Why The Le Mans Classic Is The Best Vintage Sports Car Race Out There
Photography by Jayson Fong
For historic racing fans, every second year is a cause for excitement as two of the most highly anticipated meetings on the every-other calendar bring together fantastic cars at iconic racing circuits. 2018 happens to be one of those years, and in May vintage Grand Prix cars once again took off street racing through the narrow roads of Monaco, while last weekend’s Le Mans Classic invited the world’s most beautiful historic sports cars to stretch their legs on the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe. While many historic events usually succeed in entry lists that either tick the box for quality or quantity, last weekend’s racing at Le Mans was a reminder that on special occasions, you can definitely have both.
Before the racing even begins, there’s already a feeling that there is something unique about the event. Like the 24 Hours of Le Mans main event a few weeks earlier, the Classic attracts thousands of racing fans from around the world who make the road trip to the small town that lies about 200km southwest of Paris. After a quick ferry ride from Dover and en route to the circuit from Calais on Thursday morning, there seemed to be an endless convoy of sports cars on the highways which made for a spectacle in itself. After a quick blast down the Mulsanne straight, through Indianapolis and towards the Porsche Curves (they remain open as public roads when no racing’s going on), I arrive at the circuit which, unlike any other venue during a historic race weekend, manages to transform itself into a small bustling village of its own.
While there is plenty to see and do around the village, it’s the overwhelming line up of historic cars dotted in every corner that makes the experience worth the ferry tickets and traffic. Covering the entire history of Le Mans from the first race in 1923, the weekend’s races were split up into 6 “plateaus” that included different eras of the 24 Hour’s early past up to 1981. Like a live history lesson, visitors saw the mechanical marvels of automotive engineering blast by after their drivers sprinted across to their cars during reenactments of the famous “Le Mans start.” From the supercharged Bentley Blowers of the pre-war era to the dominant Ferrari V12s of the 1960s and later the forced induction and wide aero kits of the early 1980s, the races were also supported by appearances from more contemporary Le Mans cars like the monsters of Group C and aero packaged LM prototypes and GT cars—without a doubt something for everyone, granted they like motorsport just a bit to begin with.
Like the entry lists, the on-track action also delivered with fast paced and exciting racing. Although their six-minute lap times are almost double that of modern cars around the track, the pre-war grid proved to be as theatrical as any other especially in the evening sessions at Arnage; featuring powersliding Talbots, Bugattis, Bentleys and red hot engines shining through their covers, seeing the narrow beams of the headlights pierce the darkness was like a trip back in time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Plateau’s 4-6 provided pure adrenaline and had something for each of the five senses. The start/finish straight was the perfect place to watch the likes of GT40s, AC Cobras, Porsche 917s and 935s roar out of the Ford Chicane and push towards the Dunlop bridge. With high speed overtakes on the Mulsanne, late lunges into slow corners, and drama in the often chaotic pit lane, the action was as varied and intensive as it could get given how many decades ago this stuff was happening for the first time.
After experiencing 32 hours by the live and scorching hot track, it would be safe to say that the the Le Mans Classic offers a fantastic opportunity to see some of the very best competition machinery to have ever raced from every period of racing. From the paddock to various points around the 8.5-mile-long track providing spectacular sights, you’ll find it difficult to go wrong wherever you find yourself. With the next edition of the Le Mans Classic another two years away now, I know I’m among many that are eagerly awaiting to make pilgrimage, and if you have a bucket list of events to visit, this should certainly be on it too.