Classic encounters

There were star cars and drivers, but the Le Mans Classic also gave lesser-known machinery a chance to shine
By David Addison

Gulf Porsche 917, howling Matra 660, screaming Lola T280. All features of the Le Mans Classic. Saab 93? Yes, the three-cylinder 748cc car was welcomed to the event, too.

In a world of historic motor racing where one can become blasé about the cars one sees regularly, the Classic stands out due to the variety of cars on track. Forget the car’s pedigree in, say, the Spa 1000 Kilometres, it’s whether the car has a Le Mans history that matters and that is why you get these quirky entries. The Saab was 12th overall in 1959 and won the Index of Performance for its group in the Classic this year; the Skoda Sport and Cadillac Sedan on the other side of the paddock raced in the 1950 event. In front of a record crowd, the Le Mans Classic delivered its potential, producing an entry equalled by no other to delight fans of the 24 Hours.

Soheil Ayari took a brace of wins in Jean Guittard’s Porsche 917 in the 1956-’71 class, the German car swooping away from the opposition which included Jean-Marc Luco’s Gulf-liveried car that took second in the big race in 1971.

Porsche hero Jürgen Barth dusted off his overalls (and breathed in a bit to fit into them…) to share Luco’s 917 and 936 (the 1980 Ickx/Joest car), and was rewarded with a win in the 936 in the 1972-’79 class. He wasn’t the only famous name there: Jean-Pierre Jassaud worked wonders in the Simca 8 from 1938 in the pre-war class (dominated by Gareth Burnett’s Talbot 105); fellow double-winner Gijs van Lennep threw his Porsche 550 RS around, as did 1988 winner Jan Lammers in a similar, sometimes recalcitrant car. Jean Guichet, a winner in ’64, ran his Alfa Romeo SZT for son Gilles, reigning GT4 champion Eric de Doncker was tempted out to play in an AC Cobra, while Peugeot team-mates Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin found employment – Lamy was offered an unreliable Jaguar E-type while Sarrazin teamed up with Jean-Pierre Lecou in a fleet Ford GT40. Gavin Pickering used his recent experience of the 24 Hours to take a win in his father’s Jaguar D-type. René Arnoux and Shinji Nakano teamed up in Richard Mille’s Lola T70, and Jean-Louis Schlesser drove a Ford Capri RS2600.

Gary Pearson took five race wins, four on his own, in Nigel Webb’s Jaguars. Two victories came in his C-type while Gary won all three 1957-’61 races in Webb’s D-type. Pearson’s final win was in the best race of the weekend, as he traded the lead with the Lister Jaguar of Julian Bronson and the Lotus XV of Jamie McIntyre.

Make a date for 2010. With races, car clubs and a relaxed atmosphere this is Le Mans as it used to be.