Wallace & James Weaver On Le Mans
A Wednesday Morning In Oxfordshire With Two Of The Greats
and a half hours in the company of Andy Wallace, James Weaver
and Michael Cotton – perfect.
entry is going to win Le Mans this year?
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
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.
began with Andy’s Mexican toilet story, a tale that
Chris Dyson reminded me to ask Andy about….
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.
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!
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.
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….
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.
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.
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!
the Mexican toilet story. But James adds:
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….”
impress your employer’s wife, by A Wallace….
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
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.
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).
Walkinshaw turned to the Jaguar Finance Director, sitting in
the back, and asked 'Do you see what they do to our cars?'
fortunately for us, this guy replied, ‘Isn’t that
what we pay them for?’ It diffused the whole situation,
just like that.”
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
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
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.
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
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…."
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
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.
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!
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.
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!’
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.
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
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.
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…
you ever heard that Andy?”
four or five times.”
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?
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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.
passed him on the hard shoulder, at about 245 – my heart
was beating after that one…
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.
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.
only ‘off’ we had was a quick trip across the Ford
Chicane from Johnny – and apart from the layshaft, the
car was brilliant.”
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) “
Petit Le Mans this year will be the one. Testing the Dyson
Racing MG-Lola at Mosport recently was very, very encouraging……
Andy and James: the stuff of legends.
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
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."