Sunday, 6 July 2014

Le Mans Classic 2014 round-up


So that brings The 2014 Le Mans Classic to an end, just as the sun starts to break through 


Apart from the weather it has been yet another breath-taking event. The statistics alone are mind boggling .. around 110,000 spectators have fought the weather.. around 450 superb, fully functioning,  racing classics driven hard by around 1,500 ‘pilots’ have given us some splendid racing.

Add to that the massive 8,500 strong collection of road going classics on display ranging from the exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Aston Martins to the slightly more humble MGB. There must be at least one of virtually every marque ever built. The crowds are cheerful, well behaved and very knowledgeable.

The whole operation has taken a big step up this year.. we are convinced that there are far more than just the 1,000 additional spectators than we saw two years ago.
Maybe they all brought a car along because the traffic was as challenging, or maybe even more so, than at The 24hrs of Le Mans.

There was so much to see beyond the actual racing and club displays. At the outstanding Artcurial Auction, there were examples everywhere of the French skills in ‘carrosserie’ (coach-building).
There were very classy retail outlets persuading you to part with €€€, even a re-creation of the ‘Drive in Cinema’ where you could relive films like ‘Un homme et une femme’ , ‘Bullitt’’ Le Mans’ the movie. You can even take another look at the infamous ‘ That was a rendezvous’’ shot at speed in the streets of Paris! If your nerves could stand it there was a traditional ‘Wall of Death’ or in French , more dramatically, ‘Mur de la mort’!  There were cafes, bistros, diners and even an ‘English Hall’.

You need at least three tiring, foot sore days to this weekend justice. Outside the Circuit bars and restaurants are serving ‘normal’ food not ‘menu rapide’… and so on.  It is expensive  we agree and that may deter some enthusiasts . We do feel that food and beer prices in the circuit were excessive but where else can you enjoy such a feast of exotica?
Why not pencil in a visit for two years’ time .. You won’t be disappointed.

Final results can be found on this link 


Jock Simpson and Tony Light


Artcurial Auction .. Classic Cars booming?


Wow.. pause for a sharp in-take of breath! 

Artcurial are an important French Auction house and they have held one of their most prestigious auctions here at The Le Mans Classic since 2007.

The results are spectacular to say the least ! They sold more than €13M worth of cars ( that is around $17M). 15% of their sales went to America and 52% remained in Europe.

Photo: Artcurial
Two of the ‘star cars' in the auction have 'Le Mans' in their genes. The 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster went for €1,115,600 is one. The 300SL Gullwing started it all when Hermann Lang stepped out of the car after winning Le Mans in 1952. The ‘Gullwing’ did go into production and even to this day they turn heads everywhere. There are two examples racing here at Le Mans Classic. Despite its good looks it was a few problems.. It apparently suffered from serious understeer, which is strange bearing in mind it was a powerful rear wheel drive  machine, but just when you thought you had got on top of the understeer you would be greeted with ‘snap oversteer’ when the rear swing axles gave up the unequal struggle.. Drum brakes slowed the car up but really didn't do much to stop the car. Plus the interior was cramped and got very hot. OK it looked a bit smart with all that chrome and bright red leather – for some reason , who knows why,  SLs were known as tart traps! 

But the Gull wing did spawn the far more civilised 300 SL Roadster, many say that while it is less iconic it is in fact a much better bet and almost as desirable nowadays .. hence European collector who paid €1,115,600 for one here at Le Mans!

Another car in the auction with actual Le Mans history was the 1964 AC Cobra 289 MkII. This fetched €761,000 ($1,034,522).
Photo: Washington Post
This Cobra 289 raced here 50 years ago , it was driven by Jean de Mortemart and Régis Fraissinet and they came 18th overall. It is alleged that Régis Fraissinet, wealthy heir to a dynasty of industrialists, calmly announced to the press that he raced motor cars in order to provide a different perspective on his everyday life : " There are those who like to play tennis and those who prefer golf. I play tennis and golf but, most of all, I prefer to race cars...” I wonder if he had any idea what would happen to AC Cobra prices fifty years later !

Take a look at www.artcurial.com 

Après Le Deluge !


This seemed an appropriate quote to start the day with.. until I looked up its correct origins only to discover the full quote is “après moi, la deluge” which is attributed to Louis XIV and at the time it seems he meant  "when I'm dead, all others may die too". So not quite so apt.. however it has been a pretty miserable night and as the French might say “pisser avec la pluie” . 

But after a very wet start the rain has relented a bit. Our thoughts go out to the marshals, drivers of open cockpit cars and those brave souls out there camping.

At least the live motoring extravaganza that is the roundabout by L’Arlequin was upto scratch. Even our chum in his 14.5 litre Le France/Simplex beast was doing a bit of ‘showboating’ and it is not like him at all. Arnage was heaving with very jolly (over jollyied?) fans and the locals were certainly making a brisk living, at least they did last night. 

This morning dawned badly for your team.. one member wound up in the medical centre. The symptoms were ‘indigestion based’ but this didn’t stop the doctors giving him a full 10,000 mile service and check up!  After being royally looked after he asked if he could contribute to a local charity, the staff simply said “ Non..Money is money and health is health”.. which is a  refreshing attitude to medicine. He is now proclaimed fit and back on the team!

Strange how you miss effective wipers when you normally take the things entirely for granted, how did the heroes of yesteryear cope? The driver’s side wiper cried enough and chose to simply move water around rather than remove it. Even that is now cured with a rather short replacement blade found in the boot!

If you have been following Tony’s Tweeting (if not why not !)  you will notice that keeping on top of results is well-nigh impossible. The provisional results are posted and then hours later all the penalties arrive and they are then re-posted. Some penalties are heroically draconian.. one driver was penalised five laps and he hadn't actually completed any laps.. so he went ‘minus’! It is very easy to fall foul of the stewards during this event .. speeding in the pit lane, circuit limits, taking your pit stop early, late or not at all, not stopping long enough during your stop and so on. The tricky bit is that they don’t explain on the results what heinous crime had been committed. So it is all as clear as mud to us.

There is one scheduling problem and that is irritating fact that the ‘big bangers’ in Grid 6 go out at midnight on Saturday,( time to in bed or bar!)  then again at 08:00hrs ( coffee and croissants time ) and finally they end the show at 16:00hrs on Sunday.  Having been a lucky lad I have driven various ‘classics’ in the dark on the public roads and the headlights give a cheery glow ‘illuminating’ the road about a foot in front of the car on main beam and then six inches on dip. This may be why the older cars don’t go out in the dark during the Classic.

There have been no mishaps to speak of and  as far as we know the level of retirements has been very low as well. Even so a few have fallen by the wayside, despite this the grids remain 60-65 cars strong. 

Jock Simpson 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

On Your Marques! The 2014 Le Mans Classic is up and running!

On Your Marques! The 2014 Le Mans Classic is underway..


It is Saturday, it is Le Mans Classic and ‘the weather is here ..wish you were lovely’!  I try and avoid clichés like the plague as you know.. actually the weather is unimpressive, cloudy, overcast with rain and with the threat of more to come. Despite that it is really rather busy. We get the feeling that it is far busier than it was two years ago when we are told 109,000 people braved the weather and came to watch. Someway to go then before it rivals the 263,000 spectators at the man event but still rather impressive for any type of motorsport outside F1.

The first thing that strikes you is how many ‘classic’ road cars there are in The Sarthe at the moment. Unlike the 24hrs of Le Mans everywhere you go you stumble upon groups  of half a dozen or so enthusiasts happily haring around the minor roads having a ball. We had lunch about 40kms from Le Mans and were surrounded by a number of Healeys, a TR , Jensen, Lagonda and a crazy Simplex. (more of this later!).

It is not too surprising when you consider that there are 119 Motor Clubs of one sort or another parked up on the Bugatti Circuit alone. Porsche Club France has 900 cars here, while The TR Dorset Club have 8! Just to get you googling ( and to save us the trouble)  ever heard of  Les Amis des Automobiles Michel Hommell ( 15 cars) or Club Automobiles Martin? 

Back in the main event the basic rules are relatively straightforward.. it gets harder as you go along!

There are Six ‘Grids’ , each grid starts the weekend with 75 cars so there are 450 cars here! To be eligible they have to be an example of a model  that raced at Le Mans. If the actual car raced at Le Mans it gets priority of course. Each grid has six reserves. You are allowed a maximum of four drivers per car. Each race lasts 43 minutes and each grid gets three races. So your track time during the 24 hour period is about 2hrs 15 mins. However a considerable number of drivers are involved  with driving more than one car which makes the project rather more financially attractive ! 

The date spans of the six grids are as follows:-
Grid One 1923-1939
Grid Two 1949-1959
Grid Three 1957-1961
Grid Four 1962-1965
Grid Five 1966-1971
Grid Six 1972 -1979 

That will do for a start .. we will back later ..

Jock Simpson 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Chequered Flag 15:00. 2014 Was this a Classic? We think so..

Podium rush seen from the press room (photo: Lennart Sorth)
The events of the last 24 hours, in fact the events of last week, might have been a somewhat far fetched movie script if they hadn't been played out in real life. There was the glorious weather only interspersed with short deluge to cause drama and tension on the circuit. There was the spectacular crash that sidelined a major driver. There was the young pilot drafted-in at the last minute, there was the triumph of victory and the agony of defeat. There was the emotional victory of the Danish Aston carrying the same number that last year was on the car that was involved in the fatal accident of Allan Simonsen. Never was the phrase "you couldn't make this up" more appropriate than at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2014.

At the heart of the ACO’s ‘eco-drive’ over the last two years has been the arrival of the ‘hybrids’. This year one of the historic ‘Big Boys’ arrived on the stage in the shape of Porsche. The circuit was plastered with Porsche advertising, they had massive hospitality stuff most of them the size of fully functioning hotels! Part of the Rotunda was branded ‘Porsche Hotel’. Not wishing to be out done Audi have done much the same and taken over most of the ‘Parc des Expositions’ and converted it into  ‘Audi on Sarthe’.. This is a BIG event for these manufactures as it ever was, but this time Porsche are at the party. The whole place was awash with Stuggart’s finest. We have seen so many Porsche Panameras and Cayennes. All the other spaces were taken up by Audis!

This is proof, if it was ever needed, that 24 hrs of Le Mans is still a massively important event for major manufacturers. The expression “Race on Sunday.. Sell on Monday” still seems valid. The proof is that a massive 262,000 spectators have been here over the weekend. Maybe that is partly the ‘Webber’ factor or maybe people still love Le Mans! We were speculating if the most spectators come from France, Denmark or UK!

The arrival of Porsche brought another hybrid system to the party, but their one was nowhere near as well proven as Audi and Toyota. This we felt loaded the dice in favour of Audi and Toyota. Audi had their huge experience and much maligned Teutonic efficiency to call on... Toyota arrived with a car that was generally regarded as being the quickest car . So where did Porsche fit? That was part of the mix, nobody really knew! No doubt they were sand-bagging during testing and qualifying and playing their cards very close to their chests. But they got soooo close to not just finishing the race but even, at one point, winning it. We have a feeling a ’good showing’ would have sufficed.. that was until they got a serious whiff of victory!

If hard graft wins Le Mans then Audi richly deserve their success here, this weekend saw them totally rebuild (if that is the right word!) or recreate the #1 car after Loic Duval had that massive accident. Then Di Grassi wiped the thing along the Armco soon after it was finished!  They also changed two turbo chargers under pressure.. and they are too hot to handle.

We still find following LMP2 difficult, we say this every year. Maybe we should bring along somebody that really knows their way around the category. It is hard to follow because the cars do look a bit similar, despite some now having roofs. They have a collection of what are without doubt very talented drivers but lack big hitting names that the public can hook onto. The manufacturer names don’t flow off the tongue either. However throughout the whole 24 hours they have put in the miles and run impeccably. Some drivers now feel that the gap between LMGT Pro is getting close to LMP2 making overtaking difficult and dangerous.

Porsche didn’t just have their hybrids here they had two Manthey Team 911RSR here as well. They must have been thinking in terms of a relatively smooth journey to the podium but they did seem to lack pace which put them on the back foot. Aston, Corvette and Ferrari all showed impressive speed! Corvette have done their usual thing not saying much, not bragging much, keeping below the parapet and just getting on with it.

Aston Martin and Ferrari gave us some brilliant racing, particularly Senna and Bruni!  Quite why the organisation remain so heavily committed to Prototypes rather than the original Le Mans DNA which was always based upon road going GT type cars we don’t know. But that could become a rant!

It could become the year that will be remembered for Loic Duval’s huge accident. Quite how he emerged alive remains a miracle. Audi clearly built one bl**dy strong car. But he was one of many who came seriously unstuck in the Porsche Curves.. There is something not right about ‘The Curves’ but quite what it is needs a careful review.

Once again there were any number of safety car interventions. You can’t say there were too many because it was the accidents that caused them and the drivers who caused he accidents involved. We are lucky enough to race all over the place and nowhere do we find circuit furniture that suffers damage the way it does at Le Mans and for whatever it is it tends to take time to repair and to  get racing again. The medical intervention teams worked hard and sadly too often. Maybe the problem lies with the fact that Le Mans is not a dedicated circuit it is a very long ‘Street’ Circuit and that presents its own set of problems.

The hybrids did throw up a worrying anomaly and that was how to handle the driver in major incident. Due to the electricity, energy and so on involved, the marshals were not happy to extricate Duval until the car had been ‘powered’ down. Fortunately Loic was chatting away and ‘safe’ but it could have been different. This didn’t feel right.

Oh yes.. I forgot that huge downpour that caused real mayhem and some serious damage… Le Mans is a bit like Spa, it is long enough to have different weather at various points on the circuit. Other than that the weather has been lovely.

The new style Michelin Café for the media must have cost them thousands! It has been looking after us with canapés and crudities some of which even Le Grand Fromage could consume. Having got used to cheese and ham baguettes in the past it came as a surprise. As did their decision to happily serve alcohol all day and night. Sadly, believe us or not, booze doesn’t mix with tweeting, texting and things.

Results:

LMP1-H
No 2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro       379 laps
No 1 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro       376 laps
No 8 Toyota Racing Toyota TS 040 - Hybrid                      374 laps

LMP –L
No 12 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One - Toyota             360 laps

LMP2
No 38 Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN - Nissan                               356 laps
No 46 ThirieT BY TDS Racing Ligier JS P2 - Nissan          355 laps
No 36 Signatech Alpine Alpine A450 - Nissan                     355 laps

LM GTE Pro
No 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia                                         339 laps
No 73 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette - C7                   338 laps
No 92 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR (991)        337 laps

LM GTE Am
No 95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8         334 laps
No 88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR (991)               332 laps
No 61 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia                                          331 laps


The End is in sight … at 13:00

There have been so many twists and turns in this race and this session had most of them. Porsche #20 took the lead ahead of the Audis who had been suffering from broken turbo chargers. Both #1 and#2 Audis both needed their turbos changed.  Porsche lacked some pace but in amongst this ever changing scenario it looked as if the #20 Porsche could still win. But just as I write this the #20 car driven by Webber was all set up for a fabulous chase to the line but …. Nope.. first of all it went straight on at Mulsanne and then rejoined but the car simply didn’t get going and Webber had to creep home and lose any chance of a victory, or maybe even a podium. Very cruel luck.

Audi on the other hand kept their nerve and let Lotterer have a real go to get the chance of an overall win in a head to head with Webber. It looked very tasty! As RLM said if you submitted script for a sequel to the movie ‘Le Mans’ based upon this race you would be told to forget it .. it simply wouldn’t be realistic!

Toyota who were really out of contention having seemingly lost out to both Porsche and Audi could still get their #8 car onto the podium. Probably rather more than they really ever expected after ‘wheels began to fall off their wagons’! 

It could all change again, but time is gradually draining away.

In LM GTE Pro the #51 Ferrari hung on in there under huge pressure from the #97 Aston Martin until it faded away. Then #73 Corvette picked up the challenge. Just behind the ‘Vette was the #92 Manthey Porsche which we had rather thought was out of contention, but is now looking a podium possible!
GTE Am has a well-balanced manufacturers look about it with Aston, Porsche and Ferrari hard at it.

Leader board at 13:21 was 

LMP1
2 Audi
1 Audi
20  Porsche

LMP2
38 Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN
46 Ligier JS P2 Nissan
36 Signatech Alpine A450b-Nissan

GT Pro
51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia
92 Manthey Porsche 911 RSR
73 Corvette C.R7

GTE Am
95 Aston Martin Vantage V8
88 Proton Porsche 911 RSR (991)
61  AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia

Some of the steam might have gone out of the final two hours.. particularly galling for Porsche ..

11:00 Everything is changing ..

The spotlight briefly wandered from LMP1 and lit up GTE Pro. What we saw was a truly superb period of ‘full on’ racing between Bruni in the #51 Ferrari and Senna in the #97 Aston Martin. It was ‘pure undiluted full fat’ Le Mans! With miles and miles of racing behind them only a few yards separated the cars. It was an intriguing period because the two cars are so different and perform in different places. It certainly looked as if the Ferrari was quicker in a straight line and the Aston better under braking. It went on for lap after lap until Senna took Bruni on the outside at Mulsanne.

With that behind him Senna then put in the fastest Pro lap of the race trying to get some air between him and Bruni. It all came to nothing when the #97 Aston was forced to pit with a power steering hose that had come adrift , probably when Senna was bouncing all over the kerbs! The same problem hit the #99 Aston. Bruni must have heaved a sigh of relief and was now able to take a breather. The #97 car will be in the pits for a while. Now Bruni will need to keep pressing, assuming he has not pushed the Ferrari a little too hard in the Senna battle.  The demise of the Aston will have given the #92 Porsche and #73 Corvette new hope. To date the Porsche has only pitted 19 times against the 21 of the Corvette and Ferrari. Confucius he say “ Small gains like this can give great benefits later”. The #97 Aston spent 3 minutes in the garage.

Just as I was about to post this blog the #1 Audi slowed up and stopped out on the circuit .. it stayed there for an agonising half a minute or so before firing up and getting back on the pace and back to the pits where we gather a new turbo is waiting for it .. they pitted, did nothing and went out again. Audi seem confused ! The #1 Audi is in its garage and they are ‘at work’.. it will take about 23 minutes 

So at 11:00

LMP1
1 Audi
20  Porsche
2 Audi

LMP2
35 Ligier JS P2 Nissan
46 Ligier JS P2 Nissan
38 Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN

GT Pro
51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia
92 Manthey Porsche 911 RSR
73 Corvette C.R

GTE Am
95 Aston Martin 
88 Porsche 
61  Ferrari