Le Mans Clas­sic 2018

The bi­en­nial Le Mans Clas­sic re­turned to the French Sarthe re­gion for another mem­o­rable week­end of com­pe­ti­tion

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS ALAS­TAIR CLE­MENTS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ERIC SAWYER/C&SC

Af­ter two years of wait­ing, en­durancerac­ing en­thu­si­asts were given a typ­i­cally bril­liant spec­ta­cle from 6-8 July as the closed roads, packed camp­sites and grand­stands of the Cir­cuit de La Sarthe, France once again re­ver­ber­ated to the sound of his­toric rac­ing cars for the big­gest Le Mans Clas­sic yet.

First run in 2002, the event has grown to be­come one of the pre­mier his­toric mo­tor­sport fes­ti­vals, with the 2018 run­ning at­tract­ing a record 135,000 spec­ta­tors to see more than 700 cars on track and an in­cred­i­ble in­field dis­play from some 200 car clubs bask­ing be­neath a blaz­ing sun.

This unique meet­ing splits en­tries across three main grids, with each com­pet­ing three times over the course of 24 hours to give driv­ers the op­por­tu­nity of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the evoca­tive cir­cuit in both day and night con­di­tions.

De­spite a strong en­try of four su­per­charged Alfa Romeo 8Cs, the ev­er­green Tal­bot 105s dom­i­nated the old­est group (main im­age), with Gareth Bur­nett pulling out a huge lead in John Rus­ton’s his­toric team car, G052. Bur­nett was clocked at 120mph on the Mul­sanne en route to a 5 mins 50 secs fastest lap. The Ge­orges Roesch de­sign took the top two places, with Robert Spencer’s Bugatti Type 35B hold­ing off a fleet of BMW 328s to take third.

High­est-placed Alfa was Martin Halusa’s fab­u­lous fifth-placed Za­gato Spi­der, co-driven by Ni­cola von Doen­hoff, but this group is as much about ded­i­cated en­thu­si­asts in smaller cars; high­lights in­cluded a team of Mor­gan 4/4s, and Bel­gian Singer fa­natic An­thony Schrauwen’s solo drive in his im­mac­u­late Nine Le Mans to an im­pres­sive 29th ahead of many big­ger guns.

Af­ter three races, just 2.9 secs sep­a­rated the dra­matic Jaguar D-type bat­tle in the pre-1956 Plateau 2. In mem­ory of Jim Clark, Car­los Mon­teverde teamed up with Gary Pear­son in the ex-bor­der Reivers D-type, XKD 517, which the Scot­tish le­gend drove to his first vic­to­ries. The duo were locked in a dice with Clive Joy’s ex-ge­orge Con­stan­tine D-type, which won the day­light races but lost by 7 secs dur­ing the night. The Maserati 250S of Richard Wil­son and Martin Stret­ton yowled home to a strong third, with John Clark’s ‘Bob­tail’ Cooper a strong fourth.

Cun­ning­ham ma­chines were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ap­plauded all week­end, with Swiss Alain Rüede fin­ish­ing a fine 11th on his de­but in the 5.4-litre Hemi-pow­ered C4R recre­ation. The newly fin­ished ‘Le Mon­stre’ homage of Derek Drinkwa­ter had a tough week­end, but the hugely pop­u­lar ma­chine was cheered all the way by fans. “We’ll be back in 2020,” said a de­ter­mined Drinkwa­ter.

A sim­i­lar re­cep­tion was given to the lit­tle Pan­hard Dyna X of Daniel and Syl­vain As­cen­sion. Fol­low­ing in the tracks of Louis Eggen’s 1950 en­try, the twin-cylin­der 610cc saloon braved the track to fin­ish 64th (and last) with a fastest lap of 10 mins 8 secs – ex­actly dou­ble Pear­son’s pole time.

Mon­teverde, Pear­son and An­drew Smith were back to boss Plateau 3 qual­i­fy­ing in the 1959 Lis­ter-jaguar Costin, but the slip­pery sports-racer only com­pleted one lap of the first race, with Lukas Halusa tak­ing the spoils in the iconic Fer­rari 250GT ‘Bread­van’. Roger Wills and David Clark

im­proved on their sec­ond place in race one by win­ning the sec­ond con­test in their 1958 Lo­tus 15, and re­peated the feat in the fi­nal race to pip the ‘Bread­van’ by just 3 secs – and that’s where things ended up in the com­bined re­sults, with third go­ing to Hans Hu­gen­holtz in another Lis­ter-jaguar.

Plateau 4 played host to the big-banger Ford GT40S, Shelby Co­bras and Biz­zarri­nis, with the former dom­i­nat­ing qual­i­fy­ing via Shaun Lynn; James Cot­ting­ham and Joe Twyman; and Richard Meaden, Martin O’con­nell and Grant Tro­mans. The 1965 GT40 MKI of Diogo Fer­rão took top hon­ours in the first race, only to be bested by David Hart in the sec­ond, with the Cot­ting­ham/twyman pair­ing tak­ing up the rear. A mas­ter­class in the fi­nal Plateau 4 race had the duo nearly 20 secs ahead of Fer­rão, but by the time all of the re­sults had been taken into ac­count it was the Por­tuguese who came out on top, hav­ing made hay by win­ning the first race by 28 secs. Lynn fin­ished sec­ond, with the Cot­ting­ham/twyman car round­ing out the podium.

Af­ter a shat­ter­ing qual­i­fy­ing per­for­mance – more than 4 secs clear of the next fastest car – Gérard Lopez and Meaden looked set for vic­tory in the fifth tier aboard their Lola T70, but only recorded a fin­ish in the first race so ended up well down the or­der. A sixth, a sec­ond and a first were enough to se­cure vic­tory for Jac­ques Ni­co­let’s Duck­hams-ford, ahead of the Lo­las of Pierre-alain France and fa­ther-and-son Toni and Mirco Seiler. De­spite vic­tory in the first two races, the Ligier of Mis­ter John of B dropped to 35th af­ter a cat­a­strophic third con­test.

Flame-spit­ting Porsche 935s and BMW M1 Pro­cars bat­tled for vis­ual supremacy dur­ing the night in the fi­nal Plateau 6, but both had to give best to the more ex­treme pro­to­types in the fi­nal reck­on­ing. Yves Sce­mama pro­duced a dom­i­nant per­for­mance in his TOJ SC to take pole and two out of three race wins (af­ter com­ing sec­ond in the first con­test), mean­ing a com­fort­able over­all vic­tory. But the other two podium places proved the im­por­tance of con­sis­tency, with

nei­ther the sec­ond-placed Chevron of Rus­sell Büsst and David Free­man nor the Porsche 935 of Urs Beck in third hav­ing fin­ished inside the top three in any of the trio of in­di­vid­ual con­tests.

Some spec­ta­tors com­plained of too many cor­po­rate pa­rades of mod­ern cars this year, but the race card was aug­mented by some com­pet­i­tive sin­gle-mar­que Jaguar and Porsche races, plus a fan­tas­tic Group C con­test – sadly lack­ing star en­try Jen­son But­ton, who pulled out at the last minute. Fans of more mod­ern ma­chin­ery could also en­joy a spir­ited demon­stra­tion of Global En­durance Leg­ends.

Away from the rac­ing, there were fas­ci­nat­ing rar­i­ties among the massed gath­er­ing of car clubs. Ca­su­ally parked in the shade near the Dun­lop Bridge was an un­re­stored and won­der­fully shabby Alfa Romeo TZ1. This valu­able pro­to­type had en­thu­si­asts guess­ing if it was real, but re­mark­ably the ex-le Mans race school TZ1, chas­sis 7500-76, has been owned by Jac­ques and Lil­iane Si­monet since 1967 and was even used as their wed­ding car in 1975. As ever, Porsche own­ers were out in over­whelm­ing force, but the most im­pres­sive dis­play this year came from the com­bined Alpine clubs, who all came to­gether to mark the launch of the new Re­nault-backed A110 sports car.

Other high­lights in­cluded a cel­e­bra­tion of the Na­tional 7, bet­ter known in France as the Route de Va­cances, that runs from Paris to Men­ton on the Ital­ian bor­der. The im­pres­sive line of clas­sic sa­loons and pe­riod car­a­vans looked like the traf­fic jam from Jean-luc Go­dard’s film Week­end. Over in the paddock, star of the pe­riod trans­porters was a dra­matic Biz­zarrini dis­play, with a Fiat trans­porter car­ry­ing a 5300GT and a wild P538S. Un­til the 7-litre GT40S ar­rived, Giotto Biz­zarrini’s 5.4-litre Chevro­let-pow­ered GT beast held the speed record on the Mul­sanne Straight at 186mph.

Clock­wise from main: T70 trio of (l-r) Hall/goethe, Lopez/meaden and Hart roars into the night; the win­ning ex-clark D-type; mag­nif­i­cent Alpine dis­play

From top: Sce­mama was un­touch­able in Plateau 6 in the TOJ SC 304; won­der­ful Biz­zarrini dio­rama in the paddock, with trans­porter, sup­port van and rac­ers

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