France’s other 24-hour race is a stiff challenge for historic racers
Literally “twice round the clock”, this 24-hour Historic race at Paul Ricard began five years ago when Eric van de Vyver wanted a tougher challenge for the cars he prepares in France. Today it is part of a challenge series which includes a 6Hr race at Spa and a 12hr event at Magny-Cours with plans to add another half-day thrash at Barcelona.
Given frequent moans about the predomination of 10-lap “sprints” in historic racing, it was surprising that the only British entrants in November’s event were Trevor Needham’s Ginetta G4R and David Methley in a Marcos, though many of the cars including the eventual winner were prepared on this side of the channel.
A large field ranged from Lola T70, Lotus 11 and 23, Merlin and Elva-BMW, to Corvettes, TVR Griffith and a Ford Falcon Sprint. A dozen Porsche 911 started, while there was variety from a beautiful but fragile Bizzarini 5300GT, a Gordini-powered Fournier Marcadier, and the oldest car in the event, a 1956 Cooper-Jaguar.
Pole position went to a Lola T70 but after the first hour the nimbler Elva-BMWs held the first two places and continued to head the results for the rest of the event, bucking the trend of the four previous winners, all of whom were V8-powered. Down the field, diminutive Alpine-Renaults diced with E-type and Corvette — the long-tailed Le Mans bodies of the Alpines proving an advantage on the mile-long Mistrale straight, where in practice the Team Blaton T70 was clocked at almost 170mph.
Drama struck early on Sunday morning when Roland Urban destroyed his Cooper-Jaguar, fortunately without injury to himself. In the end the Elva-BMW of Sylvain and Henri Stepak finished a huge 27 laps clear of an Alpine Prototype, which was in turn 5 laps ahead of a deafening Austrian entered Corvette. Needham had terminal gearbox problems on his Ginetta, but Methley came fourth, claiming to be the first person ever to finish a 24-hour race in a Marcos.