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Le Mans: What Goes Around, Comes Around

Submitted by on June 15, 2012

In 1967, Dan Gurney won the Le Mans 24 Hours with AJ Foyt, and they started a tradition that remains to this day. This weekend the Gurney name is back at Le Mans

By Andy Hallbery

What was the tradition? It was spraying champagne on the victor’s podium. It was an accident – a lively bottle of fizz – But Dan was the man.

Dan Gurney is an innovator, the champagne spraying, the ‘Gurney flap’, and all sorts in between. The Eagle and the All American Racer field of cars…. Who better, 45 years on to be involved with DeltaWing’s inclusion at Le Mans this year, in car ‘garage 56’? That’s the garage reserved for innovation.

Nissan is a big part of the project, and has an illustrious history at the French classic, including Mark Blundell’s  staggering qualifying lap in 1990. Who needs an excuse to watch this again???

“It was a bloody grenade,” laughs Blundell. “That car was a bomb waiting to go off.” With everything set to max the drivers, Blundell, and Julian Bailey fought over who was going to qualify the Lola-Nissan.

“It came down to the toss of a coin,” says Blundell. “I won, and strapped myself in. It really was all or nothing.”

Nissan 1990

With almost 1200bhp under his right foot, Blundell set off. It was a rocket ship. “We did 237mph on the Mulsanne straight – and that was after they put the chicanes in!”

While Blundell was hanging on tight, things weren’t so comfortable in the Lola-Nissan pits. “The guys from Nissan were monitoring the engine,” recalls Blundell “and they radioed me to say it was overheating and to abort the lap. They didn’t want to see it blow up on TV. I thought, ‘bugger that, I’ve come this far, I’m not stopping now!’ so I unplugged the radio!”

Blundell and his 1200bhp rocket ship took pole by over six seconds… And somehow it didn’t blow up.

Then, full circle, Nissan is back at Le Mans 2012, fielding 13 of the cars in LMP2. But all eyes are on the DeltaWing, an eco-friendly dart. The original car was built by Dan Gurney and his team at All American Racers in California, and now looked after by Duncan Dayton at Highcroft Racing. Hopes are high that it will show the world what a 1.6-litre turbo can do. Testing of the innovative car has proved it will open eyes to the future.

And for good measure Dan took Marino Franchitti, one of the DeltaWing drivers, to one side in his Irvine CA office to remind him how champagne should be sprayed at Le Mans. After all, he started it!

Then there is the irony of ironies… Dan, the innovator, is responsible for the Gurney flap on race car wings around the world. And the DeltaWing doesn’t have any!

Special thanks to All American Racers, The Cahier archive, Nissan and Mark Blundell.

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