LE MANS 24 HOURS

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The Porsche factory was successful at Le Mans every year between 1981 and 1987, a run finally ended by Jaguar, and it has taken the Zuffenhausen company seven years to return to the ACO’s podium. Porsche’s 13th Le Mans victory was achieved on June 19 by Yannick Dalmas, Hurley Haywood and Mauro Baldi in a Dauer 962LM Porsche running in the Grand Touring category, and they were a single lap ahead of their team-mates Hans Stuck, Danny Sullivan and Thierry Boutsen, claiming third place in an identical ‘works’ Porsche.

Third? Between the two Porsches, in fact just a tenth of a second ahead of Boutsen at the finish, was the gallant SARD Toyota 94CV (basically a 1990spec Group C car, despite its type designation) with Eddie Irvine at the wheel.

Irvine and his Jordan GP predecessor Boutsen duelled for the final 80 minutes of the race, and the Ulsterman claimed the runner-up spot 10 minutes from the finish when the Porsche slowed, jinked between three backmarkers lining up for a photo finish, and lost momentum.

The excitement was not over even then. Boutsen, in a heavier car on narrower wheels, used the Porsche’s superior straightline speed to threaten Irvine throughout the final two laps.

The flag marshals traditionally line the edge of_thk track whirling all the bunting in their 6rmoury. It’s a nice routine, but they ,stemed not to realise that Irvine and Boutsen were racing for a result.

The Toyota driver was forced to slow at the Ford chicane just before the finishing line and Boutsen made a half-hearted attempt to pass, sending the flag men running in all directions. The Belgian driver had no intention of putting anyone at risk, but he and Irvine had provided the most excitement at the finish line since 1969. If only it had been for victory! The ACO needed a good event to continue the march back after the debacle of 1992. The club itself is virtually insolvent and has handed over the promotional and financial aspects to the Syndicat Mixte, which will soon bring in new blood to revive the organisation.

More than 80 entries were received for the race and these were whittled down to 50 invited to qualify the process was difficult and controversial, and initially ruled out some very good teams in favour of lesser outfits.

Just 48 took the start and eight manufacturers were representedPorsche, of course, was the strongest numerically, making or powering 17 cars including the Dauer 962LM GT and Yves Courage’s three Group C cars.

Toyota had two Group C cars from Japan, Nissan brought two 300 ZXs from Clayton Cunningham’s workshop in El Segundo, California, and the entry included three Ferraris, six Venturis, three Kremer prepared Honda NSXs, three Lotus Esprits, two colourful Dodge Vipers, the Callaway Corvette, an Alpine Renault A610, ADA Engineering’s de Tomaso Pantera and, perhaps the crowd’s favourite, Michel Hommers Bugatti EBI105.

Bugatti won the race outright in 1937 and again in 1939 but the marque has been absent ever since. The second coming of the French blue car might have been a big disappointment, but it was nothing of the sort. It qualified 17th in the hands of last year’s winner Eric Helary with Alain Cudini and lean-Christophe Bouillon and ran second in the GT class for a while, in sixth place overall, though it was eventually handicapped by turbocharger problems.

The Bugatti’s 3.5-litre V I 2 engine is boosted by four little IH1 turbos and, on a rough reckoning, it needed six replacements in the space of 20 hours, though its demise 45 minutes before the end came when the four-wheel drive car spun spectacularly into the barrier while braking for the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight; it was suspected that oil was breathing onto the rear tyres.

Reeves Callaway’s five-litre, moose-like Chevrolet Corvette was a GT2 entry that astonished rivals by leading the class handsomely, seeing off a mighty squadron of Porsche 911 Carrera RSRs until the brakes went spongy in the night. The Corvette resumed the chase but ran out of fuel at the Porsche Curves, and was disqualified when more fuel was taken to it.

Spoiled for choice, some said that there were too many CT cars in the entry but others said that Le Mans should be reserved exclusively for GTs. This is a question that the ACO will have to answer, and they have given themselves until the end of July to publish regulations for next year’s event.

Race director Alain Bertaut is adamant that the Dauer 962LM does not belong in Gil (a view shared by many), but it was his wording of regulations that allowed Porsche to make a successful bid for their 13th victory with the old 962.

The meter has expired on the Group C machines, and this was the last opportunity for Toyota and Courage to challenge with their turbocharged models. Next year the Le Mans Prototype class will be promoted even though it did not feature at all on this year’s starting grid and an accord has been reached between the ACO and 1MSA to unify the LMP and World Sports Car regulations in 1995 for the Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans races. There may even be an event at Suzuka, and a trophy series could emerge.

Toyota went to Le Mans with two ostensibly private teams, Nisso Trust and SARD, though there were enough senior managers present to turn that to advantage if the dream result was produced.

TRD had helped both teams to develop new bodywork with more top side downforce to compensate for the abolition of venturi, and the cars were close to their target weights of 950 kg, pushed along by 3.6-litre twin-turbo V8 engines rated at 550 horsepower with air restrictors.

The Toyotas had duelled ferociously for fifth and sixth places last year, in the wake of the VI 0-powered, 3.5-litre ‘prototypes’, and did so once again.

Bob Wollek, still looking for his elusive Le Mans victory, accepted an invitation from Nisso Trust to join George Fouche and Steven Andskar in their Toyota, and the SARD entry had four names on the door, that of the late Roland Ratzenberger above Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff. There was not even one token Japanese driver among them. As Martini eloquently explained: “It’s the last time Roland’s name will appear on a racing car, and we are

doing this for him. He will help us to win.”

Porsche’s two entries in the Gil category were weighed at slightly above the 1000 kg minimum and were powered by 650 bhp versions of the three-litre, twin turbo flatsix. They were some 50 kg heavier than the Nissans and were obliged to run with 12-inch wide rear wheels (the Goodyear tyres at the rear were almost identical to those at the front in recent years).

An advantage of the GT category spotted early on by Porsche’s management was the regulation concerning fuel capacities. The Group C Toyotas and Courages were limited to 80 litres but the Grand Tourers and IMSA GTS Nissans could run with 120 litre tanks, giving them a definite advantage.

The Porsches’ street legal bodywork, developed by Jochen Dauer’s company and made by Lola Composites in Huntingdon, resembled the 962’s ‘long tail’ configuration and Stuck’s car was the fastest of all, timed at 328 km/h (203.8 mph) at Hunaudieres during qualifying.

The days of lapping in 3m 20s and hitting top speeds in the high 300s have gone, for the time being, and the show was none the worse for it. Now, with heavier weights, narrower rims, air restrictors and flat bottoms the cars are some 30s per lap slower, where like can be compared with like, and 3m 50s was the marker for qualifying.

Alain Ferte took pole position in his Courage Porsche C32 shared with Henri Pescarolo and Franck Lagorce with a time of 3m 51.05s, and for a while it seemed that he might be joined on the front row by Patrick Gonin in the Peugeot (two-litre turbo) powered Welter WR LM93 single seater, which weighs merely 651 kg. Derek Bell ousted the little monoposto on Thursday evening, to the relief of purists, driving the Gulf Kremer Porsche CK8. Racing at Le Mans for the last time, he says, Bell was loudly cheerefl when he stepped into the open-top Porsche for the final stint, and even more loudly when he climbed out after crossing the line in sixth place after a drive shared with Robin Donovan and

rgen Lassig. The Englishman first competed at Le Mans in 1970 driving a Ferrari 5I2S. Since then he has won the event five times, won

two World Championships, and failed to appear only once, when the works Porsches were withdrawn in 1984. It will be a while before another Briton comes along to rival this record.

Serious aerodynamic problems with the Kremer CK8 blighted the May test session and these were largely cured in time for the race, though the rear wing went curiously soft during Saturday evening and caused a worrying vibration which wasn’t traced for a long time.

Bell usually left it to his co-drivers, men like Jacky lckx, Stefan Bellof and Hans Stuck, to do the qualifying in the past decade, and he looked as thrilled as a winner when he qualified third on Wednesday evening, improving to the front row at dusk on Thursday. He led the race, too, as far as Mulsanne on the opening lap, then yielded to Ferte and went into a paced routine that he knows so well.

The pattern of the race was quite clear after an hour of racing. The Group C Toyotas and Courages were in the pits for fuel after 40 minutes but the Dauer Porsches went almost to the hour. Since their lap times were comparable, a ‘works’ Porsche victory looked to be a real possibility.

The front-engined Nissan 300 ZXs were not as challenging as they had been at Daytona and Sebring, and there were no midnight surprises for their rivals. One Nissan shared by Eric van de Poele, Paul Gentilozzi and Shunji Kasuya lasted less than two hours before a suspected turbo problem turned out to be something more serious.

The other, driven by Steve Millen, Johnny O’Connell and John Morton, was gradually outpaced by the Toyotas and Dauer Porsches. The Nissans had the advantages of the 120 litre tankage and wide tyres, but had got nowhere near their 1000 kg minimum. . .the 200 kg of excess weight carried by Millen’s car was too much of a burden, and the eventual fifth place almost felt like a victory to the popular, hardworking team.

The two Dauer Porsches were leading the field at the two-hour mark, pursued by the Nisso Trust and SARD Toyotas, but it was not a runaway success for the German team. Although they would make 35 stops, 12 more than the Porsches, the Japanese managed teams had a strategy of double-shifting to cut the downtime.

This year’s regulations prohibit any work being done on the cars while refuelling, so each time the Dauer Porsches stopped they needed approximately 45s for the fill and another 30s for wheel changing. It was Eddie Irvine’s suggestion to run two shifts in the SARD Toyota, amounting to 80m in total.

The wide Dunlops were good for that mileage so the alternate stops took only 30s at rest, or a minute when the wheels were changed. It didn’t take Porsche’s engineers very long to twig that, but there was nothing they could do. Against expectations, the Toyotas began to establish an advantage. Danny Sullivan dropped two laps when the left rear tyre burst on his Dauer 962LM, just as he was passing the pit entry lane as luck would have it. The American spun impotently through the Ford chicane, finishing up facing the wrong way in front of the pit wall, and had to drive a slow eight-mile lap.

Balancing the scales, the Dalmas/ Haywood/Baldi Dauer 962LM needed a new driveshaft in the seventh hour, the grease having escaped the inner and outer gaiters, SO it went back four laps.

At midnight the Toyotas looked strong, SARD almost two minutes ahead of Nisso Trust, with Stuck’s Porsche a lap behind, Pescarolo’s Courage-Porsche two laps down, the Dalmas Porsche three laps behind and Millen’s Nissan 300 ZX six laps behind. Sadly for Yves Courage, the popular Le Mans garagiste, the engines failed on the Pescarolo and Ferte cars in the small hours of the morning.

The Nisso Trust Toyota was leading at half distance, but was struck down by a transmission problem within three hours. A vibration became too severe to ignore, and the Japanese team spent 54 minutes installing a new gearbox. Dropping to fifth place, they were effectively out of the lead battle.

Soon the works Porsche team evened the contest again when Boutsen hooked a kerb and broke the left-rear lower wishbone at the second Mulsanne chicane, losing 13 minutes in the pits. The SARD Toyota held the lead safely from 07.30 Sunday morning to 14.22, and looked the winner until the hapless Jeff Krosnoff rolled to a stop by the pit exit. A weld had given way on the gear linkage, so the American hopped out, went to the back of the car and selected third by hand, thereafter completing a slow lap.

The pit stop seemed to last an eternity. Stuck’s 962 went into the lead and five minutes later Dalmas’ 962 claimed second place. but Irvine was already moving off the stand and preparing to give chase.

The gap was down to I Is after the final stops, with Irvine continuing to chase Boutsen. This was a highlight of the race, and the cheering from the grandstand suggested that the SARD Toyota was the crowd’s favourite as it dramatically snatched second place 10 minutes from the flag. While the Porsche team notched up its I 3th victory, giving Hurley Haywood his third, Toyota continue to be frustrated in its quest for a first-time 24-hour success. Bob Wollek, competing for the 24th time, had chosen wrong again, and asked in frustration: “What do I have to do to win this damned race?”

Nissan’s competitions manager Frank Honsowetz promised “We’ll be back next year, with new cars,” as soon as the race was over. Toyota will be back with ‘Super Supras’ already in the pipeline, and Honda will return at a higher level, too.

The three NSXs conjured up a ‘photo finish’ in the GT2 category, though delayed by problems with their sequential gearboxes, leaving the GT2 class victory safely to the Larbre Competition Porsche 911 RSR driven by Dominique Dupuy, Jesus Pareja and Carlos Palau in eighth place overall. Ray Bellm, Harry Nuttall and Charlie Rickett failed to maintain their brilliant record in the BPRO’s GT series as their Porsche 911 RSR’s engine broke little more than two hours into the race. It was a thankless outing, too, for other British teams.

Andreas Fuchs’ Lotus Esprit lost a wheel at the two-hour mark, and four hours into the race Richard Piper was taken out of the race when his Lotus was savaged by a spinning 91 I.

ADA Engineering’s de Tomaso was an early visitor to a gravel bed and later needed a new gearbox, and the West London team’s Japanese driven Porsche 962 was stricken by a water leak. Both were running at the end, though neither was classified. Not one of the 22 finishers originated in Britain, and the first Britons to take honours were Derek Bell and Robin Donovan in sixth place. But Bell had chosen to drive the private entry, always preferring an open car, and had no regrets: “It was brilliant,” was his beaming summary of his swansong. M L C

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