Highlights from the 2016 Le Mans Classic

Andy Wallace leads a pack of cars around the circuit.

Wouter Melissen

Artcurial Motorcars Auction

In the post-sale press release, managing director of the Artcurial Motorcars department Matthieu Lamoure stated that he had missed the bids of his British friends. He referred to the recent “Brexit” vote, which has created a lot of uncertainty in this important market and also saw the Pound Sterling drop significantly. For Lamoure, this was an explanation for why the top lots of the Le Mans Classic sale did not find a new owner. The auction did show that there certainly still is a strong market for the very best cars. In this case that was the highly original 1977 Porsche 935, which was raced at Le Mans three times, including once by Artcurial’s auctioneer Herve Poulain himself. Never fully restored or campaigned in historic events, it sold for 1.3 million Euro ($1.4M USD), which was in line with the estimate. Selling for twice its bottom estimate was an equally unmolested Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux, which changed hands for just over 500,000 Euro ($555,575 USD). At the end of the auction, 62 percent of the lots were sold for a total of 8.7 million Euro ($9.7M USD).

A Martini Mk19 seen at the auction.

The support events

For the first time, the Le Mans Classic featured two support races run on Saturday morning before the main event. The first was for the ever popular Group C car and the second for classic competition Jaguars. Ran over 45 minutes, the Group C race boasted a capacity grid of over 40 cars. In addition to the familiar cars that compete in the championship, there were also several one-off entries highlighted by a Toyota 85C brought over from Japan, a pair of Aston Martin engined Emkas and a Judd V10 engined Lola T92/10. In qualifying, it was Katsu Kubota who set pole position in a sister car to the Nissan R90C that had done the very same thing for the race in 1990 in the hands of Mark Blundell. The 45-minute race was one of attrition with numerous retirements. It was Kubota’s for the taking but the Japanese curse struck again as his R90C crawled to a halt at Arnage corner with was euphemistically described as a “fuel pressure” issue. Following several penalties for missing the pit-stop window, it was Julien Piquet in his C2 Spice that was classified first.

George Nakas leads a pack of cars in a Group C event in his Porsche 962C.

The Jaguar Classic Challenge featured a colorful mix of C-, D- and E-Types as well as the odd Mk1 and Mk2. The 55-minute race eventually saw Julian Thomas cross the line first in his E-Type.

Twice around the clock

Just like in previous editions, the historic cars were divided in six groups based on age. The cut-off year of the sixth group was extended slightly to 1981, which was the last season before Group C was introduced. Each group took to the track three 43-minute races between 4 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Due to some delays, the races were eventually shortened to 40 minutes to make up ground.

Off they go!

The first group featured cars dating from 1923 through to 1939. Bentleys and Bugattis were well represented as were the hard to miss, bright green Talbots. None, however, could match the Talbot Lago shared by Cristian Traber and Spencer Trenery. Based on a Grand Prix car, it was over three minutes faster over the combined 21 laps.

The Plateau for early 1950s cars featured in an interesting fight between three sports cars associated with World Champions; the D-Type driven to the 1955 Le Mans win by Mike Hawthorn, the C-Type originally owned by Juan Manuel Fangio and the D-Type raced in period by Jim Clark. An overall Le Mans winner in 1988, it was Andy Wallace who proved fast and consistent in the Le Mans winning D-Type.

While Chris Ward had hit trouble with the ex-Fangio C-Type in the second group, he had better luck in the Lister Costin Jaguar entered for him by JD Classics in Grid 3. The victory did not come easy, as he had several entertaining fights with three-time Le Mans winner Marco Werner, who masterfully hurled the mid-engined Tipo 63 Maserati Birdcage around the track until he was forced to retire in the second race.

Among the most evocative groups was the fourth, which ran from 1962 through to 1966 and featured a mighty mix of Cobras and GT40s, including the very Mk2 that placed third overall in the famous 1966 staged 1-2-3 finish, and also a Ferrari 250 LM. Not surprisingly, the GT40s were at the sharp end of the grid with the example driven by Christophe van Riet and the one shared by James Cottingham and Andrew Smith dictating the early pace. Unfortunately, both of these retired, which handed the lead to Shaun Lynn and his beautifully prepared GT40. His combined speed and sensitivity to the material resulted in yet another victory for Lynn.

A Ford GT40 goes for a spin.

Headlined by a pair of Porsche 917s, the sixth group also provided many visual and aural delights. Chevrons and Lolas were also very strongly represented and it were the latter that headed the field. In the end it turned out to be a battle between former winner Bernard Thuner in a T70 Mk3 and Eric de Doncker in a slightly later T70 Mk3B. Thuner scored victories in the first and third races, while De Doncker had won the second. Eventually the difference was just one tenth of a second in favor of Thuner in what was certainly the closest fought race of the weekend. Also worth a mention was five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro’s fastest lap of the group in the three-liter Alfa Romeo Tipo 33, beating all the five-liter Lolas.

In the decade covered by Group 6, turbos were introduced and this certainly provided quite a spectacle in the night race. Glowing red hot and belching flames ahead of every corner, these machines were certainly crowd favorites. Another evocative sight was the start of the third race, which featured a pair of Gulf-liveried Mirages side-by-side. Sadly, neither of these Cosworth DFV engined machines made it across the finish. There was no such bad luck this time for Marco Werner, who clinched a comfortable victory with the Kremer Porsche 936 that was also entered for him by collector Ulrich Schumacher. As was also typical in the day, the Cosworth DFV engined rivals suffered from reliability issues.

Final thoughts

Scorching hot throughout, the eighth biennial Le Mans Classic attracted a record breaking crowd of 123,000 spectators. From the parades early on Friday morning through to Marco Werner clinching victory in the Plateau 6 race on Sunday afternoon, they were treated to an unmatched spectacle. Not only could they enjoy the cars on track, the spectators also had great access to the rare and valuable machines in the paddock. There is no equal for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and there certainly is no equal for the Le Mans Classic. For another 270 reasons why, just sit back and enjoy our exclusive gallery.

Article originally on UltimateCarPage.com