Just Because: 19 Sports Racing Cars Tackling The Le Mans Classic
Photography by Tim Scott
When you’re organizing more than a few thousand race cars and spectators to descend, at once, at a single place, you’d better have your act together. So when Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France hosts the Le Mans Classic, organizers cleverly arranged each of the run groups into “plateaus”. A bit dramatic, perhaps, but what else do you call several fields of cars that are collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars?
These, the cars of “Plateau 2,” from the years 1949-1956, are the foundation of sports racing cars as we know them today. Technical improvements, beginning with Jaguar’s use of disc brakes at Le Mans, are still in use today, albeit a billion copies over and not just the spares D-Type entrants were able to get to the track in period.
The years also marked the beginning of the decline of French cars winning outright success; Talbot Lago’s last overall win at Le Mans was in 1950, before German, Italian, and British constructors began to dominate the event over the next few decades.
As far as a foundation for motorsport goes, the 1949-1956 period began with a brand-new manufacturer called “Ferrari” winning top honors in the first major race held after the Second World War. Luigi Chinetti, who’d eventually import Ferraris and other makes into the U.S., won with an epic feat of endurance by driving for roughly 23 and a half hours, with team owner Peter Mitchell-Thompson in the car for the remainder.
Their winning Ferrari 166MM didn’t make it out this year, but more than 60 entrants did, making it a thrilling education into motoring history. Which of these classics would you wish to hustle through the Porsche Curves?