Gentlemen Drivers may either be a dying breed or a restricted and highly dedicated small bunch of motoring enthusiasts who still stick to the rule "drive-to-and-back-from-the-track". Just because no man of fine taste looks good on a bus or airplane seat. If you have the passion for driving, you just don’t like to take the train to your destination: independence often comes on four wheels.
If driving is freedom, racing could be more like heaven. Of course, competition motoring is restricted to few miles of tarmac, or if you're a rallyst, gravel. It may sound like nonsense but the satisfaction of driving as fast as you can and actually win a prize makes the time spent doing this well worth the effort.
Le Mans is the holy temple of endurance racing. It's the definition of 24 hours continuous racing and a place where those who love sweating in their overalls to defy the heat of the summer get some recognition. After more than 90 years from its first edition back in 1923, the most famous endurance race in the world still attracts enthusiasts from all over the world and thrills new generations to come. It's the place where those who love to drive come every two years, in order to savor the pleasure of going fast for as long as you can.
Over the course of its many glorious editions, the 24 Heures du Mans has made machines made of flesh and metal (and in some cases carbon fiber) famous. Many times manufacturers have named their most prestigious models using the "LM" name and hunted for the highest top speeds on the Mulsanne straight. This endurance race was, and now is, a place where history is made.
Those glorious past days may be long gone, but the cars and the people who were there are still making history. At this year’s Le Mans Classic the godmother of all GT40's, the MkII #2 of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon chassis number P/1046 that won there in 1966, made a comeback to the track that made famous its family name in all Europe. The famous Saltsbourg Porsche 917 #23 that won there back in 1970 was also a pleasing sight that enriched the stunning cars taking part in this year’s Le Mans Classic.
Also worth mentioning, the famous 5-liter Jaguar XJ13. The mid engined V12 prototype, that was made for the 24 hours of 1967 but never raced nor turned a wheel in anger on the French circuit, also made its maiden lap with a parade of 100 Jaguars, also joined by the 1988 winning XJR9. The Brits were invading France once again: British Racing Green was properly celebrated by enthusiasts of the big ol' "Cat". For Jaguar, it was also the first time when their Classic Challenge was hosted on the Le Mans circuit: this helped turn the weekend just more British.
Then it was a parade of the rest of motorsport's history finest: RSRs, Alpines, BMWs, Ferraris... all the goods from the old days were delivered in flamboyant fashion.
Despite none of the cars raced there continuously for 24 hours, racing continued throughout the night with different classes alternating relentlessly till morning.
The roar, the echo and the loudness of full-revving racing engines on the La Sarthe circuit are the pleasing pastime for those who love history and proper driving. Fireballs in the night and thunderous exhaust sounds and crackles at the Arnage turn are the perfect complement for night racing and for a late night drink in the hospitality lounges of the track.
If silk and leather are a much appreciated daily ornament for those with remarkable taste, sweat and fire-proof overalls are the quite suitable weekend garment for the "motoring men" of today. Le Mans Classic is where classicism is a vivid and very real present.
Words by Jacopo Villa
Pictures by Escape On Wheels
Very valid, pithy, suiccnct, and on point. WD.