The 9th Le Mans Classic was held in temperatures that started in the high 20s and went way into the 30s.
Official figures say that either because of, or at times despite, the soaring temperatures the crowd number topped 135,000 over the three days of the event, held every two years since 2002.
It is the only event, aside from the Le Mans 24 Hours, that opens the full Circuit de la Sarthe and operates with no changes from the layout fo the great race.
Between the six era-determined ‘Plateau’ grids from between 1923 and 1981, a packed Group C field, plus one make Porsche (celebrating the 70th anniversary) and Jaguar Challenge races some 700 cars (and well over 1000 drivers) took to the track, plus the 70 or so that were demoed for the Global Endurance Challenge.
Each of the six Plateau saw a trio of 45 minute encounters, 18 races in total, plus Saturday’s Group C race and races for the Jaguar and Porsche fields. That meant that having race cars on track was never more than a few minutes away
There was some great racing, and some worthy winners.
There were plenty of drivers very familiar to DSC readers in almost every race: Richard Bradley’s efforts (below) alongside his father in the family-owned 1935 Aston Martin Ulster were always entertaining, Joe Twyman, Sam Hancock, Lars Erik Nielsen, David MacNeill, Gunnar Jeannette, Stuart Hall, Roald Goethe, Keith Ahlers, Sam Tordoff, David Hart, Shaun Lynn, Richard Meins, Tom Alexander, Adrian Willmott, Roger Wills, David Clark, Claudia Hurtgen, Manfred Freisinger, Erik Maris, Jean-Marc Merlin, Patrick Simon, Casper Elgaard, Sandy Watson, Andrew Kirkaldy, Ralf Kelleners, Rob Kauffmann (in the beautifully restored 1966 race winning Ford GT40), Luigi Lucchini, Christian Pescatori, Paul Belmondo, Patrice and Paul Lafargue, Michael Roock, Uwe Alzen, Hubert Haupt and Raymond Narac just a selection of names more familiar from more contemporary racing that took a turn, and in some cases a number of turns, on track in the ‘Plateau’ categories Jacques Nicolet too, who provided one of the moments of the meeting with a last corner pass to take victory in his final Plateau 5 race in the Duckhams Ford.
In the Group C race several of the above were joined by Rob Huff, Aaron Scott and Michael Lyons (who won the race in the family-owned Gebhart C91).
Industry personalities Francois and Pierre Fillon, Carlos Tavares, Richard Mille and Gerard Lopez were to too.
In addition there were 11 previous winners of the Le Mans 24 Hours involved in driving duties: Jurgen Bärth, Derek Bell, Romain Dumas, Löic Duval, Jan Lammers, Gerard Larrousse, Klaus Ludwig, Jochen Mass, Stephane Ortelli, Henri Pescarolo and Marco Werner plus Guy Frequelin, Jacques Lafitte, and Rene Arnoux.
Add in a variety of themed exhibition areas, a simply massive number of cars in the club areas, numbering in the thousands, plus the informal car show that was the car parks and campsites and you have an event on a scale difficult to comprehend without actually being there!
Whilst some of the polish of the Goodwood events was not present (and in some ways that was a plus!), there were some lovely touches. Competitor shuttles around the event were provided by a fleet of VW ‘buses’ and vans of a variety of vintages and conditions! The VIP shuttle fleet meanwhile saw Citroen 2CVs and its ‘Mehari’ spin-offs pressed into service.
Bus shuttles out to Arrange and Mulsanne were provided by a stunning fleet of vintage coaches, though in the temperatures experienced, the period lack of air conditioning must have been a bit of a chore!
Traffic management both into and within the event was periodically chaotic. Internal road closures to allow passage of the competing cars to and from collecting areas, protected by internal road closures and escorted by either ‘period’ gendarme motorbikes with the accompanying whistles, or by Military Police bikes from the ‘40s with accompanying wailing sirens was a great idea, but for whatever reason never worked as well as it should with the competing cars all to often despatched, or returning to their respective paddocks. In a rather disjointed fashion, the road’s closed throughout that extended process and traffic rapidly backing up bringing gridlock to the whole event!
From a fans perspective though the event was excellent though. Access was good, though the ‘Plateau’ paddocks required a supplementary ticket, which sold out rapidly. Trackside the crowding was rather less prominent than the Le Mans 24 Hours, with plenty to see, a good selection of food and drink, albeit at prices that raised a few eyebrows once again, as it did at the 24 Hours!
In short this is an unmissable event if historic sportscars are your thing, and close to unmissable if old cars float your boat.