 1929 Peking-Paris coupe, with his teenage sons as passengers and William Medcalf at the wheel - modern Bentley Boys.
In the Le Mans Classic race, different classes do three sessions during 24 hours. This allows Jonathan to drive another historic car in the event, his fabulous 1953 Austin Healey. In the 1954 Le Mans race it finished 12th - the highest place by the marque at the race. His co-driver is Rupert Bullock, from Huddersfield, grandson of the cash and carry pioneer and philanthropist, Sir Lawrence Batley.