Le Mans, France, 22 September, 2002
A Star Is Born
The Le Mans Classic was held for the first time over the weekend of 21 – 22
September, using the full road circuit and featuring both day and night races for
classic cars divided into five age related groups. The event was the initiative of Peter
Auto in Paris together with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, and took a great deal of
persistence and negotiation with the local authorities and businesses to become a
reality. They succeeded and it happened, competitors and spectators are grateful for
their persistence, as it added an important gathering to the classic motoring
calendar. It also brought together a fantastic variety of machinery, with around three
hundred cars spanning over fifty years of racing history, to one of the most famous
and charismatic circuits in the world.
Calling All Clubs
The infield section of the permanent Bugatti Circuit was devoted to one make car club
displays, and featured large turn-outs from a number of French clubs together with a
large British contingent for whom Le Mans is always an attractive venue. The
predominant display was that of the French Porsche Club, although the French
Maserati Club and Club Ferrari France also had impressive numbers in attendance,
as did the smaller British marques like Lotus and TVR.
Entrants had the choice of either taking their car to the traditional scrutineering venue
of the Place des Jacobins in the centre of Le Mans, or having it scrutineered in the
paddock at the circuit. A number opted for the former, and it was worth the trip if only
from the nostalgia viewpoint, with a jazz band playing whilst the cars went through the
scrutineering bays, and a refreshment marquee that was welcome in the warm
sunshine. At the circuit each group of cars had their own tented paddock area, with a
jacket and tie dress code borrowed from the Goodwood Revival Meeting, which adds
to the period atmosphere and charm.
Stars And Cars
Amongst the driving teams there were a large number of famous racing drivers from
various aspects of the sport, including Jean-Claude Andruet, Richard Attwood, Tony
Dron, Henri Greder, Jochen Mass, Francois Migault, Jean Ragnotti, Bobby Rahal and
Brian Redman, the latter pair sharing the formers amazing psychedelic painted
purple and green Porsche 917.
The breadth of the years spanned meant that there were cars to suit virtually every
classic enthusiasts tastes, from the enormous but supremely elegant V12 Lagonda
in classic British Racing Green, through the all conquering Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A of
Matt and Paul Grist to the sprightly Aston Martin Ulsters in the pre-war group. Then
through Jaguar ”C” and ”D” Types, the bare aluminium Maserati 200Si of Wolfi
Zweifler, Hartmut Ibing’s stunning Maserati ”Birdcage”, a trio of Ferrari 250 GTOs,
Porsche models aplenty like 904 GTS, 911 RSR, 906 and 908, to rarities like the
Ligier JS2, Alfa Romeo T33s and a wailing Matra MS 650. It was sports car heaven!
Each grid had four 30 minute races over a twenty four hour period, the first starting at
the traditional 16.00 hours start time on Saturday afternoon, and the last finishing at
16.00 hours on the Sunday afternoon, basically providing each group with two
daylight and two night races. Within each grid a handicap factor was applied to try
and equalise the varying performances, giving both an aggregate scratch and
handicap result for each series of four races. Thus each group had two hours of
racing, whilst spectators had a total of ten hours to watch, the hours between
midnight and 4-00am being set aside for sleep for the lucky ones, or remedial works
for those with problems.
With around sixty cars on each grid, starting with the traditional Le Mans start as a
preliminary to a lap behind the pace car before taking the start proper, together with
the disparity in performance between group members, meant that spectators almost
constantly had cars in view throughout the individual races, thus increasing the
spectacle. They also saw plenty of action, with some superb drives in all categories,
together with incidents aplenty that included an Alpine Renault burned out, a Ford
GT40 sliding into the barriers on somebody else’s oil, a pair of Lola T70s colliding,
with the similar car of David Franklin also ending up in the scenery. With Ferrari
participation in four of the five grids, there was plenty for the enthusiast to appreciate,
the models that participated are appended below.
With an estimated 30,000 spectators over the weekend it could certainly be judged a
success, let’s hope that it is not just a one-off.