With the 2016 running of the bi-annual Le Mans Classic now just a few days away, the countdown is now in full swing for competitors and fans alike. With June’s 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours being hit by torrential rain it is surely of consolation to everyone that the forecast for this week looks considerably more promising!
The main event consists of various races, parade laps, initiation drives and displays.
The main racing is comprised seven grids representing the vehicles that have competed in the legendary 24 hour race from 1923-1993 and the Jaguar Classic Challenge.
Grid 1 (1923-1939) – Represents cars from the beginning of of the era of endurance racing here we are privileged to see the likes of the 1926 Bentley 4,5l “Le Mans” battling its 3 litre sister car from the same year alongside Bugattis, Talbots, Delahayes, Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos, BMWs, Morgans and Citroens to name but a few! With 72 entries it will be a spectacular sight and sound for the fans.
Grid 2 (1949-1956) – As we move into the post-war years we see Europe and the car industry especially starting to rebuild itself; many makes have disappeared, and many new, smaller manufacturers have filled their place. In fact, a brand new manufacturer, Ferrari, wins this first post-war race. We see the growth of Britain’s Jaguar brand and sadly also Pierre Levegh’s terrible accident in 1955 where his Mercedes spun into a concrete barrier, left the track and left 83 spectators and Levegh dead and 120 more were injured. As horrific as this accident was, it is also credited with being a catalyst for improvements to race circuits and both driver and spectator safety.
Grid 3 (1957-1961) – The Ferrari era where that Italian manufacturer Ferrari dominates Le Mans with seven victories from 1958 onwards. Britain’s Aston Martin take their only win to date in 1959 when Roy Salvadori (GB) and Carroll Shelby (USA) pilot their Aston Martin DBR1/300 to victory over their teammates Maurice Trintignant (FR) and Paul Frère (BE).
Grid 4 (1962-1965) – After a failed attempt by Ford to buy Ferrari, the US automotive giant begins a ‘no cost too great’ program to take the Le Mans title from Ferrari. We see the BRM/Rover turbine car for the first time in 1963. Shelby Cobras, MGBs, Ford GT40s, Ferrari 275 & 2550s, Jaguar E-types and Alfa Romeo TZ will all recreate the era this year.
Grid 5 (1966-1971) – Ford’s program finally bears fruit with a 1-2-3 win in 1966 for the GT40. A year later after a thrilling race it was felt that the performance boundaries were beginning to be pushed too far and the prototype class began to see additional regulation aimed at ensuring safety and competition. Ford continues its dominance through to the end of the decade and we see Porsche step up onto the endurance stage.
Grid 6 (1972-1981) – Porsche begins the decade with dominance from its 917 until it was regulated out of competition. Next came the Matra V12s which gave three victories to local driver Henri Pescarolo and then they too were gone… Belgian driver Jacky Ickx began his run of three victories at La Sarthe, we see the BMW M1 and Porsche return to continue their dominance from earlier in the decade.
Group C (1982-1993) – Possibly the most exiting news for spectators is that in 2016 Group C racing will return to the Sarthe circuit. Viewed as possibly one of the most exciting periods in endurance racing history the Group C challengers will again take to the track to fight it out with Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes, Toyotas, Nissan Mazdas and Peugeot all represented. With their still modern looks and their huge rear wings, the Group Cs hold an irresistible fascination for people of all ages; they are still capable of performances very close to those of the present-day prototypes, as their top speeds exceed 300 km/h!
The Jaguar Classic Challenge is a 1 hour race scheduled for Saturday afternoon that will see drivers from Great Britain, France, Spain Portugal, Germany, USA and Canada pilot 59 classic Jaguars including Mk1/2s, XKs and C/D/E Types.
Somewhat unique to the Le Mans Classic is the large numbers of clubs that will take their members cars out onto the historic Le Mans circuit over the weekend in a variety of parade laps. These laps which run on Friday and Saturday mornings are an excellent chance to see a huge variety of cars (look out for the SCG team in the Aston Martin Parade laps on Friday morning!). Saturday afternoon will see formal parade laps for Jaguar, Ferrari and BMW and, interestingly, old busses!
During the event the Bugatti circuit is transformed into a very large club display area with close to 8,000 cars! Each club area will be clearly signed and there will be club flags and banners and this again offers spectators and fans a fantastic opportunity to get up close to some wonderful cars, grab photos and chat with the owners. You can download a PDF map of where each club’s display area will be by clicking the map on the left.
Just as with the Goodwood Revival, the organisers aim to promote a ‘period feel’ in and around the circuit and have requested a ‘smart casual’ dress code, leaving the shorts and T-shirts behind in favour of slacks, polos, shirts and dresses.
Finally, with so much to do, planning can be a real problem and to help there is now a Le Mans Classic app available which contains planes, timetables etc. that can be downloaded for free to your smartphone and/or tablet, just click the image to your left to begin.
The full event Timetable can be found here.