The 71st running of the 24 Heures du Mans began under sunny French skies at almost exactly 4pm local time with Bentley boys Rinaldo Capello and Johnny Herbert providing a memorable first lap demonstration run in the two dark green Speed 8's.

After Saturday morning thunder and rain storms pelted the 8.484-mile circuit, the massive crowd on hand were baked in sunshine as Capello led the 49 strong field passed honorary starter Don Panoz and into the first of several hundred laps.

The pre-race build-up did not go off without drama however, especially for Bentley fans who had to endure watching both the #7 and #8 Speed 8's have their engine covers removed in order for the ride-height to be checked. However the sight of Capello and Herbert pulling away into a healthy 1-2 lead during the course of the first lap made up for the previous heart flutter.

Dutchman Jan Lammers did not have the speed to take the first lap fight to the flying Bentley boys in his Racing For Holland Dome, but he still did an admirable job of holding off all three Audi R8's, which began lap two in fourth, fifth and sixth places!!

There was even more drama for the French WR team though as a late, late gear selection problem meant Stephane Daoudi had to start from the pitlane.

Drama too for defending GTS Champions Corvette, as Olly Gavin trundled down pit road and straight into the garage after the first racing lap!! A quick fiddle under the 50th anniversary hood seemed to solve the problem, but the Englishman, and pre-race class favourite, was already one lap down.