Le Mans Classic Porsche Race was one of the highlights of the weekend
Something clearly wasnʼt right. I had come to Le Mans to watch seventy classic Porsche race cars celebrate the manufacturer ʼs seventieth anniversary. But where were they? The qualifying session was due to start and the assembly area was empty. Frantic enquiries led to the discovery of two vital pieces of information. First, he session had been delayed. Thatʼs always useful to know. Second, the relevant paddock and circuit entry point were both some way away.
For anyone who hasnʼt been to Le Mans, itʼs worth stressing the sheer scale of the place. It is absolutely enormous. To go from any point on the circuit to any other typically means walking miles. Literally. For the record, the cars were to be found on the outside of the circuit between the Porsche Curves and the Ford Chicane. I thought it was a giant camp site down there. Apparently not.
The delay meant I managed to catch up with some of the cars and drivers before they went out onto the circuit. The latter were in good spirits. It also meant they, in turn, had the opportunity to drive at night – an essential part of the experience and a tiny insight into the 24-hour race itself. The straights are long and dark, but the corners and their approaches are well lit.
The event was for cars from the pre-1973–ʼ74 period. The timing sheet showed Raymond Narac on pole in a 3.0 RS, one of the youngest cars in the field, with Ewens Stievenartʼs long-tailed 908 just behind, and Max Mauriceʼs 2.8 RSR just behind that. Olly Bryant was the fastest of the 2.0-litre 911s in sixth and the top ten was rounded out by a 904 and a 906. A nice cross-section. Further back were half a dozen or so 356s, including a trio of pre-as. In a sign of things to come, the timing sheet also showed that a number of lap times had been excluded as a result of speeding in a slow zone.
Slow zones are used to avoid sending out a safety car when a problem is confined to a certain sector of the track. The cars must slow to 80kph as they enter the zone and only return to racing speed when they leave it. It sounds simple enough, but seems to have been beyond some competitors. I hesitate to judge, but when a former Le Mans winner has three lap times excluded it looks like someone hasnʼt explained something very well or someone else hasnʼt understood it very well or, more likely perhaps, both.
Later, it emerged that some cars with excluded times had also been given grid penalties as had some that hadnʼt had times excluded. Again, I hesitate to judge, but note that the heftiest grid penalty was handed to James Turner, one of the organisers of the 2-Litre Cup. It may be that painting your car
several different colours is not the most effective way of concealing transgressions on track…
The 55-minute race was the following afternoon. Any hopes it might be incident-free were dashed very early on when the rolling start pace car gave way to a safety car on the opening lap. A blown engine had left a substantial amount of oil on a long stretch of track and the marshals needed access to dust it down.
As the race resumed, the leading places remained reasonably stable. Or so it seemed. My understanding is that Stievenart crossed the line first, followed by Raymond Narac and Marc de Siebenthal in another 3.0-litre RS. However, all three were penalised to a varying, but significant, extent.
The official results show Uwe Bruschnik winning in a 910, with Narac second as before followed by Karsten Le Blanc in a 2.8 RSR. Adam Dawson took his road-driven 2.7 RS to an impressive fifth, just ahead of Bryant, who finished where he started in sixth.
Itʼs a feature of Peter Auto events that the results are also adjusted by an index of performance that takes age and engine size into account. As is often the way, the adjusted results were led by the trio of pre-a 356s. Well done to Gabriel Balthazard, Xavier Dochez and Jean-michel Villot.
For those of us of a classic Porsche persuasion, it was a great occasion with a great grid, but one canʼt help wondering whatʼs going on when a quarter of the cars and drivers involved in an event attract penalties of one sort or another. I imagine that many – if not most – of the problems were to do with slow zones.
That may have been an unfamiliar situation for many competitors, but it is surely something that needs to be worked on before the next event in two yearsʼ time. For all the levity in some of the observations above, there are entirely proper safety considerations behind the penalties incurred. It is a shame that they were required. CP
“IT WAS A GREAT OCCASION WITH A GREAT GRID…”
Main photo: Claude Le Jean (#63) leads the Wunderlich/ Gnani 911 (#3) and Dean Desantis (#17) out of the Ford Chicane. All were driving 2.0-litre 1965 cars
Below, left to right: Pit stop for #72, Richard Cook, driving the Historika-prepared 1964 911; Le Mans legend Gérard Larrousseʼs ST succumbed to engine problems, sadly; James Turner ʼs striking 911 (#44) featured a paintjob designed by fashion guru Paul Smith. It was a photographer ʼs favourite
Above: First overall was Uwe Bruschnik in his 1967 910, finishing over a minute ahead of second placed Raymond Naracʼs 3.0 RS
Below left: Erwin Van Lieshoutʼs 911 ST leads Paul Danielsʼ 2.8 RSR onto the pit straightBelow: The Porsche Classic race was certainly a colourful affair, with a wide variety of machinery taking part