The seventh Le Mans Classic, co-organised by Peter Auto and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, fully lived up to expectations and attracted a bigger crowd than ever as the 110,000-spectator barrier was broken. The weather also smiled on the event on Friday, July 4th, and a blue sky and high temperatures greeted everyone who arrived for the early-morning opening of the circuit gates.
Features included the Le Mans Heritage Club, a host of car clubs (180 car clubs representing around 80 makes with 8,000cars), and then opening on Friday evening of the new motorsport themed Drive-In cinema with classic films like Un Homme et Une Femme, Bullitt, Le Mans and Weekend of a Champion. Friday afternoon's daytime practice began followed by the night session for the 450 historic cars and more than 1,000 drivers from all over the world (30 plus nationalities) including seven former Le Mans 24-Hours winners.
Late on Saturday afternoon Sébastien Loeb lowered the French flag unleashing men and machines to tackle the 13,629 km Le Mans 24-Hours long circuit. The racing for the six separate grids covering the periods from 1923 to 1979 got under way and continued into Sunday in true Le Mans style.
Grid 1 (1923 - 1939) Talbot Dominates
The French Talbots dominated the three rounds reserved for cars built between the two world wars. At the end of the first heat the winner of the 2012 event, Christian Traber, laid down a marker for outright victory by finishing over a minute in front his nearest pursuer. Michael Birch and his team-mate Gareth Burnett who stopped suddenly out of the circuit for what seemed like ages lost a lot of precious time. They then went hell for leather to make it up in the races run at nighttime and on Sunday morning. Finally in a last-gasp sprint they managed to pip the leader in the dying seconds of the final heat! Albert Otten in his BMW 328 completed the top 3 while Ralf Emmerling clinched the Index of Performance in his Brooklands RIley.
1. BIRCH-BURNETT (TALBOT 105 G052) in 2:19:55.407
2. TRABER (TALBOT LAGO EX-MONOPLACE) at 37"461
3. OTTEN (BMW 328) at 12'17"469
Index of performance: EMMERLING (RILEY BROOKLANDS)
Grid 2 (1949 - 1956) - The C-Type Jaguar comes out on top
Alex Buncombe at the wheel of his Type-C Jaguar delighted the crowd with a festival of slides and daring overtaking moves in the traffic. The 2011 GT4 Cup champion was as much at home at nighttime as in daytime and he made mincemeat of his rivals in the first two heats. Maybe he got carried away as after a first near miss at the pit entry when he avoided an out-of-control car by a miracle, the English driver hit a rival at Arnage. Several favourites like Gavin Pickering (winner in 2012) and Carlos Monteverde, both in D-Type Jaguars, and the duo Mulder-Simon in their Mercedes 300 SL, suffered mechanical issues. The Finburgh-Newall team took advantage of race incidents and emerged victorious in their Jaguar in front of two Austin Healeys. The Aga Khan-Prill-Clark Porsche 356 won the Index of Performance.
1. FINBURGH-NEWALL (JAGUAR TYPE-C) in 2h28'21"478
2. THORNE-BENNETT-BAGGS (AUSTIN HEALEY 100 M) at 1 tour
3. YOUNG (AUSTIN HEALEY 100 S) at 1 tour
Index of performance: AGA KHAN-PRILL-CLARK
Grid 3 (1957 - 1961) - Jaguar-Ferrari duel
As was the case in the late 50s Jaguar and Ferrari went at it hammer and tongs. The English make won the first round of the battle thanks to Pearson-Harris, while its Italian rival triumphed in round 2 after a brilliant display by Vincent Gaye from Belgium. The latter, though, was beaten on Sunday afternoon in the clincher. In the Index of Performance the little Lotus Elites powered by a 1500 cc straight-4 cylinder engine dominated their rivals and filled the first three places. In the first race Dalgush-Wills came home second overall in their 1.1- litre Lotus XI!
1. PEARSON-HARRIS (JAGUAR TYPE D) in 2h23'21"352
2. GAYE (FERRARI 250 GT BERLINETTA) at 1'23"727
3. LE BLANC (AUSTIN HEALEY 3000) at 4'19"575
Index of performance: WILLS-CLARK (LOTUS ELITE)
Grid 4 (1962 - 1965) - American stranglehold
The first shower of the weekend began to fall just before the start of the first heat. The sky grew darker and darker and the fading light heralded the imminent arrival of darkness. In these difficult visibility conditions David Hart put on a dazzling performance taking the lead in his Ford Shelby Cobra from the horde of Ford GT40s. Just when it looked like the Dutch driver would win at the wheel of his big GT in a straight fight the race was neutralised because Luis Perez-Companc’s 250 LM had vomited all its oil on the Mulsanne straight. Things fell back into place in the second and third races in which the Fords scored a triple and a double with overall victory going to the GT40 driven by Hans Hugenholtz. Hervé Guyomard, the ACO’s historian (heritage department) won the Index of Performance in a French car, the René Bonnet Aerodjet.
1. HUGENHOLTZ (FORD GT 40) in 2h23'19"776
2. LECOURT (SHELBY COBRA) at 5'21"444
3. LAJOURNADE-AUBRY (JAGUAR Type E) at 5'34"265
Index of performance: GUYOMARD (RENE BONNET AERODJET)
Grid 5 (1966 - 1971) - Lola’s revenge
David Hart’s Lola T70 dominated the first heat hit by occasional showers. There was a thrilling scrap going on behind the Dutchman between legendary cars like the Porsche 917, the Ferrari 312 P, Chevron B16s, Matra MS 660s and Alpine A 220s. Unfortunately, the Ligier JS3 driven by Jacques Nicolet among others ground to a halt after only five laps with a broken suspension wishbone. Races two and three followed the same pattern as Hart dominated them both. It was sweet revenge for English constructor Lola which, in 6 decades of racing at Le Mans, had never won the 24 Hours outright.
Classement au scratch
1. HART (LOLA T70 Mk III) in 1h45'42"302
2. THUNER (LOLA T70 Mk III) at 2'44.367
3. FRANCE-FRANCE (LOLA T70 Mk III) at 3'19.634
Index of performance: WATSON-O'CONNELL (CHEVRON B8 BMW)
Grid 6 (1972 - 1979) - Mirage beats Lola and Porsche by a nose!
The first heat was given the green light during a lull in the bad weather, but it was quickly neutralised because of a shower. As the safety conditions were too perilous to allow the cars (the most modern ones at the event) to race they continued behind the safety car. The first real battle took place around dawn on Sunday morning on an almost dry track. Carlos Barbot came out on top in his Lola beating the Ferrer-Collinot Ferrari 512 BB LM by a second! Chris Mac Allister won the third heat in his open Gulf Mirage by only 10 seconds from Barbot and took the overall lead. Two Porsche 935s followed less than a minute behind, and the Titford-Reeves Ford Capri won the Index of Performance.
1. MAC ALLISTER (GULF MIRAGE) in 2h11'51"189
2. BARBOT (LOLA T280) at 11"938
3. D’IETEREN-LECOU (PORSCHE 935 K3) at 22"053
Index of performance: TITFORD-REEVES (FORD CAPRI)j