Le Mans Classic celebrates iconic race cars
For 70 years, the racecourse of Le Mans has been home to a legendary endurance race. Peter Auto has been celebrating this event with a historical re-enactment for 18 years now. In contrast to modern racing, this event always looks back to celebrate the outstanding highlights of the past. Still, however, that long racecourse is a real challenge. With the former 6km long straight Hunaudières and a high percentage of the course being driven at full throttle, reliability and stability are put to the test. Although the Hunaudières is no longer the same thanks to two chicanes, the Circuit de la Sarthe remains outstanding. Another dramatic element that nurtures the fascination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is racing in the dark. Full throttle with the headlights on in the early morning is a scene that Le Mans Classic imitates, with several races held after the sun has gone down.
Le Mans Classic: Looking back in history with Alpine, Porsche and Peugeot
This year, the 40th jubilee of the Alpine victory and the legendary triple win of the Peugeot 905 25 years ago are in the mind of every Le Mans fan. The model will be celebrated with the screaming sound of Peugeot’s V10 engine and other sportscar prototypes. After the huge success of the previous Le Mans Classic, the impressing opening with these sportscar prototypes from two years ago has been a highlight that Peter Auto has chosen to bring back for 2018. The competition will consist of two qualification runs and a 45-minute race. Of the 39 participants in the Group C race, only one is a Peugeot 905. In contrast, there are several Porsche model 962’s in this class. Nine of them will be on the starting line, providing a loud and roaring applause for the German carmaker’s 70th birthday. Besides this jubilee, Porsche has a special connection to the French race circuit, being the manufacturer celebrating the most wins there.
The Alpine victories in Le Mans
In the early 1960s, Alpine developed its M-series of prototype racecars to win Le Mans. Back then, the French rivalry with carmaker Bonnet created a productive competition in the group for small-capacity cars. Alpine’s engineers got some Gordini-tuned engines from Renault, which seemed to be a reliable and powerful powerhouse for a racecar. The first attempt in 1963 failed, as none of the three Alpine M63’s made it to the finishing line. In 1964, Alpine returned with a couple of M63’s, and three versions of the M64. After addressing the M63’s shortcomings, the model won its class, achieving better performance with a slightly bigger engine and a more robust structure. Both models will be on the track at Le Mans Classic 2018 to celebrate this “Alpine moment” in French racing history.
The early days on Circuit de la Sarthe
The 24 Hours of Le Mans popularized endurance racing in the earlier days of automotive history. The first race took place in 1923, making it the world’s oldest active sports car race of its kind. For Le Mans Classic, this means that the first grid features racecars up to 85 years old. The cars date from 1923 to 1939, with a variety of brands, concepts and looks, unlike the line-up of later years. Featured are makes like Bugatti, Singer, Talbot, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Riley, Aston Martin, Lagonda, MG, Lorraine Dietrich, and Invicta.
One car we’d especially like to point out in this grid is the Alfa Romeo of Austrian collector Martin Halusa. He is a passionate driver, frequently bringing his prized vehicles onto the track. In this case, it’s a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagatom that finished the original Mille Miglia three times. Halusa takes the Alfa to events like Le Mans Classic, Bernina Gran Turismo, and the re-enactment of the Mille Miglia. Any classic car event would be pleased to witness such a piece of automotive history being driven at full throttle. But this is only one of many…
Grid 2 of Le Mans Classic focusses on cars built between 1949 and 1956. For the most part, the grid is dominated by Italian, British, and French car makes. A Skoda from 1949 stands out, bringing to mind that the Czech brand did participate in the race in 1949. The model was a small roadster with a compressor engine and an alloy body – sounds like a pretty modern car back in the days. Created to participate in the GP of Brno, the car entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949 as well.
With cars being produced between 1957 and 1961, Grid 3 and all the higher grids feature a more homogenous line-up. Nevertheless, there are big differences between them in this group. On one hand, we have the so-called blue-chip GTs, like the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta and the Aston Martin DB4 GT, with their large-capacity engines, and on the other we have the lighter Lotuses, Deutsch-Bonnets, and Porsche 356s. Interestingly, Halusa will compete in this class as well. Also in this grid, is another Italian—although a little extravagant—a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan.
Grid 4 offers way more muscle throughout the line-up in contrast to the grids with older cars. Growling U.S. engines in Bizzazrinis, Shelby Cobras, and Ford GT 40s are equaled by their European counterparts in cars like Porsche 904s, Jaguar E-Types, and Ferrari 275 GTBs. The smaller engined cars come from manufacturers well known for their ability to produce the optimum power/weight ratio. First and foremost, we have to mention Lotus in this category, with its 1965 Elan, 1962 Elite S2, and 1964 Elan 26R in Grid 4. Also, an Abarth 1300 OZ from 1965 and a 1964 Bonnet Djet follow this recipe for success.
The grid with the most Hollywood glam is most likely Grid 5. Featuring cars from 1966 to 1971, its entrants are the icons that we have loved to follow since watching Steve McQueen’s epic Le Mans movie for the first time. The line-up of Grid 6 represents the rivalry between big works teams and highly specialized racecar makers. Competing against Porsche and Ferrari, these small race car companies—like the British Lola, Chevron, and Mirage and the Italian Osella—have managed to secure their own place in automotive history.
Thanks to the aura of the event, Le Mans Classic frequently manages to bring legendary race drivers of the past back onto the track. With the likes of René Arnoux, Derek Bell, Jacques Laffite, Jochen Mass, Henri Pescarolo, and others behind the steering wheel, the spectators will have another good reason to follow Le Mans Classic 2018.
Le Mans Classic 2018
Circuit de la Sarthe
Le Mans (France)
6. – 8. July 2018
For more information, please visit the website of Le Mans Classic.
All pictures are of the last iediton of Le Mans Classic in 2016, © Mathieu Bonnevie and aca, courtesy of Peter Auto.