Tag Archives: Le Mans 24 Hours

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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

 

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.

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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

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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 French Connection

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

1999 and the last appearance of the Ferrari 333SP 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 333SP 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.

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 333SP at Le Mans.

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:
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!

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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.

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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.
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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:
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And the public road leading to the Arnage corner is still basically as it was –

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the left-hander at Indianapolis then the short straight to the right-hand bend.
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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.
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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.
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And two AF Corse Ferraris which have seen some battle, this was #71

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

David Blumlein July 2013

 

 

Banditti of the Plains

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As promised in the last post, I have a story to tell regarding chassis 288 from Tom Walkinshaw Racing, it was put together by Kerry Morse a few years back when we ran SportsCarPros together. Typical of Kerry’s work, it is too good to molder in the archives of a dormant website. Why now? Well the car was one of the stars of the Retromobile on the Hall & Hall stand, more on that topic later.

Kerry and I both have a personal connection to the story and 288. I was shooting with Keith and Mark Sutton at the time and had introduced them to Castrol, which led to work with Jaguar and Silk Cut, so we were busy at Le Mans in 1990. If you have five minutes visit their archive HERE you will soon lose an hour or two with all the amazing photography. It is with their permission that I use these images. Kerry’s connection is that he arranged the purchase of this car for a client a few years back. Plus we both hold Tony Dowe in high regard, this is really his tale……………

John Brooks, February 2013

There are winners and there are WINNERS. Tony Dowe obviously belongs to that
second group of selected individuals. John Brooks and I want to thank Tony for all his efforts over the years of getting great performances from the teams he has been involved with. He makes our job a lot more interesting. What was it that mean old Ron Dennis once said to a gathered group of hacks. I think it was something along the lines of “ We make the history, you only report it”. Tony Dowe has made and continues to make history.

Kerry Morse, February 2005

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What it takes… Tony Dowe on winning at Le Mans with Jaguar

I worked for Tom Walkinshaw Racing from 1987 until 1998 as Managing Director of TWR USA. During this period one of my “duties” was to supply a couple of cars as part of the massive TWR/Jaguar effort at Le Mans. Unfortunately it was always made clear, never by Tom Walkinshaw of course, that the “American” cars were only there to support the real effort that was run from Kiddlington. Obviously this became a bit “second hand” and so after being the supporting act in 1988 and 1989 I gave some serious thought as to how to:

a) Win the race
b) Circumvent the restrictions placed on my U.S. team because of the supporting role we were expected to play.

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The Rules of the Game
Let me say here that you should only undertake such an action if you’re sure that you can carry it off! Because to achieve anything less than the win is to open one’s self up for a very long period looking for a new job! Of course, if you win, then most of your sins are forgiven!

I always felt that TWR USA were a better race team than the UK team for no other reason than by the time Le Mans came around we had done a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a couple of sprint races. The Group “C” team had probably only done a single race and some testing. We were very sharp by 1990. We had finished 1st and 2nd at the Daytona 24 Hours that year, 1990, and had had such a better team we had each car race each other the whole 24 hours. It was a fantastic race.

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TWR USA also had a couple of very good engineers, Ian Reed, recently head of development at Penske, and Dave Benbow, recently with Prodrive. Ian and Dave were very good in there respective areas. Both were and are lateral thinkers and complemented each other very well. Ian was, as now, very good with the suspension and we were running dampers, for example, that were much ahead of the ones used by the UK team. We had briefly used a pair on the rear of the car in 1989 when Davy Jones led the race in the early stages. The biggest problem that had to be overcome was that, along with most of the other team cars, we were only allowed a single engine for both practice and the race. The only team car that had a qualifying engine was the one that was lead by Martin Brundle.

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As we were now running the V-6 turbo cars on a regular basis in the IMSA series, we were able to take one of our V-12 cars out of the mix and prepare it with a lot of love and care. We used chassis 288, which had won our first ever IMSA race in the USA back at the 1988 Daytona 24 Hours. The lead mechanic was Winston Bush, still in Indianapolis, and he did a super job of building a car to the exact same specification as the UK cars!

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Dowe Chemicals
Now we get to the interesting bit!

The week before we had to leave for Le Mans we were racing at Lime Rock Park. Super place and made better when John Nielsen and Price Cobb won with a turbo car for the first time, exactly a year after we had début of the first TWR Jaguar turbo. There to see the car win was the head of TWR engines, Allen Scott. Allen is now back in New Zealand enjoying his retirement and rallying a Mazda. After the race we had a super night at a very nice local restaurant run by an English guy called Terry. Lots of drink, etc. After the meal I took Allen to one side and asked him why “my” car could not have a qualifying engine for Le Mans? Allen, now very “mellow” told me to use common sense, “It’s just not going to happen”.

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I then asked what would happen if we had a mis-fire at the end of qualifying that
could not be found. Allen said, “obviously there would be spare engines for such
an eventuality.” Allen was booked on a flight from Kennedy the next morning back
to the UK. I then played the trump card. I produced an envelope from inside my
jacket and told Allen that inside was a ticket for the next morning’s Concorde flight
to London. It was his if he found a problem with our engine after Le Mans qualifying. After a moment of hesitation Allen looked around and then took the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket. The game was on! Only Ian Reed was aware of what I was planning. And he was like a kid when I told him the bait had been taken. The now finished “vanilla” 288 chassis was sent to the UK for painting and, I suppose inspection to see that we had built the car to the decreed spec.

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We then set about putting together a “care package” of our IMSA “goodies” for fitting when we got to Le Mans. We had different roll bars, front and rear. Different shock absorbers front and rear. But the biggest item were some very special one piece (Billet) brake calipers that Ian had designed and we had built here in Atlanta. They were made to accept a much thicker brake pad than standard, Performance Friction made the pads for us. So now we could also go further than the UK cousins without a pad change. We had also had “Rabbit” (A legendary fabricator who still lives in the Georgia mountains) build us some really trick pad changing tools. The gearbox was built with a limited slip differential. This was quite different from the UK cars because the thinking was that with a “spool” fitted if a drive shaft failed you could get back to the pits! Well, unbeknown to the guys in England, we had Kenny Hill of Metalore (they now make most of the F1 world’s hubs/drive shafts and axles) make us some super strong F1 type drive shafts.

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Can you hear me Major Tom ?
One further item that would prove very useful was the use of the American radios.
Every year we had gone to Le Mans the circuit length meant that the European radios supplied by a guy called “Crackly Ken”. They usually gave up when the cars left the pits! The last thing that we had changed at TWR USA was the rear wing. With the additions of the chicanes along the Mulsanne straight, Le Mans was now the same aero level as Daytona, things were just going our way.

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Lock, stock and two smoking barrels…
So now the fun started.

We started practice with “just a few bits” changed, radios etc, so there was not much notice taken of what we were doing. There was a bit more interest when the brakes went on and the roll bars were changed, but at the early morning meetings the comments were mainly directed towards us in the manner of “So what silly things have the you Americans changed now?”
Roger Silman, the UK Team Manager, was more concerned with why Jan Lammers could not match Brundle’s practice times. He did not like drivers, or anyone else for that matter, to think for themselves about how the race should be run. I’m sure that Tom had some idea of what we were doing as he was a regular visitor to IMSA races and was aware of our development items, but he never said anything to me about what we were up to.

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Our driver lineup was pretty good, “Big” John Nielsen, Price Cobb and Eliseo Salazar. Obviously John and Price knew what we had fitted and were very happy because it brought the car to the same specification as they had been used to racing. Unfortunately after the end of practice, guess what? Allan Scott found the “mis-fire” and we had to change engines! Another hurdle crossed, because if Allan had gone back on the “deal” then the whole plan would have probably sunk out of sight!

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Friday’s pre race preparation brought to light another small problem. The gearbox “dog rings” were being used by one of the drivers in a way that was too heavy on the gear changes. As we had lots of experience of John and Price it was obvious that Eliseo was the problem. I went and found Julian Randles, then of Spice Engineering, who Eliseo drove for sometimes in IMSA and had a “discussion” about his experiences with Eliseo and his use of the gearbox. Julian confirmed that Eliseo’s style of gear changing was quite heavy on the dog rings. I had a long day of thinking about how to deal with this problem, and it was a problem, because with a dog box we were going to probably lose 3rd and maybe 4th gear if history was any guide.

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I went to dinner with Tom, his lady Martine, and a guy from Jaguar who I honestly can’t remember who he was. During dinner I told Tom of my concerns and suggested that it might be a good strategy if I kept Eliseo out of the car for as long as possible in order to keep a seat free should one of the other “favourite “drivers had a problem. Tom agreed and so at our race morning briefing I told the drivers that we were going to use “Big John” and Price through the evening and night until Sunday morning, when Eliseo would be “fresh” for the remainder of the race.

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Sex Pistols and the holiday on the grid
Race day: Just as we parked the car on the “dummy” grid, JJ found a small fuel leak from one of the fuel pump unions… Now, as it is today, there can be no work done on the car on the dummy grid. So what were we to do?

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Well one of our XJR-12 design features was that the whole fuel system, pumps, filters etc, were mounted in the left-hand side pod on quick release clips. So it would only take moments to change them. The problem was how to make the change with the whole ACO “police” walking up and down the grid!

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Fortunately we had made some very nice mock leather “pouches” to protect the spare pump assemblies in. While the whole team posed in front of the car with, what else, the Hawaiian Tropic girls, JJ slid inside and changed the leaking pump assembly for a new one! Honestly! I think that in another life JJ would have made a great David Copperfield.

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The numbers added up for a very Goodyear…
The race its-self was quite easy.

One of the big race advantages we had was that having run at Daytona we knew that the “standard” 480 compound rear Goodyear tires would not double stint on the Jaguars at Le Mans. So back in February at Daytona we had run a much harder 600 compound tire during the heat of the day. When we arrived at Le Mans I found that Goodyear Europe had no 600 compound tires available! Our tire guy for this event was the great American Airlines guy, Kenny Szymanski. I called back to the States and had 10 sets of 600 compound tires shipped in without anyone knowing, thanks to Ken Moore of Rapid Movements. Kenny S. did his bit by removing the tire coding from each tire and hiding the tires inside the old pit tunnels.

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When we started double stinting the tires and beating the UK team “hands down” in the pits, I had a very “uptight” meeting with Tom as to what was going on!!! I had to come clean as to what was going on and we were forced into giving some of our rear tires to Brundle’s car. All of this while trying to run the race! One of the other “fun” bits happened around 10:00 PM. A car had caught fire at the Porsche curves and the ACO had put out the Safety Car. John Nielsen had just been in for fuel a couple of laps earlier and he called in and told me it would take a bit of time to clean up. Just like we would over here. Good US radios at work. I called him straight into the pits to top off the fuel, as you would! Boy, did that move unleash a load of trouble. I had Tom right in my face about giving up track position. Obviously the UK team cars continued running around under a caution flag while we topped off the car, so they then had to pit under a green when we went back to racing! About an hour later we went into the lead after everyone else had had to pit for fuel, etc under a green. This was a lead we never gave up.

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Big Bad John
The next bit of drama was that Price was slowly dehydrating, remember, these cars had no power steering, little ventilation and no drink bottles, and over 5000 lbs. of downforce in those days. So during the middle of the night we had to ask “Big John” to triple stint (!!) while Price recovered. A star then, still a star now. Then the Brundle car, which had been fighting a slow water leak, finally called it a day. Tom came and asked me if I thought the car would be able to last until the finish (!) You can imagine my reply.

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TW took Eliseo off our team and told him he was not going to drive and he was putting Brundle in instead. You can imagine how heartbroken Eliseo was with this decision. So around 8:00 am Brundle got in the car.

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The Mechanics of the Isle of Sodor
The only thing we now had to deal with was the 3rd gear had decided it had enough of the chicanes and gave up. This meant that the drivers had to change from 2nd to 4th, not a great problem, but enough to get some very dirty looks from TW! The final drama was a couple of stops from the end we had a scheduled brake pad change and JJ (John Jackson, our regular chief mechanic, ex Williams F1) found a couple of caliper pistons leaking! So we had to change one of our mega expensive calipers. Now they were a bit tight on the studs, so Pete “Hodge” (Peter Hodgkinson, a New Zealander and now the new car build manager at BAR) took a very big hammer to our beautiful machined caliper to quickly remove it! Job done and not too much time lost.

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Then politics started to take over. The “Management” wanted to have the UK team suddenly involved so they would look part of the effort. No way.

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The Day of the Jackal
So we won. Very satisfying.

Le Mans 24 Hour Race

Mike Dale, then MD of Jaguar North America and a true racer, had supported us all the way and was terrific as the laps wound down. Our car was the only chassis that had won both the 24 hours of Daytona and Le Mans as far as I’m aware of. Now it was lots of celebrating. I remember taking TW back to the airport and he told me I had “done good” I then had to find my way back to the chateau where we were staying. Now that was a trip. I was so tired, and a bit the worse for Champagne. I can’t remember how many times I went off the road. And all the while driving Tom’s personal Jaguar.

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The next morning we went back to the circuit to see the car and it was very emotional for us when we untapped the engine cover and lifted the rear deck off. Never lifted it in the whole race. A couple of weeks later the whole team who had been at Le Mans went to New Jersey and had dinner with Mike Dale and Bob Burden, another super Jaguar person, in a small restaurant a few miles from the Jaguar Headquarters. Very nice.

There are very few people that knew of the lengths that we had all gone to get this result, so this is the first time I’ve told the whole story. Thanks to all of the “villains” that took part, it is something to tell the kids when you grow up. I hope that we will be forgiven, but only ever do this if you are sure your going to win.

Tony Dowe, February 2005

Missing In Action

2000 Le Mans 24

In an outburst of the festive spirit the ACO have launched a competition to mark the 90th Anniversary of the race, assuming that we get to next June that is. Three cars have been selected for each decade that the race has been run and the public is encouraged to vote for one from each set and in return there are some big prizes.

2001 Le Mans 24

The competition can be accessed HERE

2002 24 Hours of Le Mans

However a quick glance at the contenders raises a few questions. Why the Porsche 908 that failed in both 1968 and 1969? Why the Renault Alpine A442 or Rondeau M379 instead of the three time winner (and twice second) Porsche 936? No hint of a Tricolour being waved then.

2004 24 Hours of Le Mans

The same logic is at work when the Peugeot 908 is included but not the Audi R8, a five time winner and arguably one of the greatest endurance racers of them all.

2005 24 Hours of Le Mans

Sacre Bleu! And including the Delta Wing…………..bandwagons and jumping methinks. Still it is the Season of Goodwill to all Men and the prizes are well worth having, just salivate to the top one.

Winner: prizes with a value of 3 570 Euros
Two pitwalk passes for the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours plus the complete collection of the Le Mans 24-Hours Yearbooks from 1978 to 2012 plus the book of the Le Mans 24 Hours 1961-1973, as well as the 2-volume set celebrating the centenary of the ACO, and two invitations for the exhibition whose theme will be the winning cars.

I have the Yearbooks, well all bar 1983, and can attest to them being an essential part of any Le Mans fan’s library. So enter and hopefully enjoy. Just thought I would remind folks of the R8’s record at La Sarthe.

John Brooks, December 2012

Giving it a Go……

A beautiful loser, the Mercedes Benz CLR was a very elegant coupé, enhanced by a lack of logos. Of course the aerobatic displays at Le Mans have given the car a notoriety that still causes Stuttgart to wince. It is small comfort to know that it was not alone in the matter of defective aerodynamics, Porsche, BMW and Audi all flew at the time but none on such a public stage. Here Bernd Schneider cuts the Ford Chicane is a desperate attempt to keep up with the Toyotas, all in vain before sunset on Saturday.

John Brooks, December 2012

Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong ?

The past is a foreign land never to be visited again, the memory frequently plays tricks, often at odds with reality. When I think back to Le Mans 1980 I conjure up an image of awful weather and Jean Rondeau taking a popular, but unlikely, victory. Scanning in a recently discovered batch of negatives, I find that for the most part it was sunny. Maybe during the rain I was in the bar with my old mate, Box, rather than trackside…………..plus ça change.

Here as the shadows lengthen along the Main Straight, the WM P 79/80 of Max Mamers and Jean-Daniel Raulet leads the pre-race favourite Porsche 908/80 of Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Jöst. The former would finish eleventh, the latter second.

The 908/80 was a bit of mongrel, a consequence of the Top Brass at Porsche decreeing that the three time Le Mans winning 936 be put into retirement, largely as reaction to the shellacking they received from Renault in 1978. A number of 936 spare parts were “liberated” from Weissach and appeared in Jöst’s workshop. There a new car was assembled but to tow the corporate line it was designated the 908/80, to simple folk like me it was a 936……………quack. quack and all that.

Virtually nothing remains of this scene just 32 years later, with everything changing in 1991 when the new pits were finished. The Gendarmes have also largely disappeared from the stadium area, a pity as they added an authentic Gallic flavour to the proceedings.

John Brooks, December 2012