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Le Mans Classic – 10 Things we discovered

Submitted by on July 22, 2014

Le MAns ClassicTen things which took us completely by surprise.

If Le Mans Classic is on your bucket list, I have one word of advice: go. It’s a terrific event. You’ve probably already seen some great shoots of the fabulous cars that competed there this year. That was expected, but there were some things that took me by surprise. Here are 10 of them…

Story by John Young
The sounds of the night
Why wasn’t I told? The sound of race engines in full-cry cuts through the night air like you wouldn’t believe. V8s reverberate. Smaller engines scream and the sounds bounce off the walls. Le Mans Classic is all about the night. Plan to stay up late. Very late.

It pays to be a rock star among drivers
Derek Bell is a legend. He won Le Mans five times, first in a Gulf Mirage, and then in Porsches – the make I think of when I hear his name. So I was a little surprised when I saw a 1930 Blower Bentley with his name on its side. No, he wasn’t racing it this time, but he did at the 2012 event. Star drivers are invited to race star cars as long as they want to.

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It pays to be a rock star. Period.
AC/DC’s Brian Johnson was there (of course). He was not only driving a Porsche 911RSR 3.0, he was driving it well (his co-drivers, by the way, included no less a talent than Jochen Mass). And Johnson pulled off a pretty impressive pass just in front of my grandstand seat on Sunday.

Brian Johnson lemans classic

Back to the sounds of Le Mans
I always thought that the sound of a Cosworth DFV was about as good as it got. Or an Aston at peak revs. Or a 12 cylinder Ferrari. But I was wrong, because I’d never heard a Matra V12. I’d read about them over the years, and the rave reviews are right. It’s probably the best sounding race engine I’ve ever heard.

Has there ever been a pretty Panhard?
Aficionados for French cars will no doubt disagree. But Le Mans Classic – plus visits to two French motor museums – haven’t so much lead to a discovery as confirmed my preconceived beliefs. Panhard’s designers must have inspired the folk at SsangYong.

Panhard

He with the fastest car doesn’t always win
In Plateau (or Grid) 6, for cars from 1972 to 1979, Jean Ragnotti fronted with the race winning Alpine Renault from the ‘78 event. It should have been a shoe-in, but the lightest of touches with another competitor seconds from the start of his last event brought his race to an end. To finish first, you first must finish.

Renault Alpine

I’m still in love
With the Ford GT40. They looked stunning from the day they were unveiled. They soon proved they were more than a pretty face by doing exactly what they were designed for and winning the 24-hour race. Age hasn’t dimmed their beauty. And in Plateau 4 (1962-65) Leo Voyazides proved they still go like the clappers. You should have seen him at about 11.00 on Saturday night. (Well, until the Safety car came into play, anyway).

Ford GT40

Turning up inappropriately dressed is never a good look
Woops. You turn up underdressed or overdressed to a party or a wedding. It doesn’t matter which, it’s not a good look. Or you turn up to Plateau 6, surrounded by Porsches, Lolas, Chevrons and Alpine Renaults in your Dodge Charger or Ford Gran Torino. Yes, they really were there… but to my surprise, they were far from disgraced in the event. We all know what stops when the flag drops…

 

Jaguar versus Mercedes
After Plateau 2 (1949-56) qualifying, I strolled through the paddock. Parked side-by-side were seven Jaguars, C-Types and D-Types. Every one of them was being worked on frantically. Nearby stood a matt silver Mercedes 300SL, one of three entered. Nobody was lifting a spanner to it. But when the flag dropped, the C-Types had the last laugh, winning all three events.

SLR Mercedes

If you’re not into pre-war stuff, keep an open mind
They race priceless old cars, without any form of rollover protection, and they race them hard. The superiority of the Talbot 105s had to be seen to be believed. Brave men and surprisingly rapid racing motor cars.

Le Mans 2014

There’s one more thing I discovered. While 110,000 people attended the Le Mans Classic over the weekend, Le Mans is big enough to handle the numbers. It’s certainly something to consider when planning which events to attend.

Words: John Young

Images: Jayson Fong

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