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Le Mans in a Speed Six

8 Jun 2009

Roger Green sets off to Le Mans in the first racing 'Speed Six'


There can be few people heading to Le Mans in a car that has previously won there, but that is exactly what Roger Green will be doing when he sets off on Thursday in Old No 1, the first racing ‘Speed Six’ and the car that won the world’s greatest sportscar race in 1929, driven by Captain Woolf Barnato & Sir Henry Birkin.
He will be starting the trip at the Bentley Drivers Club HQ in Banbury and sharing this most famous machine and a brand new GTC Speed as they head for the ferry port at Portsmouth. If you’re going look out for the cars and give Roger a wave. He’ll be updating this site with pictures and tales of the trip, so log on regularly and keep up-to-date.

Sunday 01.15
It’s 1:15am and I’m back at the hotel while the Audi/Peugeot/Aston battle continues to rage. We won’t be here long, we’re up at 8 to head back to the ferry at Caen and we’ll be mid-channel by the time the race finishes. That’s a shame because the race has been full of incidents and accidents this evening and it looks like it won’t be settled until the end, but there’s a good reason why we’re sneaking off early. On Tuesday ON1 will be on its way to Pebble Beach and before that its American owner will have a few days to enjoy this amazing car too. We’re hugely indebted to him and to Richard Charlesworth, Richard Durbins and Frank and the rest of the Bentley team for making all this possible. It’s been brilliant. Good night!

Saturday 16.50
The alarm on my phone ripped me from a deep sleep at 5:30am, I had planned an early night but Bentley Boys don’t do that kind of thing, even if we hadn’t slept the night before. It was tough dragging my weary body from the pit at such an hour but it was well worth the pain - our run to circuit in ON1 was magic. The sun had just clawed its way above the horizon and was beginning to burn off the mist from the fields as we burbled by.

The reason for the early start was the promise of four laps of the entire circuit. I took the GTC and after a slowish tour to video ON1 I stuck my foot down regularly wafting along at 150mph with the roof down. It was a little breezy in the front for me and Bentley PR, Richard Durbinas as we hadn’t put the defector in, but it was worse for poor old Frank in the back who looked like he was about to be sucked out!

That wasn’t to be the end of my track action as I got to ride in ON1 around the track for a few laps at midday in front of a huge crowd. Richard Charlesworth was really cracking on and it was absolutely brilliant drifting out of Tertre Rouge. Watched the start of the race from the press room and I was standing directly above the Peugeot pits as the team tried its best to take themselves out of the event after just 40 minutes. Crazy stuff. We’ve now taking a break at Audi’s huge hospitality unit and helping them get rid of some of their lager. Happy days.

Friday 18.03
There may not be anything happening on the track on a Friday but there’s plenty going on in all the surrounding villages, and we’ve been causing quite a stir everywhere we go. The bars and streets of Arnarge came to a standstill as our short but expensive convoy burbled through and by the time we got to Mulsanne we were definitely the centre of attention. Richard got interviewed by someone wandering around with a mic, the GTC got introduced as the first one to be seen in France and both cars became mobbed for the next half hour.

While the attention of the crowd was drawn to the cars we were whisked away to the mayor’s office where he welcomed us with a glass of fizz. All very civil. After that we joined the rabble at the local bar, where Frank, Old No 1’s mechanic, thrashed me at table soccer. Back in the GTC we took in the short section of track from Arnage to the Porsche Curves and passed the main camping area where we were ambushed by water-cannon-weilding terrorists who picked on anyone unable to perform a burn-out. My cries of ‘it’s four-wheel drive!’ fell on deaf ears, but the hose down was actually quite refreshing. Bumped into Sir Stirling Moss in a very dapper pair of braces (that’s him not me) shortly after that, and now finally we’re back at the hotel. Out for tea soon and then an early night. I still haven’t slept since I woke on Thursday and we’re up at six tomorrow so we lap the full circuit once it’s been closed to the public. Oh and I think there’s a race sometime later in the day too…

Friday 11.45

The Le Mans adventure always starts for real at the ferry terminal. Last night in the queue for the big boat we were surrounded by the kind of stuff only the Brits would choose for a weekend in France. In front was a collection of MGs and a Frogeye Sprite one cylinder short of a full spec, behind us was an Ultima with the world’s largest rear wing, to our right was a battered old stretched limo with girls wearing nothing but bikinis spilling out of it, but beating them all for originality was the bloke on our left who had turned up in an ice-cream van!

Paperwork attended to we headed for our reclining chairs for a kip, although it has to be said I didn’t get a wink of sleep. So six hours later, with itchy eyes we disembarked and headed for the nearest café for a large tasse of rocket fuel. Suitably caffeinated I climbed aboard Old No 1 for my first ride in the car, celebrating its 80th anniversary of its first win at Le Mans. My chauffeur, Richard Charlesworth has the honour of the most impressive job title in motoring. His business card reads ‘Director of Royal and VIP Relations’ which means he gets to hang around with the likes of me and the queen and he’s either very good at his job or the Speed Six is a very impressive octogenarian.

We’ve blasted out way afross Northern France at 80mph with not a hint of a cough of hiccup.

You become an instant celebratory in this car; everyone waves, smiles and gives you the thumbs up. It’s pretty hot in the pillion chair, as the exhaust runs right past your left elbow, and it’s a bit blustery at speed, too. But who cares when you’re in the coolest car at Le Mans? We’ve just arrived at the hotel but there’s no time for a snooze as we’ve off for a picnic with the mayor of Mulsanne shortly. I already been awake for 35 hours and the race doesn’t start until tomorrow afternoon!

And finally a quick hello to anyone who might have caught a glimpse of us of BBC Oxford last night. The crew turned up to see us leave after reading about our plans on!

Thursday 22.22
If you want to be the centre of attention pitch up at Portsmouth ferry port in a car that has won Le Mans twice. Following Old No 1 in a GTC Speed was a real treat, particularly when it got dark and blue flames flared from the megaphone exhaust.

Unsurprisingly, no one notices Bentley's 600 horsepower convertible following serenly in its wake. I'll be riding in the £4,000,000 machine tomorrow in the run from Caen top Le Mans. It should be quite a treat.

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