Before this year’s Le Mans becomes too distant a memory, we look back at one event we mentioned only in passing at the time, but which has become a cornerstone of the British involvement in the 24 Hours over recent years.
Founded in 2001, the Classic British Welcome is staged in the small village of Saint-Saturnin, just beyond the northern outskirts of Le Mans. In the years before the A28 motorway was opened, tens of thousands of British racefans journeyed south from the Channel ports and knew they’d arrived at Le Mans when they passed through St Saturnin. The community’s strongly supportive residents lined the streets, and gave an especially vocal welcome to anyone driving through at the wheel of a classic British sportscar.
The motorway was built in various stages, and as new lengths were opened the number of interesting cars passing through St Saturnin declined. Fearing an end to a spectacle they enjoyed so much, the villagers decided to organise a special event, to welcome British visitors and their cars to Le Mans. Today, some seventeen years later, the Classic British Welcome is now recognised as one of the key supporting events of the Le Mans week, sanctioned and promoted by the ACO.
Anyone driving a classic or ‘interesting’ car, of whatever period, is free to join the Welcome, and the Friday gathering is typically in the region of 1000 cars. There are bars, food stalls, club stands, retailers and, in the main hall, a themed display. Last year it was Marcos, while this year’s focus was on BMW, celebrating the marque’s return to the 24 Hours. We dispatched the intrepid duo of Martin Little (scribe) and Marcus Potts (photos) to St Saturnin to see what it was all about …
As a race journalist caught up in the intensity of the event timetable one can easily overlook the carnival atmosphere Le Mans provides for the thousands of spectators making their annual pilgrimage to the French classic.
The past two decades have seen the 24 Hours drawing in a truly global spectator base, but with its loyal and dominant British contingent the occasion still manages to retain a profile as a ‘British event abroad.’ Time was when this week in June would be a Mecca for owners of classic sportscars, but with the bi-annual popularity of the Le Mans Classic, latterly this once glorious spectacle in and around the campsites has somewhat faded. But perhaps not…
Come the Friday of race week, just north of Le Mans on the N138, the pretty little village of St. Saturnin receives a multitude of classic road cars in a civilised assembly of traditional and contemporary machinery.
As its name suggests, The Classic British Welcome is a warm and traditional congregation, a rural vintage car show but on an grand scale. Everything is here: cars, food, beer and good cheer. Even 1988 Jaguar LM24 winner Jan Lammers put in a guest appearance, heartfelt in his comments about the special connection he feels with the British fans, having delivered that classic result.
We stumbled on this event more or less by accident, but with great weather adding to this wonderfully friendly spectacle, The Classic British Welcome is a worthwhile addition to the Le Mans race-goers diary. We can highly recommended it, and suggest you make a point of going along in 2019.
Can I just add that Martin and I both agreed that the chicken and chips we had for lunch was one of the best we’d ever tasted!