Andy Wallace & James Weaver On Le Mans
A Wednesday Morning In Oxfordshire With Two Of The Greats

Three and a half hours in the company of Andy Wallace, James Weaver and Michael Cotton – perfect.

dailysportscar.comSo which entry is going to win Le Mans this year?
Michael Cotton: “Audi UK.”
James Weaver: “I hope Andy and Jan win, but really I’ve no idea, although I suspect it will be the German motor industry.” (says the man with well known opinions of certain GT cars - and Mercedes driver himself)
Andy Wallace: “I wouldn’t go to Le Mans unless I thought we could win, so I’ve got to go for our Dome.”
Editor (a confirmed romantic, and always keen for the underdog to win – hence his last successful prediction was the Mazda in 1991): “The Dome.”

Right, serious business out of the way, and onto some tales from the past. The initial idea was to tap into our two sportscar men and their Le Mans history, and let them talk as freely as only they can about Le Mans 20 years ago (James’ debut), 15 years ago (Andy’s debut and win), ten years ago (Andy in the Toyota) and five years ago (James in the [formerly] Joest Porsche, Andy in the Panoz). We didn’t quite get that far. In fact, we took two hours to get round to anything that could be recounted in public.

And we began with Andy’s Mexican toilet story, a tale that Chris Dyson reminded me to ask Andy about….

“We went to Mexico twice with the Group C cars, and I’d been warned about being very careful regarding what I ate and drank. We were racing at Montreal in 1989, just before Mexico, so I went to Florida between the events – and took the last flight possible to get me to Mexico in time for practice. I took a little leather bag with me, and that bag never left my side – apart from when I was in the car of course. I packed a loaf, some peanut butter, cornflakes, long life milk and some bottled water. That was it – that was all I was going to eat and drink.

“When you get to Mexico, you meet the first racket. Cars have different coloured window stickers, and one colour cannot be used on certain days (to reduce pollution). So we rented a car, and sure enough it had the wrong coloured sticker for that day, and who should be waiting outside but the police…instant $50 fine. Great!

“So I went straight to my hotel room – but of course I didn’t have any utensils. Damn! So I was spreading peanut butter with my toothbrush handle, grabbing a handful of cornflakes and chewing them, then washing them down with milk – and cleaning my teeth using the bottled water.

“Now Jan Lammers gave me so much stick – he said he was eating and drinking normally, and his stomach was OK. He just went on and on about it….

“No one’s mood was improved when the police closed the only access road to the track…and then waited to collect various $50 fines! Johnny Dumfries went mad. He left his rental car in the road with the door open and stormed off to find the FIA stewards, and eventually the police were lined up and Johnny was asked which one had fined him! He got his money back. In the meantime, the FIA hired a bus to get us all into the track the next day. Only in Mexico…It’s a shame, because the racetrack was excellent, and that final corner onto the pit straight gave a huge adrenalin rush. And the organisers of the events put on a wonderful show both times I drove there.

“Come race morning, Jan was feeling a bit second hand… and looked a funny colour! He was not a well man, and it was all I could do to stop myself grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“Before the race we were having a TWR Team meeting – in a building behind the pits, which conveniently had a toilet. That was fortunate because there was about an hour’s queuing to do if you wanted to get into the public toilet, and most people couldn’t wait that long! Anyway, we’re all there discussing tactics, and the father of a little boy knocked on the door. Could his son use the toilet in the building, as he was rather desperate? Tom said he could. Then ten minutes later, the boy passed back through the room we were in, and thanked us profusely…now I was down to start the race, and decided to take a last leak before jumping into the car…I went into the toilet and couldn’t believe my eyes… “It” was everywhere! On the walls, the floor, the ceiling! What a mess… That poor kid must have exploded!

And that’s the Mexican toilet story. But James adds:

“Ah, but what about when you were telling Rob and Mrs Dyson? She was looking more and more horrified by it, but you seemed to think she hadn’t really got the whole impact of it, so you were embellishing it more and more, and she was turning a funny colour….”

How to impress your employer’s wife, by A Wallace….

“I was looking forward to Mexico this year. Because of course we’ve got pot noodles now. I was going to take a travel kettle, pot noodles and digestive biscuits….”


…..which led Andy onto the Daytona 1990 “6,000 calories” story.

“We were told to eat 6,000 calories the day before the race, to get us ready for the Rolex 24 – in the TWR Jaguars, of course. So Raul Boesel, Davy Jones Jan and myself went to the local Olive Garden restaurant and absolutely stuffed ourselves. We couldn’t eat any more. We jumped back in the Jaguar we were using for the week, and Jan drove us back to our hotel, at Indigo Lakes. Now the road past the hotel had four lanes, and we were in the left lane. At this point someone farted, I don’t know who, and almost simultaneously we realised we were almost upon our hotel. Jan swerved right, across three lines of traffic, and swung straight into the hotel car park, with cars swerving and locking up to miss us - and we were all desperate to get out of the car, and all killing ourselves with laughter. All four doors opened, and Raul dived out so fast, he ended up under a hedge, in hysterics.

“And then another Jaguar followed us into the car park. The window rolled down…..and a Scottish voice called Jan over. ‘Er, laddie, is this how you treat our cars?’ Everyone stopped laughing (except Raul, who just couldn’t).

“Tom Walkinshaw turned to the Jaguar Finance Director, sitting in the back, and asked 'Do you see what they do to our cars?'

“And fortunately for us, this guy replied, ‘Isn’t that what we pay them for?’ It diffused the whole situation, just like that.”

So we finally get to Le Mans 20 years ago (1983), and James’ 24 Hours debut in the Mazda 717C – seen at Silverstone a few weeks earlier, where this one was driven by Yojiro Terada and Peter Lovett. Image by David Wall.

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“We called it the suet pudding. It had 300 horsepower, it was shatteringly noisy, it had no downforce, and it reached 197 mph! Along the Mulsanne Straight, you didn’t dare overtake anyone, because that would mean crossing over the crown of the road….but when a 956 passed you, it sucked you in and you changed lanes anyway! You had to watch your mirrors all the way down the straight, and if there was a train of Porsches coming, you were in big trouble: the first one would suck you in to the path of the next one. So if there were cars about to pass you, you had to stick to the hard shoulder, as far out of the way as possible.

dailysportscar.com“It had a misfire right from the start – I was sharing with Steve Soper and Jeff Allam – and the engine didn’t run cleanly until two or three hours from the end.

“We used to rev the sh1t out of it up the pit lane, just to annoy the Porsche teams – to get our own back. A week later, I was having lunch in Jonathan Palmer’s garden, and suddenly I heard a bird singing. It took that long for my hearing to come back!

“Now I’ve got to tell you about 1991, even though it doesn’t fit in to the five year thing. I was driving one of Vern Schuppan’s 962s, and Eje Elgh was in the other one. We had this special bodywork designed by Max Boxstrom, and first time on the brakes, Eje flat-spotted the tyres on his car: at 210 mph! It was a mad thrash to convert the cars back to standard 962 bodywork, and we’d qualified way down near the back…."

Here is #53 in race trim, not Boxstrom trim, James partnered by Wayne Taylor and Hurley Haywood. Image by Jeremy Jackson, whose work features regularly at racingsportscars.com

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“First thing to happen was my seat breaking on the out lap, so I arrived on the grid and the mechanics were fixing that. At which point a marshal came along, leant on the open door, and it broke off! So I left the grid knowing I had to pit as the others started the race.

“It got worse. As I rolled down pit lane, with people all over the place, and no one expecting a Porsche to be heading for its pit, this Frenchman wandered in front of me. I sent him tumbling over the back of the car…and the upshot of that was that when they stripped the car the following week, they found his watch in a rear brake duct!

“Anyway, with a new door, we finally got going, and the car got better and better. Eje and I were racing together on the track at one point, and we were setting some really good times.

“At 5am, I was having a massage in the caravan, and Eje walked in. ‘Really good stint James, well done.’ Door closes. Eje opens it again. ‘But not good enough!’

“We had another good thrash at dawn, then after that stint I was tucking into a really good fry-up – sausage, bacon, eggs, all the usual. The masseur went mad! He claimed that I should be eating all the healthy stuff. Five minutes later, he was back with the same plateful as me.

“With all the rush to get the cars re-built before the race, we had really bad porpoising. It was so bad, we were smashing our heads against the roof: you had to drive down the straights with your head on one side, which gave you an odd view of the track.

On one lap at night, I came to the braking point at Indianapolis, and sensed something wasn’t right….and a rear tyre exploded on me. The back came round, and I was thinking where I might end up…so I humped on the brake, and with the opposite lock, found myself heading backwards down the track. Someone was looking after me, because I steered round Indianapolis (the fast right), backwards, and down the short shute to the left hander, where it nudged into the tyres, almost undamaged.

“I switched it off straight away….but could hear this horrible noise. I didn’t have a clue where it was coming from…until I realised it was the blood pumping through my veins, close to my ears…

“Have you ever heard that Andy?”

“Yes, four or five times.”

Which finally brings us to the 1988 race, Andy Wallace’s first Le Mans. We told the story of the broken layshaft, and how victory was in the hands of Jan Lammers…as long as the Dutchman didn’t change gear……So how did the Jaguar drive come about, Andy?

“Jaguar had called me I ’87, but I’d just won the F3 Championship, I was still hoping to get into F1, I was doing F3000 with no money…but they called me again in ’88 – and I jumped at the chance.

“Roger Silman put me down for a test at Paul Ricard, and as long as that went well….which it did, I’d be offered a drive. The cars weren’t as stable at speed as I thought they’d be, and this was the first time I’d exceeded 200 mph. I was holding on for dear life! But what a fantastic team TWR was.

“I’d heard horror stories about how fast it was down the Mulsanne, and it turned out that ’88 was the year they didn’t have a Test Weekend (resurfacing work – on Mulsanne). So on my first lap out – in Qualifying – I got it to 6,000 in top (fifth) and left it there, which was 200 mph. I was feeling quite nervous about it – and then half way along, a Jaguar and a Mercedes came past me like I was standing still! The next lap I just floored it, and it went faster and faster…..

“But I found the picture never matched the sound: with only five gears there was a large gear spread, so when you dropped it into fifth, the revs dropped away a lot – but you were already doing some horrendous speed, and building up to beyond 240. It was actually 240 at the Kink, and Jan had told me exactly what to look out for, although it was ‘easy flat’, even at that speed. But the car was wandering about a bit – and first time through, it made the hairs stick up on the back of your neck.

“All it took was an elbow movement to go through the Kink – and before long I was loving it! The speed the trees went past kept you very wary, but I got used to it. You could stay in one lane all the way down, even through the Kink if necessary – but the closing speeds to the slower cars were enormous – often 60-70 mph. You didn’t really want to meet someone at the Kink, but most people stayed in one lane too, so we’d change lanes and drive past on the left. But one guy, in a red car, that’s all I remember, hadn’t seen me, and he was moving left….so I had to go further left.

“I passed him on the hard shoulder, at about 245 – my heart was beating after that one…

“Jan was terrific – he told me exactly what to do everywhere round the lap. We’d take the Esses in fourth, even though third was very slightly quicker. We’d set it up for the Porsche Curves, and go through there with a steady throttle, not on and off, punishing driveshafts – and the gearbox.

“The most bizarre thing was leaving the pits, especially at night – and doing 240 mph within about 30 seconds. It was very difficult to adjust to it quickly enough.

“The only ‘off’ we had was a quick trip across the Ford Chicane from Johnny – and apart from the layshaft, the car was brilliant.”

“You know, the really odd thing is that I’ve managed to win all the big races, yet James, despite winning a greater number of races in Europe and America, hasn’t been lucky in the big races…(with the exception of Daytona in ’97) “

Perhaps Petit Le Mans this year will be the one. Testing the Dyson Racing MG-Lola at Mosport recently was very, very encouraging……

Thanks Andy and James: the stuff of legends.

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PS. You must have read the separate item - it's here - in which Andy Wallace explained the gearbox problem late on in the 1988 race. Eddie Hinckley, the race engineer for the winning car, saw that item and forwarded these remarks to clarify what happened:

"Sorry to be pedantic, but it was the mainshaft that broke about two hours from the end. Fortunately it broke in the middle of the 4th/5th gear hub, which is splined onto the mainshaft and this carried the drive through. I still have the pinion head and part of the mainshft."

Many thanks Eddie Hinckley.

 

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