Lotus to blossom?
Thousands of Britons will cross the English Channel in June to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. How many of their descendants, though, will make the longer journey to Le Mans on June 18/19 to see fresh legends in the making?
Jaguar's army is looking for a new standard-bearer. The entente between Tom Walkinshaw and Jaguar is all but finished, and if the Scotsman ever went back it's more likely to be with Aston Martin. Not in 1994, though, and not until (in Walkinshaw's words) "there are changes in the management there.'
A post-script to the verbal brawl between TWR and the ACO is that Jaguar has kept the Grand Touring category trophy for 1993. despite a claim by the ACO that the British entrant did not properly pursue the appeal against disqualification.
As the ACO's top brass well knows, the Jaguar X1220C was perfectly legal at all times and should never have been 'disqualified' after the first practice session, and there the matter rests: Jaguar 2, Porsche 1, ACO nil.
British hopes are firmly pinned this year on the two Lotus Sport/Chamberlain Engineering Esprit Turbo S300s and on the lone Harrier-Ford, which also runs under Chamberlain's banner.
If your tastes are Italian, cheer for the de Tomaso Pantera run by the West London company, ADA Engineering, and for Robin Smith's Ferrari 348.
It's not a car, but a driver that the Brits will be supporting this year. Derek Bell, MBE, is going back for what he calls "positively the last time" in an attempt to win the classic event for the sixth time in his career, driving a Gulf sponsored Kremer Porsche K8 with Robin Donovan and Jurgen Lassig.
Surprisingly, Bell doesn't have a burning ambition to equal Jacky lckx's record, though beating it would be another thing. "All the time I drove with Jacky, I could never beat his record," Bell concedes. "He is the finest co-driver I ever had, and it would be nice to equal his record.
"I don't suppose, though, that there will be another chance to drive a potential winner, and I think this is the last time ,though 1 never like to say 'never again'. Right now I have set my sights on winning the race, and that's all I'm thinking about."
Five times a Le Mans winner, three times a Daytona winner, twice a sports car world champion. Bell has had a fabulous career. Now 52, he is also one of motor racing's best ambassadors, albeit feted more in Europe and America than in his country of birth.
Two years ago Bell fulfilled one of his ambitions, sharing the ADA Porsche 962C with son Justin. This year Justin competes again as a rival to Derek, sharing the Stealth Engineering Porsche with Tiff Needell.
Stealth Engineering is run by Ian Saunders, chief mechanic with Richard Lloyd's Porsche team in its heyday, and more recently with TWR laguar. Saunders, in fact, is also preparing the Kremer Porsche K8, since the Kremer brothers are running three Honda NSXs in the GT2 class and can't be seen to be too close to the K8.
The Automobile Club de l'Ouest has spent the best part of a year tinkering with equivalencies, trying to balance the performances of Le Mans Prototypes. CT Prototypes, GT1s and GT2s, Group C 1990 models, 1MSA GTSs and everything between, making it well-nigh impossible to predict a winner.
Bell's Gulf Kremer Porsche K8, for Instance, weighs 800 kg: the power of the Porsche three-litre, twin-turbo engine is restricted to 500 horsepower but the fuel tank capacity is restricted to 80 litres and it runs on 14-inch wide rear rims. Should it beat the 'works' Porsches, which are based on lochen Dauer's roadlegal 962C? Hans Stuck, another of Bell's legendary co-drivers, will start the race in such a Porsche which will weigh 1000 kg. Its engine, though, will develop the full 650 bhp, and the tank will hold 120 litres.
Bell turned down an offer to drive with Stuck. "I've always liked the open cars," he says. "My best race at Le Mans was in 1981, with the Jules 936. a lovely car, and that's how I'd like to end my career."
An open car, Bell might have observed, inevitably suffers in aerodynamics, and it's clear that Ing Norbert Singer, Porsche's Le Mans guru. has given much thought to the positioning of the company's effort in 1994. Hurley Haywood, Mauro Baldi and Yannick Dalmas are confirmed, so far, for the Porsche works team.
The Japanese-entered Toyotas, 1990 specification turbo models, finished fifth and sixth last year. .. . and now, the quartet of 3.5-litre. V10-engined Peugeots and Toyota that led them home are languishing in museums.
Bob Wollek has decided to take Nisso Team Trust's money and race with George Fouche and Steven Andskar, all well and good until you find that the old Group C turbos. appearing at Le Mans for the last time, must weigh 950 kg, have their engines restricted to 550 bhp, and tank capacities Limited to 80 litres.
That should last them all of 40 minutes, indicating a possible 35 stops, while Hans Stuck will make a dozen fewer if he has a perfect race. On the basis of form, though, you'd have to back Clayton Cunningham's Nissan team running in the IMSA GTS category. Frontengined the 300ZX may be, but the twinturbo engine, limited to 650 bhp, is much like the one that took Geoffrey Brabham to four consecutive 1MSA GTP titles.
The cars are a little crude by today's hi-tech standards, but they have the two outstanding virtues of being devastatingly quick and extremely reliable!
The Nissans won the Daytona and Sebring classics earlier this year, and in the past eight years the Daytona result has, more often than not, been a good indicator of form for Le Mans.
Expect to see Daytona winner Steve Millen in the 'American' entry, with Johnny O'Connell, and Europeans Eric van de Poele, Michael Bartels and Ivan Capelli in the second car. Note that there is now a complete ban on spectators invading the track before all competitors reach parc ferme. The FIA has threatened the ACO with the loss of its international permit if the track is invaded at 16.00 on Sunday. and in view of the relationship between the two bodies this must be taken seriously. -- M L C
Admission to the general enclosures is fractionally cheaper this year at 310 francs, around £38, and for that you can walk the entire circuit as many times as you like during the race. If you would be happy to restrict your viewing to the Mulsanne and Amage corners the all-in cost would be 180 francs (£22). or 130 francs on practice days. ACO members get a useful discount, and many regular visitors take advantage of this by joining.
The pre-event pitwalk ticket costs 2600 francs, an off-putting £317, though you could probably get through the cordon if you take a mini skirted girlfriend, preferably on roller skates .. .
The Pitwalk ticket does include admission, a grandstand seat facing the pits and a place in the 'welcome' enclosure, so it has a quantifiable value of 750 francs. Expensive, even so.
Grandstand seats facing the pits cost between 180 and 470 francs — that's £57 in the laguar stand, for instance — camping costs between 170 and 300 francs, parking 90 (unreserved) and 160 (reserved).
To book, or for further information, call the ACO on 010 33 4340 2424 (fax: 010 33 4340 24(5).
Scrutineering takes place at the Place des Jacobins, by the Cathedral, on Monday June 13 from 15.00-18.00 and on Tuesday from 9.00-17.00. Admission is free. Qualifying takes place on Wednesday evening, from 19.00-00.30 with an hour's break in the middle, and Thursday, from 19.00-00.00, again with an hour's break. The race starts at 16.00 on June 18.