Le Mans Classic: Rock around the Clock

Dino Eisele
Le Mans Classic
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L e Mans is still a mythical place for racing fans - even if Audi has the domicile there with 13 victories since 2000. The fact that many other, often legendary brands increased the fame of the 24-hour race before the overwhelming dominance of the Ingolstadt-based company is evident from the Le Mans Classic, which is only held every two years the organizing ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) not all 456 participating racing cars from the years 1923 to 1979 together on the 13.629 kilometer long original track. Depending on their age, they are divided into six grid fields of 76 racing cars each. Each grid goes into the race one after the other and individually for 43 minutes and has its turn three times. The Le Mans Classic consists of 18 individual races, which are held around the clock with practically no breaks. And woe if you let go.

Insane soundscape

Flying night start of grid five (1966–1971) . We are sitting on a grandstand opposite the concrete fortress 'Grande Tribune' with pit systems and press center, which looks like a landing station on Mars. The pit exit right in front of us. From the right, only the pairs of lights that cross and intersect rush up. Then comes the unique cloud of noise from the Le Mans Classic: a symphony of guns, trumpets and screeching mixers.

Only when they drive past do you recognize the protagonists of this wild, noisy horde and can assign the engine sound to the racing car. The pithy grumbling Chevy V8 of the leading Lola T70; in between the bright singing of the few twelve-cylinders like the Matra 660 and Ferrari 312; then the soaring trumpets of the nimble Chevron B8 with BMW four-cylinder, which the seven-liter Corvette only shoots after with difficulty. And there is no end to the Le Mans Classic until the 76 crash machines are over at insane speed, including some Porsche 906, 911 and 914 as well as Ferrari 365 GTB /4 Daytona.

Another terrific spectacle happens every time at the Le Mans Classic when the racing cars accelerate out of the pit lane and rejoin the hectic flowing racing traffic. The pit stop with a specified minimum duration of one minute and 30 seconds should take place between the 15th and 30th minutes of the individual races. The engine must be switched off and restarted. Driver change ispossible, but refueling is not allowed.

Cobra chasing Porsche

Now a Porsche 911 and a Porsche follow one another Shelby Cobra from the pit lane into the moving traffic. Both are on grid four (1962–1965) of the Le Mans Classic. The slender two-liter 911 is tightly pressed by the dark, rumbling Cobra, which is not allowed to drive over the boundary line of the pit exit. In addition, several Ford GT40s and a Bizzarrini 5300 GT are now flying up from behind, sitting in the wide right-hand arc of the fast Dunlop curve in front of the bravely accelerating Porsche. Then the gang disappears in the direction of the Dunlop chicane, where they have to sort themselves into rank and file.

Here, too, dramatic scenes take place when little braking and handling kings come in the fast S combination Adding powerful Le Mans heroes. In Grid 3 (1957–1961), the nimble Lotus 15 lightweights hang regularly on the round buttocks of the large-displacement Jaguar D-Type and Lister when braking. The annoying Lotus can only be shaken off on the Hunaudières Straight - until the next chicane.

However, some of the Le Mans Classic scenes described here are not entirely historically guaranteed. For example the dominance of the English Lola T70 with their five-liter V8s from Chevrolet, which previously did not achieve a single victory at Le Mans. The Anglo-American sports cars benefit from their simple, still powerful drive technology and from the minority of their former conquerors, the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512. Only one example can be found at Le Mans Classic in 2014. The reason: Your twelve-cylinder engines require significantly more technical and financial outlay than the V8 from Chevrolet.

With 300 on the Hunaudières

Jürgen Barth, Le Mans winner from 1977, also has to Bend over the fast Lola in the 1967 Porsche 907 long tail, even though it is on the Hunaudières straight at around 300 km /h. His two-liter sports car, trimmed for top speed, on the other hand, generates too little downforce and thus too little speed in the corners. In addition, at the top of the Le Mans Classic there are often drivers 'for whom it is important to do racing for relatively little money'. Certain models, says Barth, offer good prerequisites for this: 'Lola T70, Ford GT40 and the early front-engined Lotus can be maintained and partially optimized within the framework of the applicable regulations, and in some cases optimized than a Porsche 917, for example.'

Even extremely rare Le Mans heroes from France such as Renault Alpine A 442 with V6 turbo and Matra 660 with three-liter V12 have to give way to lesser-known brands, but that makes the fun of watching and walking through the six paddocks does not diminish. Here you can enjoy sports cars and GTs from six decades and marvel at them in peaceand experience it on the way to the start in the turmoil of people and scooters. For example the two NASCAR bombers Dodge Charger and Ford Gran Torino. And the whole thing at the Le Mans Classic without the appearance of the big works, without marketing hype and anniversary noise.

Nevertheless, almost 40 Porsches are at the start. Le Mans Classic is based solely on the passion of the racing car owners and drivers, who invite us to a big party for which they are happy to spend 88 euros (one adult, weekend with paddock). In return, you also accept the high safety fences next to the route, steep snack prices and a somewhat opaque map. We'll be back in two years anyway.

Results on www.lemansclassic.com

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