The Bentley Speed 8 of Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith won the Le Mans 24 Hours to chalk up the historic British marque's first win at the Circuit de la Sarthe since 1930.

The Bentley Speed 8 of Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith won the Le Mans 24 Hours to chalk up the historic British marque's first win at the Circuit de la Sarthe since 1930.

The Bentley driven by Kristensen, Capello and Smith and its sister car, piloted by former F1 stars David Brabham, Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell, quickly pulled out a large lead over the pursuing Audi R8 trio in the opening laps and the British team was never challenged.

A strong night-time stint by Kristensen helped give the #7 Bentley a comfortable gap to the sister car and the Dane crossed the line shortly after 4pm on Sunday - with two laps in hand.

In taking his fifth victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours, Kristensen also became the first driver ever to take four consecutive wins in the endurance classic.

The Dane's victory with Team Bentley equals the number set by British sportscar legend Derek Bell and leaves him just one short of the record held by Jacky Ickx.

"I'm very honoured to be mentioned with those names," said Kristensen, "and I'm particularly happy that Derek Bell has supported the Bentley programme. It was great when he said after the race that he was happy for me to join him as a five-time winner here. What more can I say? It's a great honour."

Kristensen said that the victory was all the more special because it came driving for the British team: "I have to say that any victory here is great, but running for Team Bentley, with all its history, has just been fantastic," he said.

However, the race didn’t go smoothly for the #8 Bentley of Brabham, Herbert and Blundell. Early in the race, Brabham was forced to make an extra pit stop to remove a loose piece of interior trim from the cockpit. The car suffered an electrical problem during the early hours leaving Herbert stranded in the pit lane while the mechanics took four minutes to fit a new battery. Then, the battery had to be replaced again during an unplanned pit stop by Brabham.

The challenge from the three Audi R8s gradually faded over the first fourteen hours of the race. The Audi Sport UK R8 retired on early on in the race after running out of fuel with Frank Biela at the wheel. The Team Goh Audi R8 first pitted to repair accident damage and pitted again after further problems occurred. Finally, the Champion Racing UK Audi R8 lost nearly five minutes after the car was unable to get away after a pit stop and suffered another brief delay in the pit lane near the end of the race.

Biela, aiming for his fourth consecutive victory at Le Mans 24 Hours, was forced to retire from the race after making a mistake before the two-hour mark. Biela was about to pit for fuel when a back marker blocked the entrance to the pit lane. As a result, the Audi driver was forced to start another lap.

“I knew it would be almost impossible to get round and the car started spluttering”, said a disappointed Biela. ”I had to park it and then I tried to get it back to the pits using the starter but it was impossible. I’m devastated.”

Behind the Bentleys and Audis there was a long and intense battle for fifth place which ultimately came down to a straight fight between the JML Team Panoz LMP-01 Evo of Gunnar Jeannette and the Courage Competition Courage-Judd C60 of Jean Marc Gounon.

Gounon eventually fell back with a clutch problem and he was overtaken by Jan Lammers in the Racing for Holland Dome S101-Judd, who was recovering from an earlier spin, in the closing laps.

The only serious accident of the race happened shortly after 4am when Anthony Davidson suffered wheel bearing failure at Virage de Mulsanne and his Ferrari 550 Maranello and hit the barriers backwards. Davidson was bruised after knocking his head and was taken to the medical centre for a check-up.

The sister Veloqx Prodrive of Peter Kox, Tomas Enge and Jamie Davies, despite early pressure from Davidson’s team, lead for most of the 24 hours and went on to win the LMP GTS class, finishing an impressive tenth overall in the standings.

The Noel del Bello Racing Reynard-Lehmann of Christophe Pillon, Didier Andre and Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere won the LMP675 class. The car led comfortably for most of the race after the RN Motorsport DBA 4-Zytek spent a large amount of the race in the garage with mechanical problems and the Intersport Racing Lola-MG B2K/60 retired early on Sunday morning.

The Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 of Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr and Emmanuel Collard won the LM GT class after leading for most of the race. The car suffered a couple of problems during the race but overcame this to take these to take the class win.