This is not the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. This is the Le Mans Classic, which features 24 vintage races over the preceding 24 hours. And on Sunday, July 10th, at 4 p.m. local time the checkered flag fell on the last heat.
Although the 24 hours obviously separate the victors from the punters, the festival really begins three days prior as scrutineering of more than 550 racecars starts on Thursday. Hosted every other year at the Circuit de la Sarthe, this was the Classic’s eighth running. With some of the roughly 120,000 spectators dressed in varying period attire, the celebration focuses on the yearly event’s history. Competition, through day and night, is open to all cars built between 1923 and 1993, which have actually raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Scrutineering involves the typical safety inspections, but at the Classic it also verifies and considers the cars’ historical background. The on-track competition isn’t simply an unobtainium parade for the wealthy. Not completely anyway, as the vehicles’ cumulative value is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
For instance, in Group 5 this year, a 1968 Lola T70 Mk3 defeated a ’69 Lola T70 Mk3B by only twelve-thousandths of a second, along with the rest of the field.
The cars are divided into six era-based classes allowing all teams three races to hash it out. Whichever team has the lowest cumulative time wins their group. Hometown favorites include Alpines, Matras and Delages but other nations are well represented too. This year saw nine Ford GT40s in attendance as well as at least one Chevy Corvette. Several 1960s Ferraris along with C- and D-type Jaguars were present and Porsches were visible throughout the later groups. Smaller names like Frazer-Nash also compete spiritedly.
In addition to the six racing groups there were multiple exhibition races, including Group C (Le Mans prototype racers from the 1980s and ‘90s) and third-scale racecars piloted by kids.
Among the 1000 [grown-up] racers that descended on the French countryside to battle in the 24 45-minute races, were several former Le Mans racers and winners. “For me it’s a real joy to [sic] coming back to Le Mans,” said Jürgen Barth, winner of the 1977 24 Hours of Le Mans. Time to start planning for 2018.
For Pt. 2 please click here.