Le Mans Classic 2004: Preview
Good Gets Better
years ago SAVH, a partnership between the Automobile Club de
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
within the modern circuit and facilities. The experiment was
an outstanding success, attracting a large audience who enjoyed
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
the racing cars and personalities in the various paddocks.
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.
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
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!
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.