Monthly Archives: July 2014

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Some Thoughts on Le Mans 2014 from Our Special Correspondent

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If Toyota were the pre-race favourites, Porsche were the star attraction. Since their last outright win in 1998, they had contented themselves during the intervening years with supporting their favoured private customers in the GT categories but now they were ready to add to their impressive record of sixteen wins in the race, although Audi was steadily creeping up on them, finishing this race with their thirteenth win, comfortably ahead of Ferrari’s nine set as far back as 1965.

This was the first confrontation between Porsche and Audi at Le Mans for overall victory and Porsche was attracted back by the challenge of the new LM P1 regulations. To help they had added the ex-F1 driver Mark Webber to their driving strength. The Australian had appeared at Le Mans twice before but this was to be the first time he had driven any racing miles: in 1998 his Mercedes CLK LM, while being driven by Schneider, suffered engine failure after only nineteen laps before Webber had a chance to take the wheel; in 1999 he was the innocent victim of two “flights” when the Mercedes CLR took off during Thursday’s practice and again in the Saturday warm-up, denying him a start in the race. Fortunately he was not hurt in either spectacular accident.

The Webber/Hartley/Bernhard Porsche 919 Hybrid no. 20 led the race at the 21st hour but mechanical failure at this late stage left it unclassified.

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Not only Porsche came back – so did Ligier, after thirty-nine years. This happy event came about when Jacques Nicolet, the man behind Oak Racing which won the LM P2 class at Le Mans last year, decided to buy through his Onroak Automotive concern Ligier’s racing operation at Magny Cours. The two men share a deep passion for racing and the outcome was the appearance of three brand-new Ligier JS P2 cars, a completely new design all of which finished the race, one of them coming second in the class after leading for some of the way.

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A pre-race press conference afforded me the opportunity to meet and talk with Guy Ligier, a very special privilege.

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The success of the Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN in winning the P2 class this year reminds us that it is not necessary to have a new car in order to do well at Le Mans. This design dates from 2011 and Jota acquired theirs in 2012. I recall a privately-entered Aston Martin, a design conceived for the 1953 season, coming second overall in 1958!

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It was the Thiriet Ligier which claimed second.

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The Oreca-based Alpine followed in third. Will we see a home-grown Alpine soon, I wonder?

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What a superb struggle was put up by the leading contenders of GTE Pro! Ferrari 458 Italia, Aston Martin Vantage and the new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R were at each other’s throats from the start – here they are at the Ford Chicane.

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Unfortunately Aston Martin had to withdraw their no.99 car after Fernando Rees crashed it badly in practice.

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Their other car gave up the fight, finishing a lowly 35th.

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It was the well-tried AF Corse Ferrari of the experienced Bruni, Vilander and Fisichella which took the spoils, as they did two years ago.

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The no.73 Corvette finished second in class.

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Last year’s winners, the Manthey Porsche, was next up.

The two Manthey cars were never really in contention because their previous success earned them a Balance of Performance ballast of 25kg! Something wrong here – I thought motor-racing was about the best driver/team winning. Shades of a circus act, alas.

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Some compensation for Aston Martin came with their winning the GTE Am class ahead of Porsches and Ferraris, thanks to their Danish drivers.

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This was for the most part a dry race but very heavy showers interrupted proceedings in the third hour and created some havoc. Audi lost their third car, AF Corse their no.81 Ferrari.

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Toyota no. 8 struggled back badly hurt although it eventually worked its way up to third by the end.

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Not so lucky was one of the Greaves Motorsport Zyteks:

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ZEOD – Zero Emissions On Demand, or should it be ZEOT – Zero Effect On Track? Two years ago the predecessor of this bizarre machine was put out of its misery by being punted off the track by a Toyota; this year it failed mechanically after just five laps, the first retirement.

Are these to be taken as omens for Nissan who were at great pains to inform the whole Le Mans community that they were going to win in 2016? True, their engines filled the first five places in P2 but we have yet to see a Japanese manufacturer emulate Mazda’s achievement in 1991. Yes, in that year a Nissan Skyline did win the Spa 24 Hours but Mazda had done that too, ten years earlier with the RX-7 in 1981! My thoughts are that Nissan should have a quiet word with Toyota. Still, as the experienced Manceaux would say, On verra, we shall see.

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Happily no lasting harm to drivers who crashed – here is Audi 1 just before its destruction on Wednesday evening.

Audi did very well to build up a replacement by Thursday evening’s practice and managed to enlist Marc Gené to replace Loïc Duval. The Spaniard knows a thing or two about having a massive shunt in the Porsche Curves – he destroyed a Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP in 2008!

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And Audi knows a thing or two about winning 24 hour races. Cars 2 and 1, despite having their turbos changed, outlasted the others to be on top yet again:

TAILPIECE

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The Drivers’ Parade was very short of interesting old French cars this year but one of note was this escapee from the Le Mans museum:

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It is a 1912 Type F Amédée Bollée and if you look inside the cockpit you will see no gearchange lever. That is because it is the inner ring on the steering wheel!

David Blumlein, July 2014

The Price is Right

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The HSCC SuperPrix run recently at Brands Hatch was further proof, if any were needed, of the huge popularity of historic racing. I would venture that this success is not just riding on the back of a wave of nostalgia but shows that there is a profound unease about the direction that some forms of present day motorsport have headed.

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I read this interesting piece on DailySportsCar.com earlier in the week, neatly illustrating the contempt of Formula One for the fans who pay for themselves rather being corporate liggers. £175 for basic admission, that is just taking the piss. Especially when you read how most of the teams are struggling to survive financially. That applies to the circuits as well, so the money is being syphoned from the sport and from its fans.

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So no wonder folks vote with the wallets and enjoy the racing at Brands Hatch, motor sport fans tend to be bright people and can see when they are being had over. In any case who would not rather see Fluxie strutting his stuff rather hearing Vettel whine about how unfair it is that he is not dominating.

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Simon Hildrew was out and about in Kent, so we are fortunate to have more of his top notch work to enjoy.

John Brooks, July 2014

Best of British

Celebrations for sure as a result of Bentley’s historic win but for the first time in sixty-three years three old established British sports car marques found themselves competing together in an international endurance race – we had at Silverstone Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar all running in the Blancpain Endurance Series Silverstone 3 hours on May 25.

Aston Martin was represented by five Vantage GT3s with the V12 6-litre engine, a works car of this type winning this race in 2013. Bentley raced officially for the first time at Silverstone with their two M-Sport Continental GT3s and the private Generation Bentley Racing Continental GT3. The Swiss Emil Frey Racing team brought their G3 Jaguar XKR.

We note that the first ever Bentley saw the light of day at the end of 1919, the first Aston Martin appeared in May 1921 and Jaguar dates back to 1931 when William Lyons (later Sir William) presented his SS car at the Olympia Show.

Here are some of their modern representatives in practice:

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One of the Vantage V12 versions of the Aston Martin.

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One of the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3s at Luffield

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This Jaguar XKR has been developed privately by the Emil Frey team but did not ,alas, last long in the race.

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A Bentley at Brooklands! What turned out to be the winning car reminds us that the very first race win for a Bentley car took place at the real Brooklands.

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The first of the Continental GT3s to fall into private hands, chassis no. 3, is the Generation Team car.

In the Race:

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The Bentley chases the Art McLaren down the Wellington Straight

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The Bentley leads! History was about to be made!

David Blumlein, July 2014

A Brands Hatch Master

 

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Back in the saddle, after the best part of seven weeks on the road, so some catching up to do. More goodness from Simon Hildrew, who popped down to his local track, the majestic Brands Hatch, to capture the magic of the 2014 Brands Hatch Masters.

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As with most historic events these days, the entry was both impressive and varied. One feature that was very popular was a tribute to the late Sir Jack Brabham, featuring his son David in a Brabham BT45B Alfa Romeo, always one of my favourite cars.

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The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit remains a stern test of man and machine as Mark Dwyer found out in his March 811 Cosworth. Fortunately he emerged from the wreck unscathed and who do I see in the background, but Jeff Bloxham. How surprising that he should be on the scene of a shunt?

Simon has turned out a fantastic set of images for us to enjoy, we look forward to his next set.

John Brooks, July 2014