Racing to rival history at massive Le Mans Classic

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The Loire Valley thundered to the sound of packed historic grids at the seventh Le Mans Classic, which took place from 4-6 July. The record 110,000 visitors to La Sarthe were enthralled by more than 450 motor sport legends, from pre-war Bentleys through to monstrous Porsche 935s and Lola T280s, and nearly everything in-between.

Alex Buncombe once again proved himself to be one of the most talented drivers on the grid as he steered a well-sorted Jaguar C-type to two victories in Plateau Two. A seemingly fearless Buncombe stormed to pole position in the first two heats before putting on a driving masterclass, sawing at the wheel and tearing past back-markers with astonishing speed. The main resistance was offered by Gavin Pickering, who topped the field at the 2012 event, and Carlos Monteverde, but both their D-types suffered from mechanical maladies, which put them out of contention. Contact in race three denied Buncombe a hat-trick, so the overall laurels went to the C-type of Nick Finburgh and Andrew Newall from the 1.1-litre Lotus Eleven of Reedz-Thott, Holstein and Lokvig.

There was more Lotus Eleven heroics in Plateau Three, as Ian Dalglish and Roger Wills landed second place in the first race of a group dominated by Gary Pearson and journalist Chris Harris. Like Buncombe's C-type, their Jaguar D-type seemed streaks ahead of the competition in qualifying and free practice, and continued to impress during the races, winning the first before being bested by Vincent Gaye's Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta in the second. Pearson and Harris came out on top in the third race to give them overall victory ahead of Gaye's Ferrari.

The much-fancied Ford GT40s of Plateau Four for 1962-1965 cars were given a scare early on in the weekend, when Dutchman David Hart had the edge as the rain started to fall, steering his Shelby Cobra to the front of the pack in terrible conditions. In the end, it was Luis Perez-Companc who upset the running order when his Ferrari 250LM dropped its oil on the Mulsanne Straight. Hans Hugenholtz's GT40 came out on top by the end of the third race.

Plateau Five for 1966-'71 cars proved one of the most popular with the crowds, largely thanks to the exploits of David Hart. He took the chequered flag in all three races, comprehensively thrashing the competition at the wheel of a Lola T70 Mk3B. Indeed, the top four places were taken by Lolas, in contrast to their performance in period; in six decades of racing the firm never won the 24-hour event outright. 

The biggest disappointment came late on Saturday night, as those who braved the atrocious weather to watch Plateau Six were met with the sight of a safety car almost before a wheel had turned in anger. The race was briefly restarted before a spin brought out the safety car. By Sunday morning, the track had dried enough to allow the drivers to race, and it was Carlos Barbot who took the flag a second ahead of the Ferrer-Collinot Ferrari 512BB LM. But, the overall victory belonged to 2012 winner Chris MacAllister.

While the racing has always been the highlight of the Le Mans Classic, there was plenty off the track to keep visitors entertained, including the Concours Le Mans Heritage Club. Each of the 30 entries had raced at Le Mans in period, making for an exciting display. The standout cars were the Bentley Speed 6 'Old Number One', which won the 1923-39 class, and the experimental gas turbine-driven Rover BRM, which had recently been made operational by a team at the Heritage Motor Museum, Gaydon and won the Prix d'Exellence award.

More than 8000 vehicles crammed into the club displays, representing 180 groups, with 1000-plus Porsches, mostly 911s dominating the hard standing and Bugatti circuit. The real star, though, was the remarkable collection of 44 mainly pre-war cars displayed by the Riley Register. As well as impressing the crowds, the club won the Grand Prix d'Exellence award, with second place going to Club Hotchkiss.

The weekend was rounded off with Artcurial's Le Mans Classic sale, in which a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster was the top seller, fetching €1,115,600.

Click here to see a full gallery of images from the Le Mans Classic. 

 

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