Rain doesn’t stop play at Le Mans Classic 2012

| 10 Jul 2012

Torrential downpours made conditions tricky at the sixth Le Mans Classic, which drew a new record crowd of 109,000 (up 13,000) from 6-8 July.

Appropriately, given the event’s transatlantic special feature, American V8s still dominated Plateau 4, for cars made from 1962-’65, despite the conditions.

The first race began behind a safety car because of heavy rain between Arnage and the Porsche Curves, but the front-running GT40s didn’t have it all their own way. The super-quick AC Cobra of David Hart kept on terms with the Fords – taking strong seconds in two of the three heats – but GT40s locked out the podium places, Leo Voyazides winning with Rolland d’Abel de Libran, from Shaun Lynn and Hans Hugenholtz sharing with fellow Dutchman Hart.

Worst affected by the rain was the youngest, quickest group – Plateau 6 – spanning 1972-’79. A biblical hailstorm just before the first race meant that the early stages were run under yellows. The rain played into the hands of some of the nimbler, less-powerful cars, though, while the much-fancied, ’77 Le Mans-winning Porsche 936 struggled on the wet track.

Martin ‘Dangermouse’ Stretton stormed through from 47th place to second, power-sliding the ex-Clay Regazzoni BMW M1 of Paul and Michael Hinderer at will around the sodden track.

Meanwhile up front, the evocative ’75 De Cadenet-Lola made a triumphant return to La Sarthe – taking an easy victory in the first heat in the hands of Henrik Lindberg and Aston hotshoe Andy Meyrick – but Chris MacAllister made the most of the dry third heat. A decisive win in his awesome ’72 Gulf Mirage gave him the overall honours from the Hinderer/Stretton/Hinderer M1 and Dominque Guenat’s Lola T286.

It was a Jaguar battle-royal in group 3, with the rapid, ex-Juan Manuel Fangio C-type of Alex Buncombe regularly mixing it with a gaggle of D-types. He won the first heat from the D-type of Gavin Pickering, whose fourth in race two helped him to land the overall victory after a close finish in the final contest.

Sadly, the prospect of a three-way battle between Porsche 917s didn’t materialise in plateau 5, after the Gulf-liveried car of star pairing Richard Attwood and Vern Schuppan was damaged during night practice and didn’t race.

Fittingly, Carlos Monteverdi, Gary Pearson and Andrew Smith won the first heat in the famous 917 Kurzheck in which Hans Hermann and Attwood took the laurels at La Sarthe in 1970, but the car only ran for one more lap over the weekend.

Victory went to another Le Mans veteran – the Lola T70 of Frenchman Bernard Thuner, who topped the group in 2010 – from the Porsche 908/3 of Roald Goethe and Fabien Giroix and the Alpine A220 shared by Sylvain Stepak and François Bourdin.

Thuner had to work for it, though, after being hounded by the thundering Chevy Corvette of Franck Metzger and Julien Piguet – much to the delight of the spectators.

There was plenty to see away from the racing, too, with 8000 vehicles from 170 clubs representing 80 makes around every corner and cranny of the Bugatti Circuit. Porsches dominated as per usual, with more than 1000 spanning pretty much every model in the Stuttgart firm’s range.

Nearby, the Elan’s 50th birthday was marked with an outstanding selection of 450-plus cars gathered by massed Lotus clubs from across Europe – plus a strong contingent (as always) from the Cheshire Lotus Owners’ Group.

Yet, for many, the real stars were the wonderful and weird variety of French classics that you only see at the Le Mans Classic, such as Sovam, CG and Hommel.

The Clubs Excellence Prize went to the Panhard Federation for its 12 years of competing at Le Mans, while the superb selection from the Iso Rivolta Club landed second – ahead of the Riley Register, Bentley Drivers Club and Talbot Owners’ Club in joint third.

If there had been a people’s choice, it would probably have gone to Club qui n’en veut, which once again went to town with a wonderful display of classic camping and caravanning equipment.