Never Meet Your Heroes! This is something only an armchair expert would have to say. For those who have been under the sun and face to face with their bedroom poster legends know that it is far more important to cherish the machine in front of them for what it represented back in the day than simply shrugging it off as some unpolished piece of metal that is completely unruly or even crude by modern-day standards. For me at this year’s Le Mans Classic, it was a case of meeting many of my heroes and enthralling in the experience and the theatre they presented.
Europe is no stranger to classic car events. Every month, heck, every weekend, you would find something happening in every nook and corner of this continent. That said, there are few events that present classic cars, motorsports and the legacy of endurance racing better than what Le Mans Classic. A biennial event that takes place at the mystical circuit of La Sarthe in Le Mans, Le Mans Classic is a celebration of endurance racing cars from the past, all the way from the first race that happened here in 1923 to the endurance legends that we all came to love and adore from our childhood and adolescent days during the 80s and 90s.
This year, Le Mans Classic took place on July 6-7-8 on the full Le Mans Circuit (Circuit de La Sarthe) that spans 13.26kms and goes around several small villages from which the corners of the circuit get their names such as Arnage, Mulsanne and Tetre Rouge. This year was the ninth edition of the event that Peter Auto created first in 2002 along with the Automobile Club de L’Quest to give passionate motoring enthusiasts a chance to see and meet exceptional racing cars spanning over eight decades all in one place. This year’s event was by far the most successful till date with more than 135,000 spectators flocking from all around the world to be a part of the festivities.
Le Mans Classic is less of a competition and more of a gathering of motoring fanatics from all across Europe and also the world. This year’s event saw more than 8500 cars that were part of more than 200 clubs, who came together from all across Europe to meet their endurance racing legends. In fact, this the 2018 event had more than 700 racing cars alone that participated in the races, with over a 1000 drivers who came from 30 different countries. This list included ten winners from the previous 24 hour races.
The 2018 Le Mans Classic race weekend was flagged off on Friday with a day and night practice race. At the village, for the first time, the general public was invited to attend the conference to which Pierre Fillon (President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest), Patrick Peter (founder of Peter Auto) and nine previous winners from Le Mans were present. This extensive list included names such as Derek Bell, Jürgen Barth, Romain Dumas, Loïc Duval, Jan Lammers, Gérard Larousse, Klaus Ludwig, Stéphane Ortelli, and Henri Pescarolo.
It was Saturday when the real action began with action that went on non-stop till the end of the weekend. The opening parade is a sight to behold with more than 50 cars from all the different eras of Le Mans rumbling off the start finish line and gunning it down to the first corner, towards the Dunlop Curves. To start off the race proceedings for the weekend, it was the special Jaguar Classic Challenge that had the most gorgeous D-type and E-type racers in droves thundering across the start finish line.
After the Jaguar Classic Challenge, it was the turn of the wild and iconic Group C prototypes. Introduced in 1982 for sports car racing these hardcore machines of their times were a collection of 40 cars in their category, including legendary Porsche sports prototypes such as the 656s and 962s, followed by the glorious V12 powered Jaguar XJR-9 from 1987, the precursor to the Jaguar XJR-9LM that won at the 24 hous of Le Mans the following year. The British sports prototype was accompanied by more Tom Walkinshaw-developed Jaguar machines including the XJR-8, 11, 12 and 14. Two Peugeot 905s followed, alongside a 1985 Toyota 85C, Nissan R90, Courage C26s, Rondeau M382 and entries from Spice, Tiga, ALD and more. After battling it out on the track for 45-minutes, the race was won by Michael Lyons in a 1991 Gebhardt C291.
While Le Mans Classic is a celebration of cars that participated in the 24-hour endurance races since its inception in 1923 till the late 80s, this year’s event welcomed cars from a newer era with the Global Endurance Legends, which is a private club of iconic sports prototypes and GT cars from the 1990s and 2000s. While this was an exhibition and not a race, more than 50 cars that included names like the iconic Ferrari F40 LM from 1990, McLaren F1 GTR from 1996, Toyota GT-one from 1999, Audi R8 LMP from 2000, Bentley Speed 8 from 2003, Ferrari 550 GT1 from 2003, Aston Martin DB9R from 2005, and more.
2018 being the 70-year anniversary of Porsche, the name synonymous to sport car racing and specially Le Mans, this year’s event saw a special race featuring Porsche sports cars from every era since the company first started racing at this circuit, including cars like the first Porsche 356 from 1952 all the way up to the growling Porsche 2.8 RSRs of the 1970s. With more than 70 classic Porsches crossing the finish line, it was pure nostalgia of reliving the golden days of motorsport.
Le Mans Classic is a festival of endurance and speed. You come here to see and hear machines that were once developed to conquer all other marques and bolster their supremacy over the field. Machines that were made to outperform other machines not just in a sprint, but over 24 gruelling hours of non-stop, cut-throat racing. It is a pilgrimage that takes you back to the glory days of motorsport where men were men and their machines where brutes that needed to be manhandled to perform at the limit. Here, it is an atmosphere of eternal eccentricity exemplified.