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Some of these efforts were crowned with success, others must learn their lessons the hard way just like this
year’s Toyota entry that just lost a certain victory with less than 5 minutes to go. What sounds cruel to those
affected from this bad luck is part of the myth as few other races have as many stories to tell as the 24h at La
Just like Monaco Le Mans draws a lot of its fascination from the fact that this is a none permanent race track
as the most famous parts are held on roads open to the public for the rest of the year. Whereas Monaco is
known for its demanding layout not forgiving any mistakes in the narrow streets of the principality the long
straights and corners in Le Mans might be “easier” to drive on a single lap but take their tribute over the
distance, both from the material and the stamina of the drivers, the names of Mulsane, Arnage or Hunaudieres
are not less famous than St. Devote Casino or Rascasse. And there are even more similarities between
Monaco and Le Mans: the biennial classic edition.
Although the history of the 24h was presented in special exhibitions and smaller races in the supporting
programme of the actual race it took until 2002 when Peter Auto came up with the idea of a classic edition
just as the one lounged a few years earlier in Monaco giving the drivers of the historic cars the unique
opportunity to experience the track and the atmosphere of what is normally restricted to a small group of
professional drivers and very wealthy gentlemen. With the experience of the Tour Auto to proof they are able
to organize an event of this size the region of Le Mans was more than happy to close off the streets for a few
days in July attracting a good amount of visitors into the town and over the last 14 years the Le Mans Classic
became a very strong economic factor in the region with more than 120 thousand visitors resulting in booked
out hotels in a large area. And with the ongoing success the organizers were even able to enhance the
program as an earlier closure of the track allowed some support races bringing back the legendary Group C of
the 1980s to the Classics. Not few of the 10% increase of the visitor numbers compared to 2 years ago might
be due to this as the Group C is highly popular, the last years the cars achieved a speed of 400 km/h at the
Hunaudiere before the chicanes were introduced to reduce the speed and the risk. So this weekend not only
numerous Porsche 962 could be admired but also a Sauber C11, a Lancia LC2 and the last example of this
era, the Peugeot 905 EV1.
After the first cars arriving on Wednesday the Thursday was reserved to the scrutineering where the cars were
checked both for originality and for safety on the very fast track that was averaged by almost 200 km/h of the
fastest cars in Grid 6. Even without action on the track there was a lot to see for the visitors and even without
paddock access one could have a first look over the village, the club display area that should attract more
than 8500 cars in the next days, the preview or the Artcurial auction and the superb concours d’Elegance
showing some important examples of the Le Mans history. Best of Show should become the 1966 LM
winning Ford GT40 MKII of Robert Kauffman that fulfilled Fords desire to win over Ferrari on their continent in a
race that Ferrari won in a record number by that time. Also at the concours was the Porsche 935 that will be
sold by Gooding & Company later next month in Monterey.
Friday finally brought the cars on the track, first the track parades of the clubs and sponsors and on noon
starting with the first practice session for the Group C followed by another support race for Jaguars. About
1:30 hours later finally the first of the 6 Grids took the track in their 50 minute practice session. With the grids
chronologically sorted the speed went up every time a new group came out ranging from about 6 minutes for
the pre-war cars to about 4 minutes for the newest dating 1972-1981. Unfortunately again a few of the cars
entered were not properly sorted as not few did not even make it through the first practice session and the
repairs started early on and certainly should go on to the final flag on Sunday afternoon. Last of the “normal”
practice sessions was again the Group C just as the shadows became deep and the sun came down.
But whoever one asks, the racing during the day is just the preparation for the part the drivers were waiting for
2 years: driving in the night. So after the sunset it was time for a full practices session for all of the grids until
well after 3 o´clock in the morning giving a first short night even before the actual 24 hours started.
Saturday finally was the great day as the parades and support races started early in the morning. Whereas
the day before was not strongly visited the thousands of club cars and visitors searching for their parking spot
slowed down traffic around the track and one needed to be patient to enter. Those who made it in time were
awarded with the Group C race more than 4 hours before the start of the competition. As the Artcurial auction
was under way the first cars were lined up on the pre-grid to be lined-up at the pit wall for the traditional
running Le Mans start. Exactly at 4pm Pharrell Williams made both spectators and drivers “Happy” by waving
the French flag to open the 8th Le Mans Classic races. In alternation the 6 grids were intended to do 3 races
each over the next 24 hours resulting in 6 class winning driver pairings and a 24h team consisting of 6 entries
with identical race numbers in each class fighting together for the best results. Some of the entrants had
more cars in different grids pairing with more or less drivers so it was up to them how much of the 24 hours
they actually wanted to drive ranging from short stints every 8 hours to basically none stop action.
With the date close to the longest day of the year it took until grid 4 for the sun to come down leaving it up to
the cars of the era 1966-1971 with the prototype-Porsche, Chevron and Lolas both to race into the night as
well as out of the night a few hours later. Early in the races one could see the favorites of the grids like the
Talbot Lago of Christian Traber that should win all his three races just as the Porsche 936 driven by Marco
Werner and Ulrich Schumacher in the last group. Other races were much closer and not few of the front
runners were not seen on the last laps on Sunday late morning so there was a permanent fight for the places
all over the night. Fortunately the weather was much better than two years ago so the drivers were able to
drive in dry conditions for all the 24 hours and so most of the laps were done in full speed whereas two years
ago in the rain many laps had to be done behind the safety car due to the track condition. Certainly the safety
car was out as well over the 24 hours but all in all the discipline of the drivers was much better than in the
past and few heavy accidents happened, something certainly not avoidable with 550 cars and about 1000
drivers of different abilities sharing the same track.
When the night set in the atmosphere in Le Mans becomes special. Just as in the modern edition some
people leave for the hotel, others enter the village to have a few drinks and one could smell the food over the
track but not few stayed quit long on the grandstands to catch the atmosphere of night racing with glowing
disc brakes and large fires from the exhaust of the 1970s racers. But after a while the night takes its tribute
and not just the grandstands empty but also activities in the paddocks calm down. Whereas some
mechanics have to work on the car to get them ready for the next race others catch some sleep even next to
fired up race cars.
Finally the night ends with the sunrise behind the Dunlop-Bow where all the photographers are lined up to wait
for the right light. As mentioned before it was again group 5 who had to privilege to drive into the sun although
one might doubt that the front runners had an eye for that other than the annoyance of the sun standing low in
the cockpit as grid 5 was the closest of all the groups. Unlike in the original races of the 1969-1970 it was not
the brutal Porsche 917 dominating the race but a duo of Lola T70 fighting for the lead in all three races, at the
end it was Bernard Thuner having the upper hand over Eric de Boncker with just over a tenths of a second in
front of a third Lola completing the podium. Unfortunately neither the Porsche 908 LH (with van Lennep) nor
the duo of 917 made it to the finish.
As mentioned earlier Grid 1 was dominated by the Talbot Lago running 3 minutes clear over the three races of
Bronson/Burnett in the green Talbot 105. Once again the Talbot only had to give way to one single car as in
previous years it was an Alfa Romeo 8C2900 Boticella, a supercharged BMW 328 and now the Talbot Lago
who ran away. The first of the numerous BMW 328 celebrating the centenary of the Bavarian Motor Works
came home third, driven by Bally/Lesseur.
Grid 2 should have been a battle between three Jaguars, the Le Mans winning D-Type driven by Andy
Wallace, another D-Type by Monteverde and Pearson plus the very fast C-Type driven by Chris Ward.
Although Ward could chase down Wallace in the second race he was out of the game for the overall victory
already after race one where he failed to finish leaving Wallace more than 7 minutes ahead of the Maserati of
Chambon after a penalty for the second D-Type.
In Grid 3 Chris Ward had more luck. Fastest in qualifying the second placed Tojeiro-Jaguar of
Cottingham/Smith only lasted one lap leaving the Maserati Birdcage T63 furiously driven by Marco Werner the
only real opponent. Ward won the first race by only 6 tenth but when the Birdcage stranded after 3 laps in
race 2 Ward could dominate the next races winning with more than 10 minutes clear of an Austin Healey.
Grid 4 saw no less than 5 Ford GT40 in the front during qualifying. After 3 races all the top ten finishers were
powered by Ford, be it the winning GT40 of Shaun Lynn or the following GT40s and Cobras on the first nine
places with an additional Mustang GT350 on tenth.
As mentioned before Grid 5 was the closest of all competition whereas Grid 6 was an easy victory for the
Porsche 936 and Le Mans winner Marco Werner.
With 550 cars on the track, races through the night and 24 hours of entertainment the Le Mans Classic is one
of the events one should not miss at all. Arriving in your own classic parked in the club area among
like-minded certainly even adds to that experience and for those willing to wait in line during the parade laps it
is even possible to drive around the famous circuit. Just like the Monaco HGP and Goodwood this is a very
special race event attracting visitors all over the world, with cars spanning 7 decades from the early Bentleys
to the latest Group C there is something to everybody´s taste. Unfortunately one has to wait for two full years
before the classic racing comes back to Le Mans for the 9th edition, most of this year’s visitors will most
likely be back then and for all those who have missed this year we have put together the most extensive
galleries including every car on the grid sorted by grid and race number making it easy to find what you are
Report & images ... Peter Singhof