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Classic Le Mans 2006
I have been to the main 24 hour race several times now and always of interest was the warm up race featuring some of the older race cars. The organisers also thought the same and a couple of years ago introduced the Classic Le Mans race weekend for classic and historic race cars. This is one of the big growth areas in motor sport these days so good entries are expected especially when drivers had the chance to race on the full Le Mans circuit. So after last year’s trip to the modern race we thought we would visit the Classic!
It did not seem like July as I splashed my way down the M40 early on Thursday morning! But it dried up soon and having met up with most of the other cars we were heading off down the French Autoroute after a short delay at the Chunnel.

Waiting for the final car to arrive it was obvious by the steady stream of classic cars passing by where everyone was heading! We headed south from Rouen and here I wished that French maps were as good as British ones! Still we quickly sorted ourselves out and got to the camp site.

By now one of the cars was sounding more like a spitfire than an SD1 with a cracked exhaust pipe!
On Friday we headed for the circuit, but first a short detour down the Mulsanne Straight! Unlike circuits like Silverstone, 2/3rd of the Le Mans circuit is public highway, so we just had to go for a trip. Friday afternoon was practise day and before hand there was an opportunity to wander round a mouth watering array of classic cars from all ages.
There are 6 different grids all based on age and each grid had 60 cars taking part in 3 races over the 24 hours. So there was plenty to see and also to get close to, as there were no barriers. I stopped for a chat with some friends who were racing a Sunbeam Alpine. There were all sorts there from 1930’s Blower Bentleys to C and D Type Jaguars then GT40s and Porsche 917s. One of the features of Le Mans has been the numerous classes which meant there were a few rather strange very aerodynamic but tiny engineed cars racing with mighty Gt40s!
First thing Saturday it was time to fix the exhaust pipe. This was soon achieved with the help of a selection of tin cans and some gum-gum. The repair is still going strong!

Back at the circuit the first race was just starting featuring cars from the 20’s and 30’s. Back in those days the ‘in’ go faster mod was a bigger steering wheel! This was much in evidence as the massive Blower Bentleys were person handled round the circuit (yes not all drivers were men!). Soon the cars were sliding round the corners as the tyres got very hot with use in the warm weather. These guys were not hanging about.
Next up were cars from the 40’s and early 50’s, so some early Ferraris and of course C type Jags. All the cars taking part had some connection with the Le Mans race and in a lot of cases they had competed there in the past. The cars were getting more modern and the next races featured more familiar shapes and names.

Getting into the 60’s saw the GT40 start to appear and several real ones were racing. Quite a sight as they thundered up the start and finish straight. But the loudest car must have been the Corvettes with there huge 7lt V8 engines and open exhaust pipes.
The last grid features cars from the 70’s and these were seriously quick cars capable of 200mph down the Mulsanne Straight! They also did not start until just after 11pm, there is something very magical about watching cars racing at night, especially when it is still very warm!
We got an opportunity to see all the grids race at least once. We returned to the circuit on
Sunday to see the last races then an opport-unity to wander through the shops trying not to spend too much. The infield has had some major redevelopment in the past 12 months. All meeting back at the cars there was just time for some pictures then back to the campsite. This time we took the very scenic route through some of the local roads.

First stop on the way home was the local hyper-market, we even found Le Baron! Somehow we managed to get split into 2 lots of 2 cars but as one pair approach up a dual carriageway the other pair crossed over on a bridge and fell in behind.
Finally after a very eventful and delayed Chunnel crossing, we all arrived back in Blighty! Classic Le Mans is much more relaxed and far less crowded than the modern 24 hours with masses to see so we will all have to wait until 2008 for the next race however plans are afoot for something different next year and SD1s did race there, watch out for more details!
Dave Puzey.
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