First held in 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is one the greatest annual sports events. However, unlike most other events, Le Mans’ rich heritage can actually be celebrated by bringing the protagonists, the cars, back to the track.
Since 2002, this is done biennially with the Le Mans Classic. This twice-around-the-clock event features cars from the 1920s all the way through the early 1980s, spread over six grids.
In the 24-hour period, each grid lines up for three 43-minute races at the end of which the times are added up. In addition to the historic cars, this year’s edition also included many outright winners among the more than 1,000 drivers. Sharing one car were former rivals Gijs van Lennep and Gerard Larousse, who both won Le Mans twice in the 1970s, driving for Porsche and Matra respectively. Among the other victorious drivers in the lineup were Jurgen Barth, Andy Wallace, Marco Werner and Emanuele Pirro. In addition to the on-track action, the Le Mans Classic also included an Artcurial Motorcars Auction, numerous car clubs and a complete ‘village’ with shops to suit every automotive enthusiast’s needs.
Artcurial Motorcars Auction:
For the third time, Artcurial was responsible for the official Le Mans Classic sale. In this year’s edition, France’s biggest auctioneer presented 148 automobilia and 111 collector car lots. Grossing well over EUR 13 million ($17.7 million USD), an increase of almost 50 percent compared to 2012, it was Artcurial’s best Le Mans Classic auction yet. Topping the sale was a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster with a Hard Top, which was sold to a European collector for just over EUR 11.1 million ($15.1 million USD). Almost tripling its low estimate was a lovely Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk III Cabriolet, which went to South America for EUR 602,000 ($820,000 USD). Also far exceeding their estimate were an AC Shelby Cobra (EUR 761,000/$1 million USD) and Ferrari F40 (EUR 691,400/$941,000 USD). Of particular interest was the ‘Solo Lancia’ part of the sale with no fewer than 20 examples from this illustrious marque, ranging from an early Lambda to more recent models like race-bred Delta Integrales and the Ferrari-engined Thema 8.32. The most expensive Lancia sold was a great example of the ever-striking Stratos, which will go to South Africa for EUR 417,200 ($568,000 USD).
Plateau 1: 1923-39:
Spanning the entire pre-War period, Plateau 1 featured the earliest cars of the weekend. Bentley was one of the first manufacturers to dominate the race and, accordingly, many of these mighty machines were out on track, including several of the glorious Blower versions. Another manufacturer always very well represented was the British arm of Talbot with the bright-green liveried type 105 team cars. Gareth Burnett was quickest of all as he drove ‘GO52′ in spectacular fashion, regularly lighting up the inside tire while accelerating out of every corner. In the first of three races, he had to leave the victory to Christian Traber in the 2012 winning Talbot Lago Monoplace Decalée after the throttle cable came undone. Burnett fixed the problem himself and chased down the field but could not catch up with Traber. In the second and third races there were no issues for Burnett and he managed to more than make up the deficit to his Swiss rival and clinch the win. Traber ended the race in second, almost 11 minutes clear of Albert Otten, who finished third in his BMW 328. Roland Emmerling placed first in the Performance Index with his Riley Brooklands from 1928.
Plateau 2: 1949-56:
The immediate post-War years saw Jaguar emerge as a force, winning four out of eight attempts in the years covered in this Plateau. Not surprisingly, Jaguars also dominated this race with Alex Buncombe leading the way during qualifying with the ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Jaguar C-Type. He was the only driver to break the five-minute barrier and was close to six seconds faster than his closest rivals, who actually raced the more modern D-Type Jaguars. Buncombe handsomely won the first two races and went into the final race with a considerable lead. The heaviest shower of the weekend had soaked the track just before the third race of this grid. This particularly affected Buncombe, who came into the pit after one lap and eventually failed to reach the finish. Despite his comfortable lead, this dropped him to fifth overall in the final standings. While the final race was won by the ex-Jim Clark Jaguar D-Type piloted by Carlos Monteverde, a very consisted run in their Jaguar C-Type saw Nicholas Finburgh and Robert Newall claim the outright victory. Rahim Aga Khan, Andrew Prill and Richard Clark eventually came out on top in the Performance Index, sharing the latter’s familiar Porsche 356.
Plateau 3: 1957-61:
Jaguar D-Types also featured strongly in this group with the Longnose works cars of Andy Wallace and Richard Meaden, and Gary Pearson and Chris Harris featuring at the sharp end of the field. Also running remarkably well was the Aston Martin DB4 GT shared by Joe Twyman and Ian Dalglish, who were sadly handicapped by a three-minute penalty. Pearson and Harris crossed the line first in race one and were also winners of race three despite finishing second to James Wood, who had to start each race with a five-minute penalty. Twyman crossed the line first in the night race with the Aston Martin, driven so hard the discs were glowing under braking, but victory went to Vincent Gaye with his Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta. After taking all results and penalties into account, the outright winners of this Plateau were Pearson and Harris, with the former’s D-Type. Lotus Elites dominated the Performance Index with Roger Wills and David Clark beating two sister cars.
Plateau 4: 1962-65:
Ford’s small-block V8 absolutely dominated this field, powering nine cars in the top during qualifying. The quickest of these were the mid-engined Ford GT40s, while the similarly engined AC Shelby Cobras also featured strongly. The sole interloper was the Chevrolet small-block equipped Iso Grifo A3/C of Olivier de Siebenthal. Fastest in qualifying were Diogo Ferrao and Martin Stretton in the former’s GT40. The three races were also won by GT40s but each by a different example. Christophe van Riet and Christian Dumolin won race one at dusk on Saturday evening while Hans Hugenholtz made the most of his experience (he competed in all editions of the Le Mans Classic while he also raced in the 24 Hours seven times) and came through victorious during the night race. The third round saw Leo Voyazides fight his way up the order after an early mistake in his ex-Fillipinetti GT40, passing the rare Roadster GT40 of Rui and Pedro Silva on the final lap. Consistency and a stellar drive early on Sunday morning eventually brought the overall win to Hugenholtz with his GT40. As in Plateau 3, a Lotus headed the Performance Index table; the Elan of Damien Kohler.
Plateau 5: 1966-71:
Where the previous Plateau was an all-GT40 affair, the fifth grid was dominated by various incarnations of the roaring Lola T70. During qualifying, no fewer than six featured in the top 10, with Leo Voyazides fastest of all. Among the other cars at the sharp end were Carlos Monteverde’s Porsche 917 K shared with Gary Pearson, Joe Twyman and Andrew Smith, and Travis drummer Neil Primrose in his four-cylinder engined Lola T210. Having crashed his T70 Mk3 B during qualifying two years ago, David Hart had been careful this time round and was only fourth fastest. The Dutchman however turned the dial to eleven in the races, winning the first and second, which were shortened due to heavy rain. He also the third, which was allowed to run its full course. At the end of the day, he finished close to three minutes ahead of 2012 winner, Bernard Thuner, in a slightly earlier Mk3 T70. Third and fourth were also for T70s, while Yvan Mahe and Dominique Guenat managed to place their gloriously howling Matra fifth. Hart’s stellar drive also put him second in he Performance Index, beaten only by Martin O’Connell in Sandy Watson’s Chevron B8.
Plateau 6: 1972-79
The ever hard-charging O’Connell also featured at the sharp end in Plateau 6 with Watson’s Chevron B36. He qualified on pole, just over a second ahead of 2012 winner Chris MacAllister in his Mirage M6. As in the previous group, the rain affected two of the three races, which both finished under the safety car. This had a profound effect on the results, as the timing of the pit stops proved crucial. Race one was won by Dominique Guenat in his Lola T286, while Carlos Barbot finished first in race two. Finally run under dry conditions, the third race was won by the fastest man of the weekend; Chris MacAllister, who clocked a lap of 4:09.835, which was two seconds faster than O’Connell had been during qualifying. The Englishman had been unable to take the fight to MacAllister due to mechanical issues that already slowed his Chevron down during race two. MacAllister’s last-race charge had the desired result as he ended the day on top, just under 12 seconds ahead of Barbot. Placing third overall, the fastest GT was the Porsche 935 K3 of Nicolas d’Ieteren and Jean-Pierre Lecou. The gold and white Ford Capri 2600 RS of Douglas Titford and Trevor Reeves won the Performance Index, beating the next most efficient car by over 15 minutes.
Despite the wet weather predicted, over 110,000 enthusiasts flocked to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the seventh Le Mans Classic. They were treated to some formidable racing on track and a great show off the track as well.
Click HERE for a 280-shot gallery from the event.24 Hours of Le Mans, Cars, Classic