The cult of personality

In mid-June, two events took place on either side of the Atlantic that were both triumphs for British motorsport. One was the lead item on near enough every major sports bulletin, the other went unnoticed in all but the specialist press. I talk, of course, about Lewis Hamilton’s canny and composed win at Indianapolis, and Aston Martin’s class triumph at Le Mans.

The interest in Hamilton is clear and clearly explained: no British driver has ever had a more promising start to their grand prix career and while he undoubtedly has been given the tools to do the job, so has his double world champion team-mate.

What’s depressing me is the lack of interest in Le Mans. At Indy, the first four finished in the same order in which they had lined up on the grid. At Le Mans the Astons realised a dream at the third time of asking, having raced twice around the clock in often appalling weather. As a race or as a story of human endeavour, the Le Mans 24 Hours would seem to have Indy licked.

Le Mans may be the world’s greatest race but I fear this may soon be under threat, as long as its organiser the ACO continues its policy of ensuring that only diesel-powered prototypes have the slightest chance of winning outright. There may be some benefit to road cars, but the fact is that diesel race engines are all but inaudible and their performance advantage so great as to render all teams without the vast budget to develop their own diesel obsolete. The result is a race that looks and now even sounds boring. Even with the weather doing its best to upset the form book, Audi still won its seventh Le Mans in its past eight attempts, by a margin of more than 80 miles.

Frankly I’d be happy to see all prototypes outlawed so that wonderful looking and sounding cars based on those you can actually buy – like the Astons and Corvettes – can battle for outright victory, not just for class honours. If Le Mans is to continue to thrive, it needs to provide its loyal spectators something more than is currently on offer. It is still the world’s greatest motor race: I’d like it to stay that way.

Andrew Frankel