THE RACE

Car (South Africa) - - SPEED -

True to the form­books, the pro­to­types locked out the first two rows of the start­ing grid, with Wel­ter Rac­ing’s two svelte Peu­geot-pow­ered WR LM95S qual­i­fy­ing first and sec­ond, fol­lowed by Porsche-pow­ered Courages and a Kre­mer K8. First of the GT1 cars were three Fer­rari F40 LMS, with the no. 59 F1 GTR in ninth po­si­tion, fol­lowed by six cus­tomer Mclarens. An en­gine change in the early hours of the morn­ing on race day and gear­box con­cerns saw the Mclaren on the back foot but there were two sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors which would count in its favour: the rain; and Fin­nish driver, JJ Le­hto.

By the end of the first hour, the pro­to­types built up a half-lap lead on the field but, by 17h00, rain had ar­rived. It stayed through­out the night, mak­ing it one of the wettest Le Mans races in his­tory. The con­di­tions negated the pro­to­types’ power dif­fer­ence and many were ham­pered by re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues.

And then there was Le­hto. His night-time stints have en­tered Le Mans lore. Ex­hibit­ing com­mit­ment and car con­trol no one could match, the Finn was of­ten 30 sec­onds a lap quicker than any­one else. By the che­quered flag, no. 59 was three min­utes ahead of Mario An­dretti’s hard-charg­ing Courage pro­to­type. If ever there was an ex­am­ple of re­li­a­bil­ity rather than out­right pace as the es­sen­tial qual­ity to win­ning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Mclaren F1 GTR’S vic­tory in 1995 was it.

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