LE MANS CLASSIC
Classic Porsche endures the heat at the greatest classic race event in the world
Held every two years, Le Mans Classic is arguably the greatest historic race meeting in the world, bringing together Le Mans legends on four wheels (and two legs…) from all over the world to compete before an audience of more than 135,000 spectators. As an event it is unique and unmissable…
So, thatʼs it for another two years…two whole years. Thatʼs a long time to wait for what is arguably the greatest classic car race event in the world. High praise? Yes, but if youʼve not yet been to the bi-annual shindig at the legendary French circuit, you might find it hard to understand what the fuss is all about.
Letʼs put it this way: imagine those photos youʼve seen in old magazines showing blower Bentleys thundering down the Mulsanne, or fire-spitting 935s slowing for Aranage, all coming to life before your very eyes on the same weekend. Throw in a sound track that makes Mr Mcqueenʼs movie sound like a Disney film and there you have it: Le Mans Classic in a nutshell. And we love it.
Running since 2002, Le Mans Classic caters for all cars that would have been eligible to run in the 24 Heures du Mans up to the Group C era, although this year there was a new class added: Golden Endurance Legends, which welcomed GT1 and LMP P1 cars of the 1990s and 2000s.
The field is split into various grids, or ʻPlateauʼ as the organisers prefer to call them, separating the cars into groups which would have run together in period. The earliest cars dated back to 1923, the most modern on track this time around 2014, although from the Porsche enthusiastʼs point of view, the greatest interest lay not only in the 1950s,ʼ60s and ʼ70s grids, but also the new Porsche Classic Race, specifically aimed at bringing together on track one of the biggest fields of classic Porsche race cars weʼve seen. You can read about that starting on page 50.
The organisers, Peter Auto, claim that this year ʼs event attracted a field of over 700 historic race cars, along with more than 1000 drivers, all competing before an audience of around 135,000 spectators – 10 per cent up on last year. In addition to the racing, there was an auction courtesy of Artcurial, an impressive club display, with a claimed 8500plus cars brought to the track by over 200 clubs representing 60 different marques. Impressive figures however you look at them!
Although many people arrived by Thursday lunchtime, the racing – or strictly speaking the practice sessions – didnʼt start until Friday, with the first of the nighttime sessions running until the small hours. These sessions are where Le Mans Classic really comes into its own, the atmosphere around the paddock (and pits) being electric.
It wasnʼt until Saturday morning that the event really got into its stride, starting with laps of the track open to members of the public on a pre-booked basis. That was followed by a series of parades in celebration of the 24 hour race, after which racing proper kicked off with the hour-long Jaguar Classic Challenge. Porsche wasnʼt to be outdone, however, with a parade of several significant cars from the Porsche Museum, led by Porsche No1 driven by Felix Porsche, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, and co-piloted by Felix Lange, grandson of Ferdinand Piëch.
This was followed by a 911 Carrera RSR 1971 driven by Derek Bell (five-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours), a 911 2.5 ST with Marc Meurer (Porsche France General Manager) at the wheel, a 906 Carrera (1966) for Romain Dumas (two-time winner), a 908/3 for Henri Pescarolo (four-time winner), Richard Mille (main partner of Le Mans Classic with EFG) in a 962 and the GT1 victorious in the 1998 race with Stéphane Ortelli (one of the winning trio) in the cockpit. Quite a line-up!
But the weekend wasnʼt only about parades and onemarque racing, for the bulk of the weekendʼs competition
“BUT THE WEEKEND WASN’T ONLY ABOUT PARADES…”
comprised the aforementioned ʻPlateauʼ which saw the cream of the worldʼs finest classic race cars on circuit in spirited (sometimes a little too spirited) action.
Plateau 2 saw the first of the Porsches take to the track over a series of three races, each inevitably dominated by the D-type Jaguars. Porsche 356s gained top 20 places in each race, but gained no higher than 10th place.
Plateua 3 saw the likes of the Porsche 718s and later 356s take to the track, with the dominant cars being the likes of Lotus XVS and Aston Martins. British father and son team Bill and Will Stephens did well to finish in the top 20 in their Carrera Speedster against some very stiff opposition.
Plateau 4 was the playground of the mighty Ford GT40S, with Porsche 904s tagging along behind. The most memorable result in this group as far as we were concerned was Paul Stephens and Rob Hyettʼs win in the GTS11 class in what was Paulʼs first Le Mans outing. To say that Paul was a little emotional at the end is an understatement! Well done to all concerned.
Plateau 5 would, if there was any justice for Porsche fans, have been the hunting ground of the Porsche 917, but it was the Lola T70 which reigned supreme. For many, though, this was the premier grid of the weekend, and we can understand why.
Plateau 6 saw the Porsche 935s out on track, although they had to play second best to a swarm of Lolas. But who can forget their flame-spitting antics in the night sessions?
The Group C race was a fantastic display of horsepower, with a lonely Porsche 956 and 10 962s doing battle with the impressive Jaguar XJRS in all their forms. It took us right back to the late 1980s when the 962s dominated the class…
Once again, Le Mans Classic left us spellbound, too hot (it was over 30°C for most of the weekend) but gasping for more. Too bad we have to wait until 2020 to witness this great spectacle once more. Make your plans now… CP
“ONCE AGAIN, LE MANS CLASSIC LEFT US SPELLBOUND”
Main photo: Le Mans Classic is a Porsche enthusiastʼs dream. Romain Rocher at speed in his Carrera 6Right: Well, Le Mans wouldnʼt be Le Mans without the driversʼ sprint, would it? Bottom, left to right: Friday and Saturday mornings saw the chance for members of the public to drive round the legendary circuit. Prebooking only, though…; One of the great things about Le Mans Classic is the paddock access – hereʼs the classwinning RSR driven by Michael Roock and Uwe Alzen; nightime pit action is always exciting; Vincent Tourneur gives us a wave from the seat of his speciallyadapted Speedster (see issue #13 of Classic Porsche for the full story)
Above: Uwe Bruschnik backs his 910 out of his pit space in the night time qualifying session for the Porsche Classic Race, which he went on to win
Below left: Grandstand and adjoining VIP space give a wonderful view of the track. Weather was hot – almost too hot – topping 30°C for much of the weekend
Below: A pensive Reiner Becker at the wheel of his Carrera RSR
Above left: Terrail/aeberhard 1974 Carrera 3.0 RSR awaits its turn on the track in the night qualifying session for Plateau 6Above right: Russell Kempnich ran the sole 956 in the Group C race – by comparison, there were 10 962s competing
Below left: Paul Stephens and Rob Hyett were consistently among the quickest 911s on track, heading the GTS11 class at the final countdown in Plateau 4Below: And so the flag comes down on another great event. Hereʼs to LMC 2020. See you there!