DELWYN MAL­LETT

OUR MAN MAL­LETT GOT ALL EX­CITED WATCH­ING THIS YEAR’S LE MANS 24 HOURS, THE FI­NAL LAPS RE­MIND­ING HIM OF THE DAY WHEN A HOL­LY­WOOD LEG­END AL­MOST WON…

Classic Porsche - - Contents -

Mal­lett’s men­tal me­an­der­ings

It's still of­ten billed as 'The Most Fa­mous Race in the­world', but if I had relied onmy daily news­pa­per, it­self ar­guably the 'Most Fa­mous News­pa­per in the­world', for cov­er­age it would have come and gone with­out me notic­ing as it car­ried not a sin­gle word on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, be­fore or af­ter. (Like­wise it never men­tions Mo­togp,which cur­rently pro­vides the most ex­cit­ing wheeled rac­ing on the planet.)

Once a keen fol­lower and at­tendee I be­gan to lose in­ter­est be­fore the Mil­len­nium turned. I guess this lack of in­ter­est co­in­cided with the de­cline of the World Sports Car Cham­pi­onship in the 1990s and the sub­se­quent pro­fu­sion of rules and cat­e­gories – prob­a­bly why I write for Clas­sic Porsche rather than a 'mod­ern' mag.

Le Mans started in the 1920s as an en­durance test for more-or-less stan­dard sport­ing cars but grad­u­ally and in­evitably the road cars turned in­creas­ingly into spe­cialised race cars.

How­ever, right up un­til the era of the 917 it was still just pos­si­ble that if you could put up with some dis­com­fort you could use a pen­sioned­off racer on the road as an oc­ca­sional sports car – even a cou­ple of 917s were even­tu­ally con­verted to roadle­gal spec.

The fur­ther that mod­ern 'sports cars' have evolved from road cars the less en­gaged I find my­self, nev­er­the­less I con­tinue to dip into the Le Mans cov­er­age. I turned on the live stream twice dur­ing the 24 hours and each time co­in­cided with a drama. The first tune-in saw the pole-sit­ter and hot favourite Toy­ota de­part the race. The fol­low­ing morn­ing I took an­other peek just in time to watch the stricken lead­ing Porsche painfully at­tempt­ing to limp back to base on bat­tery power – and ul­ti­mately fail­ing. Ob­vi­ously not us­ing Du­ra­cells…

As the stricken Porsche stag­gered on­wards, the com­men­ta­tor was get­ting very over­heated at the prospect that, 'for the first time', an LMP2 car looked like win­ning Le Mans. This bout of hys­te­ria gave the im­pres­sion that it could be the first ever time that a car from the lesser cat­e­gories might win.

His un­re­strained ex­cite­ment led me to pon­der what he might have made of the fin­ish to the 1979 race. 'Oldies' will re­call this is the event that was al­most won by Paul Newman – that's the way the me­dia hyped it, al­though 'gun for hire' Rolf Stom­me­len put in the re­ally quick laps. The 1979 re­sult was even more remarkable than an LMP2 vic­tory would have been.

The top four plac­ings were all from the Group 5 or GT cat­e­gory, three Porsche 935s and a 934 in that or­der – in other words, rac­ers based on road cars. The Sports Pro­to­type pack, the equiv­a­lent of the cur­rent LMP 1 cat­e­gory but with­out the me­chan­i­cal com­plex­ity, con­sisted of a brace of Es­sex-liv­er­ied Porsche 936s, a pair of Ford-pow­ered Mi­rages en­tered by Ford France, a trio of Ron­deaus and the in­trigu­ing and al­most for­got­ten Dome Zeros from Ja­pan with their par­tial 'cock­pit cov­ers' which made them vir­tu­ally coupes.

As al­ways at Le Mans at­tri­tion whit­tled away at the favourites and, re­mark­ably, by night­fall the race was be­ing led by the Kre­mer 935K of Klaus Lud­wig and the un­known in Europe drug-run­ning Whit­ting­ton broth­ers, fol­lowed closely by a Gelo 934. Dur­ing the night light rain turned tor­ren­tial and more cars re­tired, many with swamped electrics.

How­ever, much like this year 's event, the Porsche 936 of Bob Wollek and Hur­ley Hay­wood had re­joined the fray 13 laps down af­ter a long spell in the pits, and was steadily work­ing its way back into con­tention. With five hours to go it looked like it could get into the lead but then it went 'pop'.

The Kre­mer 935K sailed ma­jes­ti­cally on, al­most literally as it was still rain­ing, when it stopped on the Mul­sanne straight. A belt driv­ing the fuel-in­jec­tion pump had bro­ken and while Don Whit­ting­ton strug­gled to fit a spare the sec­ond place car of Bar­bour, Stom­me­len and Newman was catch­ing up. By the time the K3 had limped to the pits and re­joined the race its 15-lap lead was down to just three.

The me­dia frenzy sur­round­ing Hol­ly­wood leg­end Paul Newman's par­tic­i­pa­tion was to­tally un­prece­dented in the his­tory of the race and, with the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of a win for the star, the crowd was at fever pitch and the track com­men­ta­tors were work­ing themselves into a typ­i­cally Gal­lic lather.

And then prob­lems struck the Bar­bour car when it lost 23 min­utes in the pits when a wheel nut jammed on dur­ing its fi­nal and purely pre­cau­tion­ary pit­stop to change brake pads. Once back in the race 200,000 spec­ta­tors were hold­ing their breath hop­ing for a fairy-tale fin­ish, but it was the Newman car that fate was once again un­kind to when, with Stom­me­len at the wheel and with only four laps to go, it holed a pis­ton.

The quick think­ing pro limped on and parked just short of the fin­ish­ing line where, with an of­fi­cial stand­ing by to en­sure that he kept the engine run­ning, Stom­me­len waited un­til the Le Mans clock ticked over to 24 hours and then edged over the fin­ish­ing line to fin­ish sec­ond. In fu­ture years this tac­tic would be banned, a new rule re­quir­ing the last lap to be com­pleted in a pre­scribed time.

Now, what would have been re­ally ex­cit­ing in this year 's race would have been see­ing a mod­ern 911 RSR dic­ing for the lead. It would have been worth shout­ing your­self hoarse to wit­ness a re­sult like that. CP

“THE ME­DIA FRENZY WAS UN­PRECE­DENTED…”

The Bar­bour/stom­me­len/newman 935 limps home in sec­ond place, with a holed pis­ton…

Many would de­scribe Delwyn Mal­lett as a se­rial car col­lec­tor – one with eclec­tic tastes at that. His Porsche trea­sures in­clude a pair of 356 Speed­sters, a Le Mansin­spired Pre-a coupé and a 1973 Car­rera RS. Some of them even work…

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