This coming weekend sees the running of the ninth Le Mans Classic on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe. The event, created by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Peter Auto almost two decades ago, has become the jewel in the crown of international historic racing, just as the original 24-hour race has done for current sports car and prototype racing.
Run every two years, in 2016 the event attracted 123,000 spectators who came to see the 600 cars on track and the 8500 cars brought by members of numerous international car clubs. This year will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Alpine’s victory in the 24 Hours in 1978 in the hands of the French pairing of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. Also to be recognised is the 25th anniversary of the 1-2-3 result achieved back in 1993, by the three Peugeot 905 Evo 1B race cars.
Not to be forgotten, however, is the well-publicised 70th anniversary being celebrated this year by Porsche. From Porsche’s first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1951, through the decades to the current day, Porsche has been a feature in every single running of this great race. Other anniversaries will include Ligier, Ferrari 365 Daytona, BMW 2002 and others.
In recent years, historic racing has enjoyed a remarkable growth in popularity thanks to rising values of these great cars, which has resulted in a great many more cars being restored and prepped for racing once more. Along with this increase in values and a growth in popularity by the public, has come a willingness by the owners to take their cars out and enter them in competition once again. To meet this surge in interest, more events have been created to cater for this eagerness by both the public and race car owners to bring their cars out to compete around the world. This is a self-fulfilling relationship, because the more these famous cars are seen in competition, the greater the chance of success which in turn increases the car’s value in the market. And the winners are…the public!
The Le Mans Classic is broken into six different grids that see cars grouped by year. Grid 1 is for cars that raced at Le Mans between the years 1923-1939; Grid 2 is for cars between the years 1949-1956; Grid 3 covers the period 1957-1961; Grid 4 caters for those cars that raced between 1962-1965; Grid 5 will see those cars that raced between 1966-1971; and Grid 6 is for the years 1972-1981. It goes without saying that many famous racing drivers from that era will be behind the wheel of a number of different cars, much to the delight of the race-going public.
In addition to the above six grids, the Group C racers (10 of these cars will be Porsche 962) will start the weekend’s activities with a qualifying session on Friday and a 45-minute race on Saturday. There will be a Porsche Classic Race which will include cars from some of the earliest 356 models (1952) through to the mighty 911 RSR 2.8 (1973), and this 55-minute race will take place early on Saturday afternoon. There is also a Jaguar Classic Challenge and new in 2018 is the Global Endurance Legends consisting of two 30-minute demo sessions, one on Friday evening and one on Saturday morning. The Global Endurance Legends include GTs and Prototypes that raced between the 1990s and 2010.
Apart from all the action on track, there will be much for the race goer to enjoy, such as the many club exhibitions and the Le Mans Village, which is packed with many vendors and other attractions. The organisers have provided a Drive-In movie theatre that will feature a number of automotive and race-themed classic films. For those looking to buy a classic or historic race car, there will be the auction held by Artcurial Motorcars.
Here are two legends that will most certainly be there:
On-track action starts at 09h00 on Friday, and ends with the night practice session. The racing action starts at 08h00 on Saturday and will run right to the end of the event on Sunday. There will something for everybody to watch, with race cars covering the six decades from 1923 to 1981.
On 7th and 8th July, the Le Mans Classic will be given free never-before-seen video coverage by 16 cameras that will broadcast for 16 hours – 12 races to be followed live and in full on www.lemansclassic.com. The schedule of video coverage is as follows (Paris time):
Saturday 7 July
10h15-11h15 Jaguar Classic Challenge
11h15-12h30 Group C racing
14h25-15h25 Porsche Classic Race Le Mans
15h25-15h50 Little Big Mans
15h50-17h20 Grid 1, Race 1
17h20-18h50 Grid 2, Race 1
18h50-20h20 Grid 3, Race 1
20h20-21h50 Grid 4, Race 1
Sunday 8 July
09h30-10h50 Grid 2, Race 3
10h50-12h10 Grid 3, Race 3
12h10-14h00 Grid 4, Race 3
14h00-15h20 Grid 5, Race 3
15h20-16h10 Grid 6, Race 3
For the North American territory, MotorTrend.com channel will be the Le Mans Classic official broadcaster. Porsche Road & Race will be there as from media sign-on this Thursday, so we will bring you photos and updates over the weekend, with a fuller report to follow next week.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale (Our apologies, but our images do not show the actual cars that will be at this year’s Le Mans Classic, but are just meant to whet your appetite. They were mostly taken at the Le Mans Legends a few years back)