Le Mans Classic 2018
The biennial Le Mans Classic returned to the French Sarthe region for another memorable weekend of competition
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