Le Mans Classic 2004: Preview

The Good Gets Better

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Two years ago SAVH, a partnership between the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Peter Auto, the ‘P’ in BPR of hallowed memory, staged the first Le Mans Classic. The event, described on this site as ‘a brave experiment’, set out to re-create as much of the earlier history and ambiance of the 24 Hours as possible, within the modern circuit and facilities. The experiment was an outstanding success, attracting a large audience who enjoyed the combination of a mouthwatering array of cars with Le Mans associations and some intense racing on the full 13.65km circuit. The cloudless September skies also helped in no small measure, enabling the paying public to move around freely and enjoy the unrestricted access to the racing cars and personalities in the various paddocks.

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For the second staging of the event SAVH has extended the cut-off date from 1974 to 1978, thus including the all-French victory by Renault Alpine. Consequently the number of invited cars has risen from 300+ to 360+ , thus necessitating the creation of a sixth grid to encompass the period from 1971 to 1978. Another welcome change is the provision of night-time practice for the drivers, many of whom have never before had the opportunity to race their cars in darkness. This comes about as a result of obtaining an extended road closure which, presumably, was judged to be insensitive in the atmosphere of ‘shopkeeper’ opposition that threatened the cancellation of the first event. The practice period is from 7.45pm to 01.15am CET and includes all six grids. In late-July darkness won’t fall until about 10.30pm, so perhaps the intention is to run two sets of practice for each group. If so, the timing will be very tight and only allow about 20mins per practice run, with the bare minimum for retrieving non-runners or, perish the thought, accidents.

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The racing will commence at 4pm on Saturday, with a re-enactment of the traditional ‘Le Mans start’ preceeding the formation lap for each grid. The starts are at approximately one-and-a-half hour intervals, which should allow 70 minutes per run; plenty of time for driver changes or minor repairs, if required. In keeping with tradition, the results are declared on scratch, and by Index of Performance, but with an important difference: they relate to the aggregate performance of six-car teams, containing one representative from each grid. Hence consistency outweighs absolute performance. This was amply demonstrated at the previous event, where the winning team was one of only four in which all five cars started and finished their four runs.

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The real excitement of this event is to find old drivers re-united with the cars (or similar models) that they originally drove. Among that long list, those that catch the eye include Jurgen Barth in a Porsche 936, Bob Bondurant (AC Cobra Daytona Coupé), Christine Dacremont (Lancia Stratos), Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Jean Ragnotti (Renault-Alpine A443, the #1 car that led for a large part of the 1978 race), Arturo Merzario (Alfa Romeo T33/3), Pierre Noblet (Ferrari 275 GTB), the founding father of Alpine: Jean Rédelé (Alpine M64), and Clemens Schickentanz (Porsche 911 RSR). This is not a definitive list and full details of the wonderful entry can be found at www.lemansclassic.com (NB p1 = 1923-39; p2 = 1946 - 56; p3 = 1957 - 61; p4 = 1962 - 65; p5 = 1966 - 71 & p6 = 1972 - 78).

One entry of particular interest is the D-type Jaguar to be driven by a certain J Herbert, better known for his recent exploits in an Audi R8. Keep it off the grass, please, Johnny!

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dailysportscar.comIn addition to the obvious attractions on-track, the Village will contain a display of cars with actual Le Mans provenance that are not entered for the racing. Meanwhile, the Bugatti circuit will be populated by some one hundred motor clubs representing more than forty marques. As there will be Concours judging for both the club displays and individual vehicles, this part of the total event should not be missed. If all this isn’t enough, Christies are holding an auction of desirable machinery in the old museum on Friday evening, between the end of scrutineering and the start of practice.

As last time, we will endeavour to bring you the flavour of this remarkable event, rather than a blow-by-blow account of the racing.
Derek Fritz

 

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