Around the tracks

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Le Mans Classic:

Herbert heads triple success of Le Mans veterans

Victories for three former 24 Hours winners — Johnny Herbert, Jürgen Barth and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud — headlined the second running of the Le Mans Classic. The event was a huge success with around 400 cars spanning 50 years of Le Mans history racing in 18 events during a 24-hour period; each age group of cars raced three times, once in darkness.

Herbert, Barth and Jaussaud were three of six former 24 Hours winners to line up for the Classic, which had gained another grid of cars since the inaugural event in 2002. New was a grid for 1972-78 cars, and it was here that Barth and Jaussaud went head to head in a thrilling finale to the weekend as 4pm on Sunday approached.

Barth and Jean-Marc Luco guided the 1977 Le Mans-winning Porsche 936 to victory in the opening ’72-78 race despite a strong US challenge from Bert Skidmore/Mark Leonard (Lola T286) and Chris McAllister (Gulf Mirage). In the second race Jaussaud and Jean Ragnotti blitzed the pack in the rare Renault A443 to level the score and set up a big finish.

In front of around 50,000 fans, the third and final race was a stormer as Jaussaud battled ahead of Barth only to throw the Renault into the gravel in the closing stages and hand victory back to the German squad.

That result topped a fine weekend for Barth/Luco, who also claimed the aggregate victory in the 1966-71 group in their Porsche 908/3, despite failing to win a race. The Ligier JS3 of Mike Jankowski, with Bobby Verdon-Roe, stormed the opener while Bernard Thuner took the middle race in his Lola T70, 7sec up on the 908. The final ’66-71 race was claimed by a mighty performance from Le Mans veteran John Sheldon (Chevron BI6), but the consistent pace of the Barth Porsche netted overall victory.

Herbert relived the glory of his 1991 victory by winning the night race of the 1945-57 group in Nigel Webb’s Jaguar C-type. Burkhard von Schenk took the opening race in his Maserafi A6CGS from the just-restored D-type of Barrie Williams and John Harper. The D-type crew then stormed to victory in the final race on the car’s first weekend of competition since the 1960s, but aggregate success went to Herbert and Gary Pearson.

Ray Bellm had a remarkable weekend in his Ford GT40 and dominated two of the three 1962-66 races. “In practice we were running out of revs on the Mulsanne straight with about 700 metres to go. In the end it pulled 7800rpm, about 185mph,” reckoned Bellm. Engine failure in the opening race prevented a clean sweep, but the Lanzante crew worked a miracle to install the spare engine in time for the second race.

In Bellm’s absence, Chris Chiles and Paul Ingram won the opening race in one of seven GT4Os entered, but the aggregate victory went to American Bill Binnie in his GT40. Others to star in the big Fords included Adrian Newey and Patrick Tambay.

Two of the closest finishes came from the 1957-61 cars. In the middle race Nick Linney/Jac Nellemann (Lister-Jag) beat the CUT 7 E-type of Nick Whale and Ian Guest by 0.25sec. The result had been the same in the opening salvo, albeit with a gap of 2.5sec. Tony Dron (Ferrari 246S) could have won the night race had he not been caught in the pits during a safety car period, but honour was regained when he and Peter Hardman won the final race convincingly.

The pre-war cars also produced a nail-biter in their final race when the BMW 328 of Thomas Feierabend pipped Gareth Burnett’s Talbot 105 by a tenth as they raced almost to the flag on Sunday morning.

******

Off the blocks

The Le Mans Classic marked the return to competition after four decades for this ‘barn find’ Jaguar D-type. New owner David Wenman entrusted the car to Barrie Williams for a highly successful return to racing.

The car was sold new to New Zealand, raced extensively there and even ran as a road car before being stored in a barn for 20 years.

Sold at Goodwood in 2002, its restoration did not start until last year. “It was amazingly original,” says Beaufort Restorations’ Mike Williams. “But it had hit a telegraph pole and had been brush-painted several times! We also took a huge amount of filler out of the car.”

The seven-month restoration was finished just in time for Le Mans. “Every single system had to be gone through,” says Williams, “but we salvaged all of the original body.”

The car will now race in a range of events.

******

Grand Prix Masters: Dijon

Ensign of the times as Crowson flies

Frank Sytner (Penske PC3) and Johm Crowson (Ensign N177) claimed Grand Prix Masters honours at the front of a Dijon grid hit by test dramas.

Sytner added to his Silverstone double by winning the opening race as series debutant Crowson and Rob Hall (BRM P201) chased. When Hall was sidelined by gear selection dramas, Peter Wuensch (Brabham BT37) claimed third ahead of Nico Bindels in the Tyrrell 007 of Klaus Fiedler.

Having felt unwell all weekend, Sytner decided to stand down from Sunday’s race and entrusted the Penske to its preparer, Simon Hadfield. That meant Hadfield started from the back of the grid for the rolling start and it was only in the last three laps that he caught race leader Crowson. Though Hadfield nipped ahead, Crowson boldly fought back and grabbed victory by 0.1sec!

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