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Le Mans, 06.-08. July, 2012

This year's edition of the
biennial Le Mans Classic was held on the second weekend of July. The classic variant of the legendary 24 hours race was celebrating its 10th anniversary with the sixth edition since its premiere in 2002. As in previous editions almost 400 cars were entered in six grids sorted by age ranging from the pre-war pioneers to the very fast prototypes of the late 1970s.
With such a diversity there was something special for every of the 109,000 visitors who came from all over Europe (and some even from further away) to the Circuit at the Sarthe. Many of them came with their own classic car to brave the bad weather forecast and park them in the various club displays in the infield of the Circuit Bugatti.

With so many cars it is difficult to name a favourite grid but to see no less than three examples of the legendary Porsche 917 K was very special. As Anamera reported earlier this year the 1971 Le Mans winning Porsche Salzburg 917 found a new home in the UK after many years in an important Porsche Collection in the US, and when the owners name appeared on the entry list everyone was very excited to see the car in action during night and day. When the car was parked on Thursday for the scrutineering rumours appeared that this might not be the actual Le Mans winning chassis 23 but a Replica built for the owner based on original parts to save Porsches most significant racer ever from damage during the long and hard race. Certainly these rumours can only be judged by Porsche historians who had a closer look at the car but still a vivid discussion arose what to think of this entry if the rumours are true. Everyone agreed that an accident with the original car would be the worst case but some different conclusions could be heard. On one side the acceptance of replicas was the beginning of the end of various race series when the owner of original cars were not willing to risk their high valued cars in a battle with replaceable clones but on the other side it is a fluent passage from a complete replica to a race battered “original” chassis that was rebuild a dozen times in its life due to heavy race usage. Where to draw the line what to accept is a challenge for every organizer as owners of the second category tend to be more ruthless with their own and others material as well. So maybe the usage of an exact reconstruction might by the only possibility to see cars like a 917 in the years to come.

When looking back at the last weekend the decision not to race the original chassis 23 (assumed the rumours are true) was without doubt not a bad decision as non of the three entered cars saw the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon. Just as in the modern race the cars have to compete with a lot of smaller classes of the same era and so the 917 were racing smaller 2 litre cars with less than half of the power output. When looking at the crashes of the last years in the modern race it is easy to see that most of them are results of misunderstandings between front runners and slower cares during lapping. With 400 cars and several hundreds of drivers in action the difference in experience at the LMC is even far more distinctive ranging from pure amateur gentlemen drivers to Le Mans legends as 5 times champion Emanuele Pirro and Derek Bell, so misunderstandings are a logical consequence. What made things even worse were the changing weather conditions with several showers during the 24 hours leaving some drivers over challenged with the slippery track conditions. With a total length of 13,880 km the circuit is long enough to have different weather conditions even on different places of the track so the cars might leave the pits in the dry to drive in a shower on the Hunaudiere to enter a fully wet section between Mulsanne and Arnage. In these conditions some of the less experienced drivers are too engaged to keep their car on track to watch out for faster cars so even experienced drivers are not spared from risky moments. The Hippie-livered 917 was taken out during the morning race on Sunday in Terte Rouge, the Gulf- livered driven by 1983 Le Mans winner Vernon Schuppan even on Saturday reportedly without own mistake.

But these were not the only incidents as there were several red flags seen during the weekend but fortunately all accidents seemed to have a close shave without heavy injuries.

At the end the winning team no.5 was not just very fast but also luckily spared from such incidents showing once more that in this team ranking one needs 6 equally fast and reliable cars to succeed.

For the moment we have put together a preview with about 100 pictures showing some of the action during the practice sessions and the race for all those waiting to see images right after the event. A full gallery with all the cars competing that weekend will follow within a few days after the Ennstal Classic were drivers fight for hundredths of seconds in regularity on public roads rather than against each other on the track.

Report & images: Peter Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de