When Bentley announced its return to Le Mans in late 2000, it was clearly stated that it would be a three-year programme with victory the only aim, and the company has confirmed that it will be sticking by that programme by not defending its title in 2004.

After two years development, during which the Bentley Speed 8s proved to be fast and reliable, outright victory was achieved on schedule in June this year. As a result, Bentley Motors confirmed today [Friday] that the team would not be returning to Le Mans in 2004, although the company will continue to review its position with regard to the future.

"Le Mans is part of our rich heritage and is very important to us," commented company chairman and CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen, "It has also helped us revive the unique spirit of Bentley and has created a new motorsport heritage for the marque.

"However, when we announced our return in November 2000, we always said this would be a three-year programme. In the past three Le Mans, we have been more successful than we could have dreamed, culminating in first and second places for the Speed 8 at this most famous of races this year. This has provided an excellent boost for our image and a successful communications platform for the introduction of the Continental GT, which has been launched to great acclaim.

"I'm not saying that we are leaving motorsport for good, and we will certainly continue to review our position. But, being pragmatic, all our efforts need to be concentrated on the next phase of our regeneration, and our priority is delivering a new range of Bentleys to our rapidly expanding customer base."

With Audi also unlikely to field a factory team next season, the 24 Hours could be open for its first privateer victory in some time. However, the withdrawal of Bentley will undoubtedly cause aficionados to claim that the 2004 edition of the race will be lacking in top class teams.



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