Le Mans, 1969
The Le Mans 24-hour race has many shortcomings, as anyone will agree who has been there, but in spite of them all it still holds an attraction and allure that makes people go to it year after year, whether they be potential winners, hopeless also-rans, spectators or mere supporters. From the enthusiast’s point of view, it has the attraction of being held on a real road circuit and going on for 24 hours, as well as being the oldest and most historic 24-hour race. The Belgians have tried to emulate Le Mans with a 24-hour event on the magnificent Francorchamps circuit, but it was always lacking in spectator ambience, and Daytona is still trying but suffers from being too small and cramped as regards circuit, and too artificial.
If you must participate in a Iong distance event, and why not for goodness sake, then les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans cannot be beaten; for this reason, the happenings of the Sarthe circuit are important and significant, though they may not be vital to the health and wealth of today’s ‘social security’ type of driver. No matter how much a racing team or factory does, the ultimate victory is to win the Le Mans race. It may not be the best race or the best circuit, but it is the longest on a very good circuit. To win the Targa Florio is great, to win the 1000 kilometres at the Nürburgring, Spa, Monza or Montlhéry, or even the BOAC 500 is satisfactory, but they are all preliminaries to winning the ‘big one’, Somehow the Sebring 12-hours has never risen above an ‘airfield race’ and a way of selling cars to the native Americans. Talk to any retired driver who is no longer racIng and nostalgia brings out ‘the good old days’ of winning in Sicily or on the Nürburgrlng, or at Spa or Monza. lt is seldom at Sebring, Daytona or even in Buenos Aires, for the Argentinians used to hold a 1000 kilometre race.
Denis Jenkinson was our famous Continental Correspondent for more than 40 years