Le Mans 24 Hours and Legend 2013
Many thanks to Tony Brown for this report and some gorgeous photography!
Let’s start off by saying that the correct title of this race should make no reference to 24 Hours, since due to inclement weather and a number of accidents the race this year broke all records and spent five hours following the pace cars around the circuit. But the whole event was tinged with sadness, since after only nine minutes, at 15.09 on Saturday 22nd June 2013, Allan Simonsen, racing for Denmark in the #95 Aston Martin, lost control at Tertre Rouge and on contact with the cold steel of the Armco lost his life. It says a lot for the spirit of his family that on hearing the news they insisted that both Aston Martin and the race should continue as he himself would have wished.
Having put that sombre note behind us, let me now refer to the real race, the one that took place at 10 am on the Saturday morning, one hour of derring-do and thunder as the 1949/65 grid took to the track, with cars from an Allard J2 with flathead Cadillac V8 engine through the delicate and lightweight Lotus 11 of 1957 to the brawn of the 1964 Project 214 Aston Martin . What a mix, what a race, and what a difference in the driving! Several years back at the Le Mans Classic, Alex Buncombe, at the wheel of the ex-Fangio C-type, had mechanical problems during the night and so started the last race at the back of the grid, only to come through the lot and take the chequered flag, overtaking such notables as Gary Pearson, John Minshaw and Sean Lynn. This time he walked away in the race, just as he did in qualifying, but this time at the wheel of the Lister Costin. Placed second, nearly a minute down, was John Minshaw at the wheel of the Lister Knobbly, and what a pretty car that is, as I am sure you’ll all agree. I don’t know what it is about coming to the Sarthe but it seems Nigel Webb’s Le Mans-winning 1955 D-type is fated to break down, this time blowing a head gasket and sounding very sick during qualifying and then losing the rotor arm after just one lap of the race. But, while I saw it but once, you can see from this shot that Anthony Reid and Gary Pearson were having a very personal battle. Here are a couple of other photos of “our” cars just to fill in the gaps. Now I was looking at the lap times and was left scratching my head in amazement at just how these old warhorses perform these days, no doubt down to modern tolerances and technology. The Lister Costin set the fastest lap with a speed of 177 kph, and while the circuit has been considerably changed since the 1950’s we also have to remember that the 4 kilometre straight is now punctuated by two chicanes, so to set such a time on period tyres deserves a serious mention.
Le Mans is more than a race, it is a religion to many of the faithful and I spent some time talking to someone who has been to every race since 1967, so this was his 46th on the trot. Now that is some record! We discussed the changes on and off the track, the changes in the cars and also the changes in the people attending and how they now come. It seems that it is obligatory to come equipped with a large three bedroom tent, wide screen TV, lighting, two zillion watt sound system to keep everyone awake all night, fridges, freezers and then the generator to power it all. Such is this throwaway society than many buy fridges at the supermarket, the tents and gazebos at the camping shop and then just leave them behind as pickings for those who scavenge when the throng has parted on the Monday. They obviously have a lot more money than I to spend!
So now we’ll discuss the secondary race, the one with the cars that look as if they are all cloned, but that notwithstanding are a tour de force of technical and electronic wizardry that, like the modern F1 cars, require a degree in maths and physics just to understand the steering wheel layout. Audi, of course, with 10 wins in 12 years behind them, started hot favourites but we all had our fingers crossed that Toyota could provide some serious opposition, since it was rumoured that while not as fast as the Audis, the Toyotas were more economical, a fact I had difficulty coming to terms with since it is an accepted premise that diesel is more parsimonious than petrol. Whatever, the Audis finished qualifying with a lock out, the Toyotas trailing, but in the race things went differently when the crankshaft sensor of the #3 Audi went wrong and the car had to pit. Now most teams would, at this point, retire the car but not Audi, who stripped the engine, repaired the problem, and sent the car on its way again, albeit with a serious time and lap delay. The circuit is the longest in modern day motor racing at over 13 kilometres in length, and as a consequence it can be dry on one part and very wet at others. Many was the time when I was at home with rain teeming down outside but it was dry five kilometres away at the track, and vice-versa. This caught drivers out time and again, and I recall watching the Audi and Toyota side by side at Mulsanne both fighting for grip on slicks on a wet track. Enthralling though.
Pearson and Reid battle it out!
As we came towards the final hours, the #7 Toyota went off in a big way and hit the tyre wall, hitting it so hard that the car from the screen forward was no longer to be seen. The driver emerged unscathed, and it is here things get puzzling; under the rules, if the driver moves more than five metres away from the car he is deemed to have abandoned it and the car is automatically out of the race. In this case, helmet in hand he was a good 25 metres away before he turned and returned to the car and drove it back to the pits with the front missing. They repaired it and it finished fourth, but I can’t see how this could have been if the rules had been applied. It was tough on cars and drivers, it was enthralling and exhausting for spectators, and while frustrating to see five hours of pace cars, (there are three of them to cover this big circuit) the result was a tribute to all who took part. But I’ll leave where I came in, with a picture I took in qualifying of Allan Simonsen doing what he loved best – racing. RIP.
Allan Simonsen RIP
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All information correct at time of publishing.