Tag Archives: Le Mans 24 Hours

image_pdfimage_print

My Big Year – The Prologue

DDC is a broad church with its congregation drawn together by a common interest in motoring and motor sport. It has given a pulpit to many fine preachers over the past decade, the latest to join this roll of honour is our old friend, Julian Roberts. Back in 2007 he fell from grace and joined the media circus. Over the next few weeks he will recount his path to redemption.

From my first roll of film. Developed by my friend, son of Autosport photographer George Phillips – Derek Warwick, BP Super Visco British F3 Championship – Donington Park April 1978

I have been a keen amateur motor racing photographer since 1978 when I bought my first SLR camera, a Nikkormat FT3 with a Vivitar 135mm lens. The first race I attended with my camera was the Easter round of the BP Super Visco British Formula 3 Championship held at Donington Park. As a favour, my close friend Clive offered to develop my film allowing me to see my precious negatives that night, before having them professionally printed the next day. He knew a little about processing as he used to help his father in the darkroom. His father was George Phillips, the chief photographer with Autosport when it was first published in 1950. He had also been as successful racing driver, developing and driving his own MGs at Le Mans in 1949/50/51. George was a lovely old chap with a caustic wit that equally amused or terrified his victims – often me!

British Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, July 1978. Andretti and Peterson obscured by the startline gantry

I attended every British Grand Prix and 6 Hour race plus as many ‘clubbies’ as I could get to, usually at Silverstone which is only 40 minutes away.

Kenny Acheson, Bernard Devaney & David Sears – Esso Formula Ford Championship – Silverstone June 1978

But despite loving Grand Prix racing and devouring Motoring News and Autosport every week and Motor Sport once a month, I was already an Endurance racing fan.

Jochen Mass at the wheel of the works Porsche 935-78 he shared with Jacky Ickx – Silverstone 6 Hour race May 1978

Formula One was great, but a Martini Porsche 935-78 was greater. As soon as I could just, possibly, afford the new Canon A1, I upgraded and also bought Tamron 300mm f5.6 lens. This was a much better combination than my faithful Nikkormat, though I did keep that as a second body.

Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312 T5 at La Rascasse Monaco 1980

In 1980 as a ridiculously generous twenty-first birthday present, my father paid my share for a two week trip to the French Riviera which included attending the Monaco Grand Prix. Two friends and I rented a villa in the hills above Menton and I found a hospitality package offering grandstand seats just beyond Ste. Devote and lunch in the Restaurant Quicksilver which was located beneath, near Tabac corner, I think it was £50 each! We missed Thursday practice and watched Qualifying from the grandstand opposite the swimming pool. I shot three rolls of film from there and another roll from our grandstand during the Sunday morning warm up. I have some excellent images from that weekend, but I think my favourite is one I literally snatched on the way to the boat taxi which would take us across the harbour to the swimming pool grandstand. In a gap between two buildings there was an aerial view of La Rascasse. Being hurried along I hastily snapped five shots and left.

Rothmans Porsche 956s to the fore at the start of the 1982 Le Mans 24 Hours – June 1982

In 1982 I finally got to visit Le Mans and began a love affair which is still as strong today after 23 events. Incidentally, this is the first photo I ever took at Le Mans, spoiled somewhat by the chap in front holding his camera at arms length above his head, though I mustn’t complain as I doing exactly the same thing! I had arrived at the first corner too late to get a clear view and held my camera aloft finger on the shutter and hoping. With the motordrive I managed 10 shots, but this was the best.

Christian Bussi, Bernard de Dryver & Pascal Witmeur – Bussi Team Rondeau M382 Le Mans June 1982
Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell acknowledge the crowd after winning the 1982 Le Mans 24 Hour race – June 1982

I stayed trackside for 18 hours and although I only shot three rolls of film all weekend I am still very pleased with my results shooting from the Tribunes.

David & Godfrey Jones  JWR – Preci Spark Porsche 996 GT3 R lead the DRM Racing Ferrari 360 Modena of Ni Amorim &  Adam Wilcox – British GT Championship – Snetterton May 2004

By 2004 used digital SLR cameras were becoming affordable and with some trepidation, and against all advice, I ordered a year old Canon EOS 10D and 28-135mm kit lens from an American seller on ebay. I also added a new Canon EF300 F4 L IS USM together with a Canon X1.4 extender from Digitalrev (again via ebay) in Hong Kong – back in 2004 it was by no means usual to pay hundreds and hundreds pounds, in advance, to unknown foreign sellers hoping they’ll do their stuff.  They both did, in fact I still buy from Digitalrev today. What became of my faithful friend of 26 years the Canon A1?  I sold it and all my analogue gear immediately and without a qualm ! The 10D (not forgetting my beautiful L lens) was a game changer.  I was now able to produce very good work consistently. Because I was able to critique my shots on the go, I quickly learnt much more about proper exposure and to alter ISO as and when required (remember on film I was stuck with the film’s ISO and never beyond 800). My first time out with the 10D was a round of the British GT Championship at Snetterton.

David Leslie prepares to leave the pit garage in the Championship winning GTS Motorsport BMW M3 he shared with Harry Handkammer, Britcar – Silverstone March 2005

As my photography improved so did my desire to share my photos with a larger audience. I had been an early convert to Malcolm Cracknell’s excellent websites SportsCarWorld.com and TotalMotorSport.com and then DailySportsCar.com. So in 2005 decided to go to the opening Britcar meeting at Silverstone and ‘pretend’ I had received a commission from him to cover the event.

The Beechdean Mini of Nigel Greensall and Aaron Scott leaving the pits – Britcar – Silverstone March 2005

My intention being to submit my photo’s as a sort of visual c.v.  I spent a lot of time in the paddock and pit garages and eventually the pitlane as I could take better photos there than through the tall fences synonymous with Stalag Silverstone.

Bruno Senna – British F3 Championship – Donington April 2006

I selected a dozen of what I considered to be the best and emailed them to Malcolm. He was very pleased and used some of my images in his report. He also asked me to go the Donington for the opening round of the British GT Championship.

Neil Cunningham – Embassy Racing Porsche 996 GT3 RSR – British GT Championship – Donington April 2005

Arriving at Media Accreditation bursting with anticipation I was quickly brought back to earth with a bump; there was no media pass and I was expected to pay for my entry ticket! Hmmm. Oh well, I hadn’t driven 90 miles to turn around so I paid up and went to find my contact, Graham Goodwin. GG gave me a quick tour of the pitlane pointing out favoured teams to pay extra attention to and that was it.

Allan Simonsen – British GT Championship – Donington April 2006

I made myself busy and, as usual, roamed the pitlane as if it were my own. To my wife’s irritation I arrived home about 7pm and spent the next 4 hours editing photo’s for submission to DailySportsCar.com. I got a few more gigs from DSC but in every case I had to contact them and offer my services for free rather than be asked. So I continued as an amateur snapper peering through the fence, a totally free agent, photographing what I liked.

In late 2006 my employers (a North African oil producer) announced they were to close all European operations and I was to be made redundant in 2007 after 20 years.  By now I was 48 and (thankfully) financially stable. So on a bit of a whim I decided to give myself a redundancy present and take a year discovering whether I had what it takes to be a freelance motorsport photographer. 

Nick Whale, Ian Guest BMW 3.0CSL & Christian Traber BMW M1 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

I knew of Martin Krejci’s superb website RacingSportCars.com and had been contributing my images to him for a number of years. With this in mind I had the idea to contact him and suggest I apply for media accreditation acting as his photographer, he agreed. In early 2007 I applied to the FIA GT Championship, the Le Mans Series and, heart in mouth, the ACO.  After a bit of form filling, a lot of emails,  and supplying website traffic statistics to the ACO, all three accepted me.  WOW !

No longer would my humble EOS 10D cut it as my main camera, so I bought a year old Canon EOS1D MkIIN and a new Canon EF400 DO IS USM plus a Pelicase to cart it all around Europe in safety.

Paul Knapfield – Charles Pozzi Ferrari 512 BB LM – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

The first race for me was the 2007 Monza 1000kms. The media representative for the LMS was a French lady. She had confirmed my acceptance via email and I was given details of how to collect my media pass from a school in suburban Monza (why not at the circuit I have no idea). In my job as a Client Procurement Co-ordinator I had many contacts worldwide and one in particular with whom I was on very good terms lived and worked in Milan. He found me a small but classy hotel on the edge of the Parco di Monza, roughly opposite the circuit, but a few kilometres away, plus he arranged a taxi to meet me from the airport.

Green Flag lap – Perazzini, Tavano & Cioci – Racing Box Saleen S7-R – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

The flight was incident free and I easily found my taxi. Once I’d checked into the hotel, with numerous signed Ferrari driver portraits behind the desk, the driver took me to collect my passes. We eventually found the school and I followed the signs downstairs to a small room with a table and dozens of envelopes containing passes. I announced myself and the young lady searched her list and with a look of genuine regret said “non”. I almost dropped to my knees! I really couldn’t believe it. I recovered my composure and asked to borrow her phone so I could speak to the LMS Media representative. I have to say she was very offhand with me, initially denying I had been accepted (fortunately I had printed copies of all emails and forms so my case was watertight). She eventually agreed to permit me access; she would see me in the Media Centre. Note; only whilst writing this have I realised this all occurred on Friday the 13th!

The victorious Team Peugeot Total – Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of Nicholas Minassian & Marc Gené – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

Back to the car and my willing driver. He drove to the circuit and to my joy blagged us through the main gate then into the Paddock itself, not bad going without a ticket between us. I climbed the stairs to the Media Centre and found my target. I won’t go into too much detail but I made it clear I was extremely unhappy and she made it equally clear she couldn’t care less. My Media Pass ? Nothing doing, I was given a ‘Guest Pass’! We didn’t part as friends and I still haven’t sent or received a Christmas card. I then went to speak with the local media representative on the front desk, a charming Italian lady who on hearing my tale of woe arranged everything I would need to make my visit a success. Bless her heart.

Neil Cunningham. Embassy Racing Radical SR9 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I’d missed the entire morning so I bade my driver farewell (with a fat tip) and walked out to the track. I’d been to Monza once before in 1994 to see the Italian Grand Prix so I had a reasonable idea of the layout, and knew exactly where I wanted to go first, the Variante Ascari. 

Jan Lammers Racing for Holland Dome S101 – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

The first group out on track after lunch were the Classic Endurance Series or CER. Lola and Chevron prototypes, Ferrari Boxer, Porsche 911, 935, 908, BMW M1 and so many more. I’d never seen such a group of cars in England. I was in my element and was almost disappointed when the session ended and the LMS cars came out.

I remained blissfully happy at the Variante Ascari until the end of the day. I’d asked the hotel receptionist to arrange for a taxi to collect me from outside the main gate at 6pm.  After 90 minutes (during which time I’d declined two lifts from kindly Brits) no taxi had arrived so I elected to walk back across the park. The walk was much further than I anticipated, taking over an hour, and by the time I reached my hotel, having been on the go since 5 a.m., I was exhausted. I had a quick shower, a restorative beer or three, followed by dinner and bed.

Peter Hall’s Opel Commodore GS-E chases Martin Carroll and Graham ‘Skid’ Scarborough (both Ford Capri 3.0S) Monroe Production Saloon Car Championship – Silverstone – July 1981 

The next morning, during breakfast I noticed an English registered car with an historic racer on a trailer. There was another English couple in the dining room so assuming it was theirs I introduced myself. I was wrong, but it was a happy mistake as the gentleman was former British Touring Car ace, Peter Hall. He and his wife were there to support their son Stuart who was driving Martin Short’s Rollcentre Racing LM P1 Pescarolo 01.  

Benetton B194 passes beneath the F1 media atop the photographers box, Italian Grand Prix – Monza September 1994

Back at the circuit bright and early on Saturday morning, the next item on my Monza bucket list was the raised photographers box above the turn-in point for the Curva Parabolica.

Marc Devis Porsche 935 K3 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007
Louis Zurstrassen Osella PA 4 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Once again the first cars out were the Classics, and I had a classic view of them.

Gilles Gibier and the McInnerney brothers BMW M1 Procars – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

I had in mind the classic image of two Gulf Porsche 917s line astern turning in and wanted to try and recreate it, albeit without a pair of 917s. The best I could manage was a pair of BMW M1s.

Raymond Narac, Richard Leitz – IMSA Performance Porsche 997 GT3 RSR – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007
Tom Kimber-Smith, Danny Watts – Team LNT Panoz Esperante GTLM – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I remained in the box throughout the morning CER and LMS sessions having the time of my life.

Monza Paddock bar/café

Afterwards I made my way back to the paddock for a quick lunch – not quite Silverstone….

Hervé Dumas – Chevrolet Corvette – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007
Porsche 908-4 Jean-Marc Luco’s driver point of view – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Then I couldn’t resist a wander through the CER enclosure and admire, what to me at least, were becoming the stars of the show.

Gianni Morbidelli Audi RS4 – Campionato Italiano Superstars – Monza April 2007

My vantage point for the afternoon was the first chicane; the Variante del Rettifilo. First was a qualifying session for the Campionato Italiano Superstars, the highlight of which was Gianni Morbidelli driving an Audi RS4.

João Barbosa retires the Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo at the beginning of Qualifying – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next up was LMS qualifying. Based on my brief chat with Peter Hall and his wife I was now Rollcentre Racing’s number one fan and I was disappointed to see João Barbosa roll to halt in front of me destined to take no further part.

The Gianni Lavaggi & Marcello Puglisi Lavaggi LS1 exits stage left during qualifying – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

One notable entrant was ex-Pacific & Minardi Formula One driver Gianni Lavaggi, affectionately known as  Johnny Carwash. He was sharing the eponymous Lavaggi LS1 with Marcello Puglisi , the LS1 qualified poorly and looked a handful to drive.

Christian Ried, Horst Felbermayr Jnr. & Thomas Grüber – Felbermayr Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSR – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Being a totally unprofessional in every sense of the word, I always select a favourite car which my camera is unfailingly drawn to. This time it was three; the trio of Felbermayr Proton Porsche 997 GT3 RSRs, such a pretty car with a simple but eye-catching paint scheme.  It seemed the session was over moments after it began. Predictably the Peugeots were in a class of their own almost two seconds faster than their nearest rival.  

Clivio Piccione overtakes Guillaume Moreau as Giedo van der Garde looks on – Formula Renault 3.5 Series – Monza – April 2007

As the LMS  field were being put away for the day there was the first race of the weekend, the opening round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. This wasn’t a championship I was familiar with and I didn’t recognise any of the drivers, but cynically knowing that young chargers and the first chicane at Monza are seldom a good mix, I made my way across the track (oh the access !) to give me a view almost straight down the circuit towards the start. Then I pre-focussed on the braking point and selected 1,000ths of a second. The start was uneventful, but later there was an incident which brought out the Safety Car. At the restart Clivio Piccione lying in about 10th place, misjudged his braking and slammed into the rear of Guillaume Moreau  launching himself skywards like a Eurofighter on reheat. I had focus lock and rammed the shutter button into the body as hard as I could, just following the red plane plane on its wild ride. I fired off 33 frames before the car came to a halt upside down.

Totally unhurt, Piccione exits his stricken car – Formula Renault 3.5 Series – Monza – April 2007

Thankfully, with help from the marshals, Piccione was able to clamber out unhurt. Looking back at the entry list, bearing in mind I’d never heard of any of the drivers, I had just watched future Grand Prix drivers Sebastian Vettel and Giedo van der Garde.

Peter Garrod – Porsche 935 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

After some tracking sweeping and the collection of abandoned cars it was time for me to enjoy the Classic Endurance Series race. As always I was drawn to the Porsches like a moth to a candle, I cannot resist them. There was a 908-4, two fire snorting 935s, four RSRs, three RS, two Group 4 911s and a 906; Porsche heaven.

Stéphane Gutzwiller driving the wooden monocoque Astra FVC RNR 2 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

One particularly interesting car was the wooden monocoque design Astra RNR2 FVC designed by Roger Nathan and driven by Stéphane Gutzwiller. Seeking to check the details on the Astra, I reached up and left (I am surrounded by books on three sides in my tiny study) for my copy of Roger Nathan’s autobiography “An Adventurous Life”. It’s pleasing to note the above mentioned Stéphane Gutzwiller was Nathan’s co-writer for this project.

Christophe Schwartz in the Dodge Charger – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

Apart from the Porsches my favourite classic had to be Christophe Schwartz’ Dodge Charger, I had never heard a louder race engine, it was magnificent. Starting life as a road car, this was a ground-up recreation of father and son Hershel and Doug McGriff’s 1976 Le Mans entry. The ACO were keen to form an alliance with the Daytona 24 Hours and contacted Bill France, the head of NASCAR, inviting some American iron over to La Sarthe. Two IMSA specification Chevrolets, John Greenwood’s Corvette and Michael Keyser’s Monza made the trip as did two NASCAR stock cars. A Ford Torino and McGriff’s four year old Dodge also took up the invitation. At Le Mans it weighed 1,660kgs, had four forward gears, drum brakes and a live rear axle on leaf springs. Oh, and the McGriff’s only fitted mirrors following concerns brought to the ACO by the prototype drivers. It wasn’t a fairy tale ending. The car was designed to run on high octane fuel not the 80 octane essence available at the circuit and destroyed two engines in practice. The race engine did not even last two laps. This recreation now using decent fuel runs consistently well and, like the original, is a crowd favourite.

Jean-Marc Luco Martini Porsche 908-4 – Classic Endurance Racing – Monza April 2007

The race lasted an hour and I gleefully fired off another 400 shots!

Cockpit of Pedro Lamy & Stéphane Sarrazin’s Peugeot 908 Hdi FAP – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Sunday dawned, no more preamble, time for the main event. 

Spyker C8 Spyder GT2R of Peter Kox and Jaroslav Janiš being manoeuvred on dollies in the pitlane – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Not being blessed with the ‘access all areas’ photographers vest I had to grab my pitlane shots during the morning pit walkabout.

Larbre Compétition’s Aston Martin DBR9s being readied for the start – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Not to worry, make the best of it, you’re at Monza !

Stuart Hall and his displaced co-driver Phil Keen – pitlane before the race – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

My new favourite driver Stuart Hall posed for me looking very ‘eff wun‘ in his graduated shades, behind, in civvies, stands his erstwhile team mate Phil Keen. 

Phil Keen exits his Rollcentre Racing Pescarolo 01 having beached it in the gravel outside the Parabolica – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007 

I was told, that Rollcentre boss Martin Short had stood Keen down as he was driving the heavy prototype “like a Formula 3 car”. Also beaching it in the Parabolica gravel trap on his first flying lap during Practice, leaving the team unable to set further times in the session, can’t have helped.

The Alphand Aventures Corvette C6.R of Luc Alphand, Jérôme Policand & Patrice Gouselard to victory in GT1 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

By now the cars were leaving the pits and I needed to get moving if I was to catch the start.

First lap, first chicane. Peugeots to the fore – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I chose to stand in the raised photographers enclosure overlooking the Variante Alta. This was a mistake. It has a perfect view over the chicane with the cars coming straight towards the camera after the initial turn in. 

Opening lap, the Lavaggi LS1 being bullied by the GT1s – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Without thinking I’d selected my 300mm lens and while it was fine for picking out a single car, it was too long to the capture the melee of the opening lap. I shot the 2 Peugeots braking for the chicane, thereafter my images of the start are a colourful collage.

The Biscione, the Visconti family coat of arms – Monza April 2007

Abandoning my lofty perch I returned to ground level and crossed the infield to the Variante Ascari and began a slow anti-clockwise, lap of the circuit via the Curva del Serraglio, the Lesmos and Variante del Roggia and finally, my favourite spot, the photographers’ platform above the Parabolica. On one of the service roads inside the circuit there’s a small old quite old looking building which had a familiar moulding of a snake on a shield. Familiar because reversed it is the Alfa Romeo symbol. Following a little research I learn it is called a Biscione and is generally the symbol for Milan and particularly it’s the eleventh-century Milanese Visconti family coat of arms. The origin of the serpent devouring the human (some say child) isn’t certain and there are a number of theories.

The Speedy Racing Team Spyker C8 Spyder flashes through the Curva del Serraglio. Driven by Andrea Belicchi, Andrea Chiesa & Jonny Kane they finished 20th overall 14th in GT2 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

My day was just about perfect.

Another from the Curva del Serraglio, the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari F430 GTC Modena of Rob Bell and Allan Simonsen – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I was in warm autumn sunshine watching THE Monza 1000kms with full trackside access. Pausing at Curva del Serraglio which is the bend between Lesmo Two and the old banking I crouched behind the Armco barrier and had a great view back up the track towards Lesmo Two and then lay down in the access to shoot the cars going away under the bridge.

The Thierry Perrier Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Anthony Beltoise, Philippe Hesnault and Nigel Smith entering Lesmo Two – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next was Lesmo Two and I was surprised just how close I was permitted to stand to the tarmac, now the cars weren’t just an aural sensation, I could physically feel them too.

Larbre Compétition Aston Martin DBR9 in the Second Lesmo.  Christophe Bouchut, Gabriele Gardel and Fabrizio Gollin finished 2nd in GT1 – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

I stayed about half an hour switching between my 300mm lens to catch them head on and a wide angle angle lens panning with the cars as they swept through.

Antonio Garcia & Liz Halliday – Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 braking hard for Variante del Roggia – Le Mans Series – Monza April  2007

Spoiled for choice I made another bucket list tick and walked alongside the track to the Variante del Roggia.

Mike Newton in his MG EX264 through the Variante del Roggia – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Here the cars come storming into view from the Curve Grande then hard on the brakes for this fast left right left.

Felbermeyr Porsche exiting the Variante Ascari – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Next was the Variante Ascari once more on my way to my favourite perch in the photographers’ box at the Parabolica. 

The media corps!

Space was at a premium as the prime spots were occupied by three young boys wielding tiny point and shoot digital cameras.

Porsche, Saleen, Porsche, Porsche – the Parabolica – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Elbows out I took up my position and lost myself in overhead photography.

Didier Theys in the Horag Racing Lola B05/41 and the Charouz Racing Lola B07/17 of Stefan Mücke – Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

Suddenly it was very quiet. The race had ended, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Peugeot won, though it was first and third for the 908 Diesels.

The lead Pescarolo Sport car of Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard finished a fine second in front of one of the Peugeots –– Le Mans Series – Monza April 2007

This allowed the Pescarolo Sport team some well-deserved glory grabbing second place, and their second car finished fourth.  Back in the paddock I bumped into Mr & Mrs Hall who were pleased with Stuart’s result – starting in dead last he and João Barbosa had climbed through the field to finish in seventh place. Better still they offered me a lift back and we arranged to meet for dinner at the hotel. Sadly being a Sunday, the restaurant was closed, but the receptionist directed us to a local pizzeria where we gorged ourselves on wood fired pizza and cheap red wine talking about motor racing and in particular (at my insistence) his time in the BTCC and his association with Andy Rouse. A fitting end to a terrific weekend.

I’d booked a lunchtime flight home so there was no hurry over breakfast. Taxi to the airport, back to Stansted, an hour’s drive home and that was it, back to work and reality tomorrow. Already I was having doubts at my ability to make a living out of this, but I was certainly going to enjoy myself !

Next stop, round two of the FIA GT Championship at Silverstone in May.

Julian Roberts, October 2020

Echoes from Mulsanne

It does not take long in this business to spot those who are on the pace, on track or off, with or without a stopwatch. Thirty plus years ago I first met Alan Lis, a writer who was, and is, definitely in the “on the pace” camp. A while back Alan conducted interviews with some of those involved at the heart of the dramatic 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours. 50 years have passed since that famous race but those who witnessed it either on track or via the television or media still recall the excitement of the finish. A once in a lifetime experience. Alan has generously shared his work with us here, Merci beaucoup!

The 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans marks the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous finish in the history of the Grand Prix d’Endurance. Against the odds, the JW Automotive Engineering team Ford GT40 driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won by a narrow margin of just over 100 metres (or 1.5 seconds). Ickx having fought out a frenetic duel for victory with the sole surviving works entered Porsche 908 driven by Hans Herrmann for the final three hours of the race. 

John Horsman – Chief Engineer – JWA Automotive Engineering

“The GT40s started thirteenth and fourteenth on the grid, which was a very lowly position for us. The times were set in the first practice on the Wednesday and we did not go to Thursday’s practice; there was no point. The car was not going to go any faster and there was no interest in improving our grid position. The car knew its own way around the circuit, so we had two days to prepare, we were nicely rested and ready for the race on Saturday.”

“Of course, Jacky Ickx made his famous walk across the road, which he hadn’t told us about so that was a surprise. Hobbs got away to a very good start and got through the John Woolfe accident before it happened, Jacky was at the back of the field and had to thread his way through but had plenty of warning. So, both our cars got through that first lap problem unscathed.“

“The Hobbs/Hailwood car led the Ickx/Oliver car for at least half the race until they had a problem with a brake caliper. A wheel weight had been improperly placed, hit the bridge pipe on the caliper and broke it. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the problem at the first stop so the car had to stop again when the problem was fixed but that dropped number 7 back behind number 6. Otherwise Hobbs and Hailwood would have almost certainly have won the race. They should have won because they were about half a lap ahead at that time.”

“Early in the race the Porsches were dominant but as time progressed, we found ourselves in better and better positions eventually third and fourth. The 917s fell out and two 908s collided on the straight, which was very convenient for us. At the end there was just the Larrousse/Herrmann 908, which had been delayed by a wheel bearing failure early on, and was catching us fairly quickly.”

“In fact, they caught us a little quicker than expected but our team manager David Yorke was very calm and collected and made a very good move at our second to last pit stop when we were still in the lead. He instructed the mechanics to lift the tail, go over everything, check the oil, check the water; we put new brake pads in even though they were not actually required at that time.”

“David could see a big battle coming up and wanted to give the drivers the best tool they could have for the oncoming battle. Normally we got through a pit stop as fast as possible to save time but David decided to take an extra thirty seconds to have good look over the car and check everything, do a ‘fifteen-thousand-mile service’ on it and off we went again. By which time of course the Porsche was much closer. But then the race was won on brakes and we had the equipment to do it. The Porsche had a warning light coming on but it proved to be a false warning. Of course, there’s a difference in hurtling down to Mulsanne corner with a warning light on not knowing whether you are going to have brakes or not. That was very definitely our finest hour with the GT40.”

David Hobbs – Driver JWA Automotive Engineering Ford GT 40 Car number 7

“Le Mans 1969 was the most unfortunate and biggest near miss of my career. I made a terrific start and Ickx did his famous slow walk. I rocketed off and got through White House before the accident. That put me an instant lap up on Ickx and Oliver and that was how we stayed until about five o’clock the next morning.”

“In fact, neither of us were doing terribly well, we had qualified well down and we were all running along at about the same speed. With David Yorke managing the team we were stuck on a fixed lap time. The Porsches were well ahead of us but in the middle of the night – at about 3am – two 908s overtook me on the straight and pulled away. It was pitch dark and I saw these four tail lights disappear around the kink followed by an immediate flash of white headlight and almost instantly after that a huge glow of gold and red fire. Obviously, I put the brakes on but by then I was right in the kink myself. As I went through I found the road completely blocked with flames and smoke and dust and crap everywhere. There was no point in swerving, where the hell are you going to swerve to? I burst through this lot and out the other side and there’s half a Porsche tumbling end over end down the middle of the track. Then out of the Porsche pops the driver and he tumbles down the road. I didn’t know whether to run over the driver or the car but in fact I didn’t touch either in the end.”

“It happened to be my in lap, so I came into the pits and said to Mike, “Jesus there’s been a shunt, the road’s all f**ked up and some bloke’s been killed …” What had happened was that Udo Schutz and Larrousse had touched, Schutz car had spun into the inside of the kink, hit the guard rail and broken in half, leaving the engine and gearbox blazing attached to the rail as him and the cockpit had bounced down the road also on fire and had finally come to rest about two or three hundred yards further down the road. He apparently bounced out and was absolutely fine. He always was a bit overweight which had perhaps made it easier for him to bounce down the road.”  

“On my next stint came the real killer for our hopes, we were still leading our sister car and as I approached Mulsanne corner the brake pedal went to the floor. I did some rapid pumping but it was all too late and I shot down the escape road. I had do a three-point turn and drive slowly back to the pits. When the door was opened, David Yorke was there and I said “The brakes have gone completely”. He said, “It’s the pads. You’re about due for a change so it must be the pads”. I said, ” No, it’s more than pads” but he wasn’t having it.  “No, its the pads. You drive I’ll team manage…”. So, they changed all the pads put the fuel in and sent me off. When I got to the end of the pit, I nearly ran over the marshal with the flag because the car wouldn’t stop. So now I’m committed to an 8½ mile slow lap… When I came back in, they took the bodywork off and all the wheels off. On those Girling calipers there was a bridge pipe from one side of the caliper to the other and the Firestone tyre fitters had put wheel weights on the inside of the rims as opposed to the outside. The JW people knew there was very little clearance between the wheel and the caliper and the Firestone engineers had been warned about it but it had happened anyway. One of the wheel weights had chipped a little hole in this brake pipe and the fluid had drained away. The pipe was changed the pipe, the system was bled and everything was put back together and off we went again but now of course it’s the other way around and Ickx is ahead.”

“Towards the end of the race of course it comes down to him and Hans Herrmann who are having this incredible duke out for first and second and Mike and I are bowling along in third. If it hadn’t been for that bloody wheel weight, we would have been rolling along in first and these two blokes would have still have had their titanic battle but it would have been for second.”

Jacky Ickx – Driver JWA Automotive Engineering Ford GT 40 Car number 6

“As far as the spectators were concerned the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours was the most famous race. The race was very exciting, especially the last three hours. Just by luck the two leading cars were running exactly the same speed at the same time for the last three hours. We were making pitstops for fuel and tyres more or less on the same lap. So, we were able to run close together for three hours. One a little bit in front, but neither able to pull away from the other. The more that time passed the more we knew that the race was going to be decided either by a mechanical problem or on the last lap.”

“It was at a time when drivers were realising that it was nice to go motor racing but also that you needed to survive. Life is too short to die in a racing car. In the fifties and sixties there were so many bad accidents, fatal accidents, that it appeared that we were doing things sometimes that were completely stupid. For many years in the sixties we drove without seatbelts. They only began to appear around that time. It only became mandatory later. There was still a legend saying that it was better to be thrown out rather than trapped in the car. If you say that today you would get a giant laugh because everybody knows that it’s not the case. The problem of Le Mans in those days was that you had to run and jump into the car. To be the first one into the first corner you had to forget about the seatbelts until you got to the straight and then you had to try to put the belts on while you were accelerating on the Mulsanne. That was why I started the race by walking to my car but for the last few metres I had to hurry up because the other cars were starting and so I had to run a little bit.”

“At the end of the race Porsche chose to put Herrmann in for the last stint because he had more experience but I think he was maybe too cautious. I have always thought that maybe it would have been more difficult if Larrousse had stayed in the car.

“There was a lot of strategy, I remember, especially on the last two laps. We knew that the flag came down at four o’clock, so on what we thought was going to be the last lap he started down the straight first and I over took him by slipstreaming by as late as I could going into Mulsanne corner and I knew that he could not overtake me after that. But unfortunately, when we reached the clock at the finish line there was still thirty seconds to go so, we had to do another lap. The extra lap was pushing both me and him to the limit of fuel so we had no guarantee to finish.”

“Of course, having done the trick on Mulsanne on the previous lap he knew that he didn’t want to start the straight in front of me. So, I was first and he wouldn’t pass of course. I had to slow down and down until I was going at maybe only one hundred kilometres an hour before we got to the restaurant. I think I got so slow that maybe he felt that I was running out of fuel. As we got to the restaurant he must have thought “That’s it now I go”. I was watching in the mirror and suddenly he went past me. I jumped into his slipstream and stayed there. We both increased speed and after the kink I used the slipstream and passed him on the inside.”

“It was a time when fairness when you were driving a racing car meant something. He wouldn’t have done anything like the things you see today. That didn’t exist. It was very important for me to pass at the end of the straight because he was faster down the straight but slower on braking. On lap times we were equal but I knew from the experience of the last three hours that I had to be in front of him at that point because he could not overtake anymore after Mulsanne corner.” 

“When we reached the finish, I was very happy and the team were frantic, Oliver and everyone in the pit was very, very excited, it was unbelievable. The race was very well covered on TV and people were able to see the last three hours and especially the last hour live. I think maybe it was one of the first years that they used aeroplane with a TV camera onboard. It was a transport plane and they opened the rear door and pointed the camera down at the track. That plane was following the cars round the circuit and it was the first time that people watching the TV were able to see the race so completely. I think that is why so many people remember it so well.”

JWA team principal John Wyer was unable to attend to race, in the evening Ickx received a telegram from him bearing a single word: “Manifique!”

Alan Lis, July 2019

A Midsummers Night’s Dream

A day full of reflection and contemplation, my mind drifts back to the summer of ’96. On track at 04.58 and shooting, I must have been keen back then. Keen and lucky if this shot of a 911 GT1 accelerating past the pits in pursuit of the Joest TWR-Porsche is anything to go by. Maybe you make your own luck, maybe your luck makes you. I don’t see much of this in prospect in our Brave New World of batteries and robots.

John Brooks, January 2018

The French Class

Driver shoots, don’t ya just love ’em? Herding cats would be easier and nothing has much changed in the 49-odd years since this scene at Le Mans. Even the scrum around local favourites still continues, the only thing missing is a selfie-stick………….but this bunch of drivers from the 1968 Alpine Le Mans team is also a bit special.

L to R as far as I can tell: Bob Wollek, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Alain Serpaggi, Christian Ethuin, André de Cortanze, Jean-Luc Thérier, Jean Vinatier, François Castaing, Alain le Guellec, Jean Rédélé, Bernard Tramont, Jean Guichet, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Henri Grandsire and Gérard Larrousse.

They would win Grand Prix, Le Mans (driving and designing), rallies and many, many races, a very select bunch.

John Brooks, February 2017

 

A Champion Porsche

Over the years I have found that seeing old race cars for the first time in ages is a bit like bumping into an old flame or at least I imagine that’s what it might be like as most of the poor ladies spotted me first and dodged the bullet.  However, there is a natural tendency for us to don the rose tinted spectacles, remember the good times and forget the bad. Racing imitates Life.

A while back I was a guest of Porsche AG at their Leipzig Factory. Like all good hosts they made me feel very welcome and when they showed me up to the museum/display area it was an opportunity to meet up with some old friends, the Dauer 962, the TWR Joest WSC and of course the Champion Porsche 911 GT1 Evo, chassis 005.

The distinctive livery of Dave Maraj’s team is unmistakable, having graced many Porsches and Audis in endurance racing both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in a overall win at Le Mans in 2005 as well as multiple ALMS Championships.

Not only did I get to shoot the 911 but none other than Norbert Singer explained what made this car special.

But back to the 911 GT 1………..where did it come from? What caused this evolution of the iconic 911 to be created?

1991-1992 saw the premeditated destruction of Sportscar World Championship by the FIA under the control of Mosley and Ecclestone, with some collaboration from Ballestre and Todt. They were determined to promote Formula One at the expense of endurance racing, only Le Mans was strong enough to survive. The final FIA SWC formula of 3.5 litre engines cars and high tech machines proved way too expensive even for manufacturers and there were no cars for privateers to buy, despite a valiant effort from Lola, so the grids dwindled to single figures. There were projects from Konrad, Brun, Allard and BRM but they were too little, too late and always grossly underfunded.

The impulse to race long distances as opposed to sprinting still existed and, as ever, where there is a will there is a way. To the rescue came ‘Three Musketeers’ in the form of Stéphane Ratel, Patrick Peter and Jürgen Barth and they launched the BPR Series in 1994, having dabbled with mixed GT Racing in the previous season. BPR was firmly aimed at the gentleman driver as opposed to factories, providing 4-hour GT races with 911s and Venturis as the staple diet on track, with the spice being provided by a few Ferrari F40 LMs.

Barth, an ex Le Mans winner, was Manager of the Customer Competitions Department at Porsche, Peter was a well respected race promoter and Ratel was an executive/investor in the wildly successful Venturi Trophy project.

In 1995 the BPR expanded in both numbers and importance with the début of the McLaren F1 GTR at Jerez in February. Of course the arrival of the Woking super-car made the 911 somewhat second class, even in the fearsome GT2 spec. A BiTurbo variant was explored but in reality there was no way that a 911 was going to get on terms with a F1 GTR with its carbon fibre chassis, mid-engined layout and central driving position. Finishing down the order is not what Porsche or their customers had come to expect, so as the saying goes “Something must be done”.

The obvious solution was to create their own mid-engine racer, which had as much in it in design terms from the 962 as the 911, no matter what was said at the time. The front unibody and windscreen (derived from the current model 911 (993) and taken from the production line) was attached to a steel sub-frame and behind that was a 3.6 litre twin turbo engine.

In reality the 911 was a proper racing car but in order to get the car homologated as a GT car a road going version had to be produced. This completely undermined the principles that BPR had hitherto been run on, ie. take a real road going GT and adapt it for the track, not homologate a racing car for the road. It would prove the undoing of a very fine race series.

Initially the plan was to run the car at the 1996 Le Mans with outright victory the aim. However the opposition was not just the slower GT cars such as the McLarens and F40s but also prototypes such as the Ferrari 333 SP and the TWR Joest Porsche WSC95.

The latter would prove to be too well run, too fuel efficient and too fast for the Werks GT. So the 911 GT1 had to settle second and third overall, triumphant though in the GT class.

After La Sarthe the fun and games really started. Porsche stepped up the pressure on the BPR to allow the 911 GT1 to race in BPR, Jürgen Barth’s position was somewhat compromised with his dual roles and conflicted loyalties. The existing teams, still reeling from the drubbing they had received in France, were adamant that the 911 should stay away, it was not eligible they argued and was outside the spirit of the regulations.

As a temporary solution, and in order to not destroy the 1996 title race, eventually the Porsche was allowed to start but would not be able to score points. At the first race after the decision held at Brands Hatch, Stuck and Boutsen drove away from the opposition as if in a different class, a feat that they repeated at Spa a few weeks later. It was a Sunday drive in the country with both pilots barely breaking into a sweat.

The atmosphere in the paddock grew increasingly rancorous and poisonous, a split was on the way. The BPR would lose Patrick Peter and mutate into the 1997 FIA GT Championship under the guidance of Messrs Ratel and Barth, where it flourished till 2009. There is an old saying warning those who desire something strongly to beware of getting what you wish for and Porsche Motorsport got that in spades for 1997. For my personal view of the events leading to the end of BPR have a look HERE

From the outside the 1997 FIA GT Championship was fantastic, factory supported GT racing featuring super-cars from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Lotus, Chrysler and Panoz. But there was a rotten core to all this, in theory a road car was to be built as the foundation for homologation of the race version but the time limit for presenting the road car to the FIA was eventually set at December some months after the Championship was decided. Mercedes-Benz took only presented their road car for inspection months after winning the title, a contemptuous gesture. Naturally BMW were outraged at the advantage handed to their rivals from Stuttgart just as the season got underway and planned to head for the prototypes arena in the future.

As to Porsche, they did not fare so well either, with the regulations on engine power favouring normally aspirated entries. Despite a development to an Evo specification (at a significant upgrade cost!) they were not really competitive with the Schnitzer McLaren BMWs or the AMG Mercedes squad. Furthermore they had sold eight cars to privateers who also found that they were bog slow for a Porsche, and having spent a small fortune, collectively they were not happy bunnies.

So as ever Porsche looked to victory at Le Mans to rescue their season, a win in the French Classic covers a multitude of sins. The main opposition was again the prototype Ferrari 333 SPs and the TWR Joest Porsche plus a trio of Nissan R390s run by TWR as well as the familiar McLaren brigade. The tactics of the 1996 winners had been taken into account by the Werks, now the 911 GT1 had the speed and the fuel economy to handle the Joest car, did it have the reliability? The simple answer was no. Bob Wollek hit the barriers at Arnage with 8 hours to go while comfortably leading his team mate and the rest of the pack, a driveshaft failure caused that disaster. Some six hours later Ralf Kelleners was in cruise mode heading for the Chequered Flag when cresting Les Hunadières Hump, swarf in the oil cooler caused a pipe to burst and the 911 GT1 went up in flames, leaving the way clear for a second Joest win. Incroyable!

The disaster of 1997 led to the development of the 911 GT1 98 for the following year. Initial reliability issues handed the AMG Mercedes team the first two races and thereafter with the introduction of their CLK-LM it was a clean sweep for Stuttgart in the FIA GT Championship. At Le Mans however the reverse was the case. Mercedes and BMW were out before sunset on Saturday, Nissan were too slow,  leaving a straight fight between Porsche and Toyota. Against all odds Porsche triumphed………..who remembers the ’98 FIA GT Championship now?

The old 911 GT1s were stuffed into barns or sold across the Atlantic. In North America for 1998 there were a multitude of series and races sanctioned by SCCA, USRRC Can-Am and PSC that the 911 GT1 appeared to be eligible to race in. And this how I first encountered the Champion car, at the 1998 Daytona 24 Hours.

At that race there were two other 911 GT1s, an Evo entered by Jochen Rohr and a old spec car for Larbre Compétition. Late rule changes (imagine that at Daytona!) imposed on the GT1 class, and aimed at the Panoz GT effort, effectively excluded them from a real shot at overall victory. Politically it was expedient for a prototype to be the car driving into Victory Lane at the Daytona International Speedway and certainly not one of Doctor Don’s cars.

Despite there being three Ferrari 333 SPs and a brace of Dyson Riley & Scott Fords, all of whom had much greater pace than the Porsches, the GT1 nearly snatched victory in the time honoured tortoise/hare mode.

Late in the race suspension problems for the Moretti Ferrari 333 SP caused a few missed heartbeats but repairs were completed in time for the Italian to take a very popular win. Second place was the reward for the Rohr Motorsport outfit with their 5 driver (?) team of Allan McNish, Danny Sullivan, Jörg Muller, Dirk Muller and Uwe Alzen who finished 36 laps up on the Larbre 911 back in third. The Champion car retired with overheating issues – very un-Porsche like.

My next encounter with the Champion car was at the inaugural Petit Le Mans held at Road Atlanta in the fall of 1998. This race was to be the overture for the American Le Mans Series, which was so successful till 2013. The day-glow car was outclassed by the more modern GT1 cars such as the factory GT1 98 and the Panoz GTs but at the finish the old girl was still there up on the podium with a third overall and another class win. It had not fallen apart or flown unlike its more modern rivals.

And that might have been that, but Dave Maraj’s car reappeared at Sebring in 1999 to challenge for the GT class of the ALMS, except that the 911 GT1 Evo was judged to be a prototype and forced to compete with the BMWs, Audis and Panoz in the top class. So despite having Thierry Boutsen, Bob Wollek and Dirk Müller to steer the beast there really was no hope of a decent result, a fourth place was as good as it got in 1999.

1999 was the first season of the ALMS and like many Europeans I flew back and forth across the Atlantic as the races had a strong European element to them, the series was always been cosmopolitan by American standards.

Sears Point, Portland, Laguna Seca, Las Vegas – the circuits rolled on and on, the air travel getting less and less “Jet Set” as I clocked the miles clocked up but still #38 would be present in its dayglo warpaint. Even Allan McNish could not drag the Champion 911 on to the podium, it was time for retirement.

Except that it wasn’t, #005 reappeared at the 2001 Rolex 24 run by my old mate, Kevin Jeannette. His underrated son, Gunnar was lead driver, supported by Wayne Jackson, Mike Brockman and Paul Newman, yes THE Paul Newman. An oil leak forced the old girl into retirement and somehow she was shipped back to the factory for me to encounter some years later.

The Porsche 911 GT1 has come to symbolise a wild era in endurance racing, when the factories slipped the leash of the regulations to create some of the greatest Gran Turismos ever built. I am grateful to have been a witness to this period of excess.

John Brooks, January 2017

The Legend………………Chapter One

The 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first chapter in the best seller that became Audi’s story at La Sarthe, the book is now finished, at least the first volume is. Who knows what might happen in the future?

And yet the Le Mans universe is a very different place these days from that of sixteen years ago. Then, as now, there were four classes, with factory entries but there the similarities end.


1998 and 1999 had seen high profile and high budget manufacturer projects at Le Mans from Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, with Audi joining in with their twin pronged approach featuring both open and closed prototypes for the latter year.

All of the above manufacturers left the House for 2000 except Audi who took on board the lessons from their comparative failure in 1999. Their answer was to create a new car which would turn into the benchmark for endurance racing in the first years of the 21st Century, the Audi R8.

First appearing at Sebring in the 2000 edition of the 12 Hour classic, it romped away to an easy victory, leaving rivals in no doubt as to the scale of the task they would face, come June, at La Sarthe.
Rivals? Ah yes, it was as if the ACO had issued a distress call across the Atlantic to replace the departing  Japanese and German outfits. In 1999 the American Le Mans Series was born and created a marketing opportunity for Detroit to match their products against the best. The opportunity was seized with both hands, not since George Patton’s Third Army had swung through Le Mans back in August 1944 had the Département de la Sarthe seen such a range of American firepower, although Bill Ford’s Armada in ’66 and ’67 ran Patton pretty close. Cadillac, Corvette, Dodge, Chrysler and Panoz represented Motor City and like Patton they were chasing the Germans. That however was where the analogy ends. George S. caught and beat his opponents………………

The rich history of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans allows it to have all manner of anniversaries each year, saluting some past heroes and their heroic deeds. In 1950 Briggs Cunningham stunned the French crowds by bringing two Cadillacs to La Sarthe, one an almost bog standard Coupé de Ville and the other a re-bodied streamliner, dubbed “Le Monstre.”

For 2000 Cadillac produced a conventional, in reality too conventional, open prototype running in the LM P 900 class. It was powered by a twin-turbo 4 litre V8, with Xtrac transmission and a chassis built by Riley & Scott. The aim of the project was to take an overall win in 2002 to coincide with Cadillac’s centenary. The whole project fitted in with GM’s attempt to change the brand’s perception of providing luxury barges to retired folk, the customer base was eroding with the passing of the years. That bit of the plan has, at least, happened, the 2002 LM-win did not.


A total of four Cadillac Northstar LMPs were entered, two for Team Cadillac which was created by Wayne Taylor out of Doyle-Risi Racing. Two cars were entrusted to the French DAMS outfit. However it was clear from the outset that these cars would not be competitive against the Audi squad, so expectations were managed down with “development year” talk. Marketing created a smokescreen with an infra red based camera system that was mounted in the car’s lights but no one was fooled, the whole project was seriously under-cooked and might have been competitive a few years earlier but the likes of Toyota, BMW and now Audi had moved the game on, massively.


Also with ambitions to win the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours outright was Chrysler. As part of the journey to that destination they had enlisted their French racing partners, ORECA, who had run the successful Viper programme for them. They had purchased two new Reynard 2KQ chassis and shoehorned the 6 litre V8 into the rear. In reality no matter what they or anyone else did they stood little chance of success in the face of the Audi steamroller. The investment in new technology from Ingolstadt would dwarf the efforts from Detroit.


Ford were represented by proxy in the shape of Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S with the rumbling 6 litre V8s and their unusual configuration, the driver sitting behind the engine. There were two factory cars for Panoz Motorsport managed by the old lag, David Price.

There were two Roadsters from TV Asahi Team Dragon with Kazumichi Goh heading up the effort.


The final Panoz was that of the Danish outfit Den Blå Avis, which was a regular runner in the Sports Racing World Cup.


Another American legend to come back to Le Mans, was Mario Andretti. At the age of 60 he was rolling the dice one last time to see if he could win the one major race that had eluded him in his long and distinguished career.

 

Also crossing the Atlantic from the ALMS was the Team Rafanelli Lola B2K/10 with Judd power. This was a factory supported effort and was expected to fast but possibly fragile.


Another fancied Lola was the Konrad Motorsport example for the Dutch trio, Jan Lammers, Peter Kox and Tom Coronel. From this entry has grown the huge Dutch support for Le Mans. The Racing for Holland team followed on with the Drinking for Holland close behind or maybe that came first, oaks from acorns. Next year will see Lammers and the Dutch back at the 24 Hours, will he have a similar impact?


Peugeot were also represented at Le Mans 16 years ago. Henri Pescarolo, a four time winner and all round legend, had finally retired, so was now on the pit wall leading his Pescarolo Sport outfit running a Courage C52 powered by V6 turbo from the French manufacturer. A bit of a dark horse.

 

A second Courage was Judd powered and also French run but was not expected to shine in the face of the big budget outfits.

Keeping up the tradition of the privateer at the top table was Thomas Bscher’s BMW V12 LM. The team and car had finished a fantastic 4th overall in 1999, so they were quietly confident of being around at 4.00pm on Sunday.

Matching the Panoz contingent numerically was Reynard as there was also five examples of its prototype 2KQ on the Le Mans grid.

Arguably the best of these was the Judd powered Johansson Matthews Racing example.

Two of the Reynards were entered in the fledgling LM P675 class with werks turbo engines from Volkswagen, based on a rally unit that had run into homologation problems. They had limited opposition in what was easily the weakest class in the race.

The main challenge to the VWs in LM P675 was expected to be from the Multimatic Motorsport Lola powered by a V6 Nissan engine.

Which brings us neatly to the second part of the American Invasion. The LM GTS class would feature a titanic struggle between Le Mans returnees, (first time was 40 years previously, once again with Briggs Cunningham) Corvette Racing and the reigning champs, Viper Team ORECA.

 

The two camps had already gone toe to toe at the Daytona 24 Hours earlier in the year. Viper came out on top that time but their winning margin was just 30 seconds and they knew that it could have easily gone either way.

The three Vipers would be opposed by two Corvettes, real Detroit heavy metal, as 8 litre V10 battled 7 litre V8, Ali-Frasier-style, a classic Le Mans encounter.

Doug Fehan’s Corvette team have graced the 24 Hours of Le Mans ever since 2000, but it could have gone horribly wrong that first year. This lot look like they have just escaped from the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo………………………

The supporting cast to the factories in LM GTS were three Vipers, one entered under the Team Goh banner but in reality a Chamberlain Engineering effort.

2000 also saw the final hurrah for the Porsche 911 GT2 at Le Mans, Freisinger and Konrad trying to match the Vipers and Vettes.

 

The LM GT category was a Porsche monopoly, all 12 entries being the 996 GT3 R models. There were two examples that were head and shoulders above the rest, Larbre Compétition was, as ever, proudly flying the Tricolour and had former winner Christophe Bouchut leading the challenge.

America’s best hopes in LM GT rested on the Dick Barbour Racing factory supported entry. Young German stars, Lucas Luhr and Dirk Müller were guided by Bob Wollek who would make his 30th and final Le Mans start that year, losing his life in a pointless road accident the following March.

Race Engineering was the first Spanish team to enter Le Mans and was under the leadership Alfonso de Orléans-Bourbon, Duke of Galliera, who raced at Le Mans  previously. The team has gone on to great success in single seater racing with many stars such as Sebastian Vettel, Justin Wilson and Lucas Di Grassi coming through the ranks in their cars.

The forecast was for a scorching hot weekend, conditions that come to that part of France sometimes in June. Would the favourites win or as they often do, would they stumble along the road? Find out in part two later this month.

John Brooks, December 2016

Till The Fat Lady Sings

I wrote this nearly two months ago in the aftermath of the great race, it has since mouldered in an editor’s in-box, neglected, unpublished and unpaid. Bollocks to that, I will post it now for those who are interested, though I am told that the final story still has one great twist that will see the light of day soon. 

2016 JB General

After nearly 40 years of covering the Le Mans 24 Hours I thought I had seen it all. In 1978 I witnessed Renault crush Porsche in an emotional performance driven by patriotic French fervour. Vive La France indeed! I saw Porsche regroup to dominate the 80’s till the return of Jaguar to La Sarthe with their amazing victories in ’88 and ‘90. The scenes of celebration by the well refreshed Brits were so extreme that the authorities passed a law announcing grave sanctions against “facteurs de trouble et aux recidivists”  who disturbed the dignity of great French sporting events, well that was my card marked.

2016 JB General

The 90’s saw the race almost disappear courtesy of the machinations of Ecclestone and Mosley, who had complete control of the FIA, but somehow the ACO held firm and since Audi arrived in 1999 the future has looked brighter and brighter. The current rules package of hybrid technology for the front-runners brings the Le Mans 24 Hours back to the vanguard of developing automotive solutions to the question of personal transport in the 21st Century.

2016 JB General

During my time at La SartheI have seen dull races, exciting races, close races, sometimes all in the same year. But I have never seen a team come so close to the prize they have chased for 31 years and fail on the last lap. Cruel and heartbreaking for the team does not do this situation justice. Toyota had earned their victory the hard way out running both Audi and Porsche for 23 hours and 57 minutes, unfortunately as everyone knows the #5 Toyota TS050 with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel stopped just just after crossing the line for the final lap. The Toyota had been losing speed during the penultimate lap, with the problem being a failing turbo that caused the systems to shut down, stranding Kaz on the start/finish straight.

2016 JB General

Eventually the stricken car was fired up after some desperate work to over ride the electronics and the car crawled round to complete the race, this took over 11 minutes, way over the time limit of 6 minutes for the final lap. As a consequence, and adding insult to injury, the Toyota was excluded from the results as a non-finisher, the disaster was complete.

2016 JB General

There were scenes of misery in the Toyota pit as the impact of being so near and yet so far from victory began to hit home. There was some comfort to be had in the reaction of the Audi and Porsche teams, who truly understood what had been lost by their Japanese rivals. Perhaps this respect was best articulated by Oliver Jarvis, the Audi driver whose car inherited a podium position after their rival’s demise.

Le Mans 24 Hours 12th- 19th June 2016. Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France.

“I’d much rather not be on the podium to see the Toyota guys up there instead. It’s a horrible way to finish. It’s not what anyone wanted to see, they deserved to win. But at the end of the day, it’s a 24-hour race and you have to make sure you make it to the finish. It’s a strange feeling. We’re up there on the podium and it’s important for the Championship, it’s a reward for all the hard work, but it’s not the way we wanted to achieve it. You always know something can go wrong but you’d like to think that if it’s going to do it, it happens a couple of hours before the end, not three minutes. I can’t even imagine how they feel. We were absolutely gutted in the Audi garage and it’s not even our car. It’s going to take them a long time to get over that, if ever. Le Mans is a race that you can do a hundred times and never win it, and they were so, so close.”

2016 JB General

This was sportsmanship of the highest order, a complete contrast to the unsavoury behaviour of Ford towards their Ferrari opponent in the GTE PRO arena. (I wrote about that classless episode HERE) That being said Ford will go down in the record books a 1-3-4 finishers in class, a significant achievement on a par with anything they have managed in the past. Ford read the rules, built a car to win, then executed their plans with skill and precision, few teams ever match that level of performance against such strong opposition. So a big salute to all involved, it was a case of mission accomplished, the end justifying the means.

Leena Gade

A sure sign that the Le Mans 24 Hours is a world class event is the presence of stars of screen and sport, everywhere you looked there were celebrities wanting to get a piece of the action. Brad Pitt had the honour of waving Le Tricolore to get proceedings underway; also in attendance from the ranks of Hollywood were Keanu Reeves, Jason Statham and Jackie Chan. The latter having an share in one of the teams competing, Baxi DC Racing. A Hollywood regular at Le Mans, Patrick Dempsey was not driving this year but was supporting his team Dempsey-Proton Racing, it was a case of stars and cars.

2016 JB General

From the wider world of sport two drivers stood out. Fabian Barthez, the great French footballer and one of the 1998 World Cup Winners, now has his own team in association with ex-Grand Prix star, Olivier Panis. Racing a Ligier JS P2 Barthez finished a fine 8th in the LM P2 class. Another star was ex-Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy, winner of no less than six Gold Medals at three Olympics. Since retiring from competitive cycling after the 2012 London Olympics Hoy has embraced motor sport and fixed his aim on racing at Le Mans. This year he achieved his ambition, like Barthez driving a Ligier JS P2, though he finished five places behind his fellow sporting legend.

Le Mans 24 Hours 12th- 19th June 2016. Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France.

It would be true to say that all 179 drivers who started the 2016 Le Mans all climbed some kind of personal Mount Everest, it is that kind of race and that kind of place. But, as Orwell observed, “All Pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others……” I also doubt that anyone on the grid would contend that they climbed a higher mountain than Frédéric Sausset, whose tale is both astonishing and inspirational.

2016 JB General

Astonishing in that Sausset is a quadruple amputee, a deadly infection after a simple scratch back in 2012 led to the loss of his limbs. Instead of indulging in self-pity this catastrophe inspired him to self-belief and an ambition, he would drive one day in the Le Mans 24 Hours and he has made this goal his focus since then.

2016 JB General

When this project was announced there were many, like myself, who questioned the wisdom of the whole affair. I was wrong, it was humbling and inspiring to witness at close quarters the strength of character displayed by Sausset, his family, friends and supporters. I doubt that many of us would match the determination and sheer guts, I know I could not. Sausset completed five stints and ran at a reasonable pace and made it to the finish despite being delayed by clutch problem, it was a victory for the human spirit.

2016 JB General

The 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours will go down in history as one of the great races in the rich tapestry of this event, dating all the way back to 1923. Roll on June 17-18th 2017………..I can’t wait for the next episode.

 

John Brooks, August 2016

Some Thoughts on Le Mans 2014 from Our Special Correspondent

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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!

2014 Le Mans 24

It was the Thiriet Ligier which claimed second.

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

The no.73 Corvette finished second in class.

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

Not so lucky was one of the Greaves Motorsport Zyteks:

2014 Le Mans 24

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.

2014 Le Mans 24

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!

2014 Le Mans 24

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

2014 Le Mans 24

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:

2014 Le Mans 24

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 French Connection

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

1999 and the last appearance of the Ferrari 333 SP at La Sarthe………..by now this customer programme dating back to 1993 was overwhelmed by the big budget factory efforts from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota.

The JB Racing 333 SP was a brand new chassis and was modified aerodynamically for Le Mans with both the engine cover and rear wing getting a make over. A new endurance gearbox was fitted with modifications to the pinions, strengthened shafts and selector forks. The engine also received attention to make it more durable. The increase in fuel tank size to 90 litres helped, but the wonderful sounding V12 was too thirsty in comparison with the competition; the extra refuelling stops meant that the Ferrari had scant chance of achieving anything significant in the race itself.

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

It was driven by former Le Mans winner, Mauro Baldi, teamed up with Christian Pescatori and Jerôme Policand. Young Jerôme qualified the car in a 3:38:468, which was roughly the same time that the 1998 winner, Allan McNish had qualified his Porsche 911 GT1-98 some 12 months before. It was a gain of around six seconds on the previous Ferrari best and proved the worth of the modifications. However it was still nearly ten seconds off Martin Brundle’s pole time in his Toyota GT-ONE.

The least said about the race the better. The endurance gearbox was anything but, lasting barely 40 minutes before Baldi had to pit for a replacement. Engine failure just after dark brought the curtain down on the story of the Ferrari 333 SP at Le Mans.

John Brooks, November 2013

Un Mélange Manceau

Our Special Correspondent was at the 90th Anniversary Le Mans 24 Hours. He shares with us a different but important historical perspective on the world’s greatest motor race.

2013 Le Mans 24

The week leading up to the Le Mans 24 Hour race is always rewarding for a motor car enthusiast. This year marked 90 years since the first running of the race in 1923 and on the Tuesday there was a special celebration of the old Pontlieue Hairpin – the original circuit ran deep into the southern suburbs of the city, doubling back at a tight hairpin in Pontlieue, a favourite spot for those early photographers as the cars were travelling comparatively slowly.

2013 Le Mans 24

The roads still exist although the more distant approach sections are unrecognisable today as they have to cross the ring road. The corner was suitably adorned with signs of the time:
2013 Le Mans 24
The President of the A.C.O. Pierre Fillon unveiled the traditional sign marking the corner, having arrived in a contemporary (and boiling!) Vinot-Deguingand, a French marque which took part in the very first race.
2013 Le Mans 24
The 1924 –winning Bentley also did some runs. The corner was foreshortened for 1929-31 by which time the A.C.O. had purchased the land between the start/finish area and Tertre Rouge. Here they opened in 1932 the section of track which still comprises the Esses, and Pontlieue fell into disuse from then onwards.

2013 Le Mans 24
Present at the ceremony was the 1923-winning 3-litre Chenard et Walcker.
Chenard et Walcker (not to be confused with another French marque, Chenard, the cars of Louis Chenard one of which ran at Le Mans in 1924) was in the mid-Twenties France’s fourth largest car manufacturer, turning out some 100 cars a day in its factory at Gennevilliers in Paris. Not only did it take the first two places with its o.h.c. 3-litres in the first race in 1923, but a smaller-engined version won the 2-litre class in 1924.

2013 Le Mans 24

The company is also remembered for the exciting little Henri Toutée-designed 1100 c.c. “tanks” which had widespread success in sports car races in 1925/26. Two such cars, one with a larger engine, ran as private entries at Le Mans as late as 1937, albeit with no success.

DSCN0024
The museum at the circuit can always be relied upon to vary the exhibits and some recently loaned cars are worthy of mention. This year sees a serious revival of the Alpine marque with Renault not only developing a new production Alpine sports car (in collaboration with Caterham) but also adapting an Oreca 03 LMP2 car to run in the 24 Hour race as an Alpine A450. It was, of course, 50 years ago that Jean Rédélé’s company made its first venture into endurance sports car racing with the M63 coupés; there is one currently on show in the museum.
Their first attempt at Le Mans was unfortunately shadowed in tragedy – one of the Project 214 Aston Martins dropped all its oil on the Mulsanne Straight on the Saturday evening causing a number of cars to crash seriously, one of which was the M63 of the young Brazilian Alpine agent, Christian “Bino” Heins. His car flew off the circuit, struck a telegraph pole and exploded in flames, giving the poor driver no chance of survival. Despite this setback, the Alpine cars went on from 1964 to score manifold victories in endurance races in the smaller categories, especially with their A210 coupés.

DSCN0021
With a 3-litre limit slapped on prototypes from 1968, Alpine saw the opportunity to go for outright wins and Gordini developed a V-8 engine for them. This was initially tried out in an A210 coupé, this one-off prototype being re-named the A211.
DSCN0018
The car was raced briefly and came to Le Mans for the Test Day, but it was clear that the engine was too powerful for the chassis and the all-new A220 was designed.
DSCN0026
This is a V.P., a Verney-Pairard, the work of two enthusiasts, Just Emile Verney who had driven in every Le Mans race from 1931, and Jean Pairard, a Parisian industrialist. They were keen to create a not-too-expensive sporting car with a view to gaining the support of the Regie Renault for small series production. One of Pairard’s engineers, Roger Mauger, drew up a tubular chassis with all-round coil spring independent suspension and a Renault 4cv engine at the rear, the whole bodied by the French coachbuilder Antem. They took their first car to Montlhéry for some trial runs and the performance caught the eye of Franςois Landon, head of the Regie’s Competition Department. He recommended that they try for records and the car, duly adjusted aerodynamically with full wheel spats, ran in October 1952 at Montlhéry, taking eight International Class H records. The Paris Salon was just opening and Renault took over the car, giving it pride of place on their stand and re-naming it a Renault R1064!

DSCN0032
This car ran with the necessary lights etc. at Le Mans in 1953 along with a new coupé V.P. which had an oversize cockpit roof to accommodate the corpulent Pairard! The “Renault R1064” retired in the seventh hour while the little coupé, much handicapped by its excessive frontal area, finished last. No long-term support for V.P. was forthcoming from Renault and the R1064 reverted to being a V.P. once more! It then received revised bodywork for 1954 when it returned to the 24 Hour race.
DSCN0079
At the Drivers’ Parade, mercifully dry until the very end, it’s back to Chenard et Walckers. The real gem was this Torpille seen above.
At the 1927 Paris Salon Chenard et Walcker introduced two 1500 c.c. sports cars: one was a production version of their little “tank”, the Y8, and the other a more conventional model with cycle wings, this Torpille, the Y7. The latter was sold in “bleu France” as seen here, and both models were used in national competitions by private owners – no more works cars from the Gennevilliers company.

DSCN0073
In the Thirties they made some technically interesting models such as this Super Aigle 24. Their Super Aigle range adopted front-wheel drive at the 1934 Paris Salon when Citroën more famously did the same, and they also used torsion bar independent suspension. This Super Aigle 24 dates from 1936 and has a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox. Alas, these advanced features did little to save the company which was taken over by Chausson who substituted Ford and Citroën engines. By the early post-war period the Chenard et Walcker name was on a forward-control 2-cylinder van soon to be Peugeot-powered and then Peugeot produced.
DSCN0116
Perhaps it was appropriate that this year’s Alpine drivers should have been chauffeured in a Renault – a 1904 3.7-litre 4-cylinder Type U model.
DSCN0098
There are always representatives of the pioneering De Dion Bouton company in the parade. Here we see an example of their popular ID model, dating from 1919. It is interesting to note that the company gave up using their famous De Dion rear axle as early as 1911/12 yet it is still used on today’s little Smart!

2013 Le Mans 24
And so to the race. First, a small tribute to Allan Simonsen, by all accounts a lovely person and a highly-rated driver who tragically lost his life on just his third lap of the race. Here he is completing his second lap and starting his third fateful one just moments before disaster struck.

2013 Le Mans 24
And here is his class team-mate passing the tragic spot at Tertre Rouge where the public road joins the private section of track. At the specific request of Simonsen’s family the Aston Martin team carried on racing.
2013 Le Mans 24
Looking back at that first race ninety years ago, it is interesting to reflect on one or two similarities with today. In 1923 the organisers used army searchlights to illuminate the corners – here is the Dunlop Chicane illuminated using more modern technology:
2013 Le Mans 24
And the public road leading to the Arnage corner is still basically as it was –

2013 Le Mans 24

the left-hander at Indianapolis then the short straight to the right-hand bend.
2013 Le Mans 24
And here is the road out of Arnage looking up towards what are now the Porsche Curves but used to lead to the Whitehouse Corner – that road is still there.
2013 Le Mans 24
The gruelling nature of this race is reflected in the general state of some of the cars by Sunday. Here is the Murphy Team’s Oreca 03 looking distinctly grubby.
2013 Le Mans 24
And two AF Corse Ferraris which have seen some battle, this was #71

2013 Le Mans 24

And #51 was not much better
2013 Le Mans 24
The sudden rain showers can catch out the best.
2013 Le Mans 24
But to cross the line after 24 hours is worth all the effort:

David Blumlein July 2013