Report: Le Mans Classic 2016
GT Porsche contributor and 911 SC owner, Rob Richardson, describes his first trip to Le Mans Classic…
With the dust barely settled on Porsche’s dramatic 18th Le Mans victory, the gates to the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe were thrown open again to host the bi-annual Le Mans classic for the eighth time. Think of it less as an event and more of a carnival taking over not just the circuit, but the surrounding area with 123,000 spectators descending on the small town to celebrate all things Le Mans 24-hours from the history books.
Inside the circuit over 8500 club cars were on display making it an enormous car show on its own, taking a good day to walk around and take in, never mind the racing. Porsche Club France coordinated the enormous Porsche presence there with cars from every era of the company’s history laid out by model. It was a breath-taking sight to see so much Porsche in one place and the camaraderie was phenomenal with people coming together to enjoy each other’s’ cars, talk shop and enjoy the hospitality. The breadth and diversity of cars on display by other clubs and marks was similarly stunning; simply the best car show I’ve ever been to.
The main event though was always the racing with grids from 1923 to 1993 including the much revered return of Group C, outlawed in the 1990s. With a grid of nearly 40 cars including, Porsche 941s and 962s, it was a glittering comeback celebrating a Golden Age of endurance racing. As well as a number of 901s, pre- ’73 911s, 911 RSRs, a 550 Spyder, and 356s racing was a handful of 917s. Wherever you’d parked your seat, from Mulsanne to the forest at Arnage, the sound, and then sight, of the 917s racing was a truly memorable and soul stirring experience; the hills were truly alive with flat-twelve music. Racing continued late into the night, the darkness only adding to the atmosphere and drama as exhausts crackled and spat flames and brake discs glowed. In a modern world of hybrid and diesel-powered Le Mans cars this really was something to be savoured. Over the weekend 550 cars competed non-stop with 1000 drivers, including 10 Le Mans winners.
Well worth the extra few Euros entrance fee was the paddock; this granted you absolute access to all the machinery, all weekend. The place was fizzing with mechanics setting up and repairing cars, the smell of hot oil hanging in the air and the constant buzz of activity around you. It’s not often you get allowed this type of access to a working paddock and it really is a wonderful experience and way to see you heroes up close. If you had the means and the inclination you could take home your own piece of Le Mans and Porsche history with Artcurial offering a three-times Le Mans competing works Porsche 935 for auction which went on to be the highest priced sale of the weekend, fetching a lofty 1.3 million Euros.
Away from the club displays in the centre of the circuit was a village, set up with shops and stalls, great food and drinks, a dance floor and band stand so you could lunch, shop and party the night away in-between the racing; it offered another great dynamic to the atmosphere. As the sun-drenched circuit fell silent on the Sunday afternoon and the masses began to make made their exit, there was a real sense of calm reflection in the air at the magnitude of just how special a weekend in Le Mans classic bubble was. While the ringing in our ears and the fumes up our nostrils won’t last two years until the next event, the images and memories certainly will. Thank you Le Mans Classic 2016, you were magnificent…
Rob drove his 1978 911 SC to Le Mans Classic, you can read all about his experience in a forthcoming issue of GT Porsche.