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Le Mans Classic 2016, A truly “Vintage” event

Story and photographs by Pete Taylor

July 2016 saw the eighth running of the biennial Le Mans Classic races; and what a splendid event it turned out to be; this definition of the word “vintage” just about sums it up: “denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind”. Once again the Peter Auto organisation excelled themselves, the proceedings went like clock-work, racing was brilliant, the “show” was fabulous, everyone had a good time and the sun shone!

Personal notes: as usual my brief was to document the “behind the scenes” aspects of the event, along with some of the racing; this year I asked my travelling companions (The Cheshire Lotus Owners Group) if I should drive from the UK with them in my Elan Sprint, or bring along our Motorhome, which has a beer fridge. I think you know the answer! We camped at the new ACO Les Epinettes campsite, which is within the circuit, allowing us to walk, or in my case, cycle, to the hub of the event, the pits and paddock area. The guys (and girl!) were able to easily drive their cars to the huge Clubs display-area too.

The following photos hopefully give a flavour of what I consider to be the best “old car event” anywhere. I’m seemingly not alone in this belief as, once again, the visitor numbers increased with a reported 123000 spectators. Add to that the huge number of entrants with their support staff, the volunteer Commissaires (marshals or corner-workers) the Peter Auto staff, the “Village” traders and caterers and you can see that it’s the size of a small town.
For the first time this year a couple of extra races outside the usual age-related grids were added to the programme; firstly a Jaguar Classic Challenge, this being for pre-1966 Jags, so we had C-Type, D-Type, Mk1, Mk2, XK120-150 and XKE (the majority of the entries were XKE). This provided a very noisy spectacle, which your reporter managed to totally miss, being “on-duty” somewhere else at the time. One of the difficulties of trying to cover everything at this event is that there is so much going on at the same time, in different locations, pretty-much all around the clock for three days (and two nights) straight- it’s a tough job but… etc!

The second additional race was for Group C cars- this one I definitely could not miss! There was a strong entry of 42 cars, spanning the years 83-92, all of which must have been eligible to run at the Le Mans 24hrs when new. When they swept into sight on their close-formation warm-up lap they presented and almost unbelievable spectacle and if those Jags were loud- this was in another league! There are few opportunities to race these cars in such great numbers (we have a series now in the UK but, really, there are not enough cars here to recreate the old days), they are spread right around the globe, so to get this many together in one race was a stroke of genius.

For the age-related races the format was as previously; we have six grids: 1923-39, 1949-56, 1957-61, 1962-65, 1966-71 and 1972-81. Each grid gets three races, broadly one in daylight, one at night and one, sort-of, in-between! All grids get to practice at daytime and in the dark and, iirc, all drivers must have a shot at both. Cars can be driven by 1-4 drivers, although most are either driven solo or by pairs of drivers. Each of the grids has it’s own paddock area, walking around these is fascinating, the atmosphere can be frantic in some less-organised teams, whilst calm efficiency, despite massive workload, is demonstrated by others. I chatted to a guy who was changing a GT40 gearbox; he just got on with the job whilst talking to me, obviously he knew exactly what he was doing and the job was being completed next time I strolled past a few minutes later. Nearby an engine change on an early 911 was going like clockwork.

Unlike the last edition, in 2014, the three days of the event were completely dry and what a difference that makes. The Sarthe area of France can be prone to sudden thunderstorms in July, which can have a devastating effect on the racing, the spectators and not forgetting the photography! Hopefully you will enjoy the following images.
For several of the races the traditional Le Mans Start is demonstrated, where the cars are lined up outside the pits and the drivers run across the road, jump in and buckle-up (where fitted) and then roar off when ready; this can be sometimes quite alarming (to me, standing on the opposite side of the road!) fortunately I don’t think there were any mishaps this time. The cars then stop on the back of the circuit, where they are formed up into grid-order, following a pace-car round for a rolling start.

Selecting photos from the event is always difficult, there are just so many; here are a few, perhaps (if anyone asks!) I could put some more together later in the year.

For full results follow this link: peterautoracing.alkamelsystems.com

If you have any questions, please contact Pete Taylor via:www.petetaylor.org.uk

 

07/25/17

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