At the stroke of midnight

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One of the most sensational of all motor sporting sights has always been the release of pent-up tension represented by the classic Le Mans-type run-and-jump start. But if the 24-hour race starts themselves provided meat and drink for thousands of photographers, film makers and TV directors over the decades, there was another venue not that far away which – in my view – trumped the Sarthe.

The Reims 12 Hours was run from midnight to midday, and on that remarkably narrow country roadway in the Champagne country a Le Mans-type start under floodlights really did offer a startling taste sensation. Here’s how Jenks reported the 1964 12 Hours in these pages: “The main worry among the fast boys was the Le Mans-type start in the dark, and the opening laps, until they became accustomed to the dark. Under floodlights the start was given at midnight on Saturday, and the Porsche 904s were the first to move, but it was not long before an incredible high-speed traffic jam was disappearing under the Dunlop bridge and around the fast right-hander. The opening lap, with the headlights appearing on the Soissons road and streaming down to Thillois, was quite fantastic, and then the flood of light came pouring up the road past the pit area at 160mph or more…

“There began a terrific battle for the lead between Graham Hill and Surtees in the Ferrari LM coupés and Ginther in a Lola-Ford coupé. These three passed and re-passed, ran in line-ahead, ran abreast, passed other cars on either side and sometimes on both sides, disappeared over the hill past the pits side by side with the brakes hard on, and slipstreamed each other – all in the dark…”

Mischievous little DSJ couldn’t bring himself to describe Richie Ginther’s new Ford GT without giving credit to its Lola roots, but I think he made the point pretty well – the Le Mans-type start and opening laps of the Reims 12 Hours really could make those at Le Mans itself look pretty tame!