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    Classics at La Sarthe The biennial gathering for the #2016-Le-Mans-Classic always attracts some stunning BMWs. If you’re keen on classic racing you really should take a trip down memory lane at the biennial Le Mans Classic Words: Jeroen de Laat. Photography: De Laat Foto / #Le-Mans-Classic

    Once a year the streets of #Le-Mans and surrounding villages combine together to create one of the longest and most demanding race circuits in the world. Although the shape and length of the track has been modified several times over the past century, the Circuit de la Sarthe has been hosting a 24-hour motor race here since 1923. The track’s basis is formed by the pit straight and some other parts of the short permanent Bugatti circuit, including the legendary Esses chicane and the iconic Dunlop Bridge. But the larger part consists of roads that are open to the public for the rest of the year, making a total length of 13.6km in its current shape. The fact that 85 percent of the lap is spent at full throttle makes it a fast track that is extremely demanding for man and machine. This is part of the appeal for teams, drivers and spectators alike, and one of the reasons why this amazing circuit is almost celebrating its 100th anniversary.

    With the ever-increasing number of spectators, as well as the extensive safety measures required to turn roads into a race track, the event requires a lot of preparation. And that is what caused French classic event organiser Patrick Peter to have a brainwave approximately a decade ago. Why not benefit from all these efforts and have a classic race on this temporary track as well? The operator of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO), liked the idea and Le Mans Classic was born.

    The event has a 24-hour format, although realistically we cannot expect the legendary and often priceless racers of yesteryear to compete for 24 hours, so the past century of motoring is divided into six eras making six classes, so cars can compete with their contemporary rivals. Each grid performs several one-hour stints over a period of 24 hours, so in total there is 24 hours of continuous and varied action.

    The 2016 Le Mans Classic was the eighth running of this classic event. Taking place every other year it is blessed with a booming public interest that resembles the original 24-hour race. And just like that event, there were a series of support events to get the public warmed up. These included: close to 40 Group C cars racing, including 20 of Porsche’s legendary 962; the Jaguar Classic Series, which saw 19 times 24-Heures participant Andy Wallace win at the wheel of the D-Type which won the race in 1955 (driven by Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb); and Little Big Mans, where the kids do their own race in miniature versions of the actual Le Mans cars, complete with a running Le Mans start and driven by real petrol engines. There’s also a great car auction, while the exceptionally sunny and warm weather completed this year’s package.

    It was no wonder then that a record 123,000 spectators flocked to the circuit to see 550 cars, 1000 drivers (among them ten former Le Mans winners) and 8500 club cars on display. The event saw a celebration of BMW’s centenary in the form of popular club sessions, which allowed club members the rare opportunity of doing a few laps on the official circuit, and BMW demos, which featured BMW M cars ranging from the earliest cars up to the most recent models. We were very happy to get a few passenger laps to experience the track in its full glory!

    In BMW’s exhibition we found several special cars including: the legendary #BMW-328-Touring-Le-Mans ; a 507 Roadster; the 1977 Roy Lichtenstein E21 320i Art Car (that participated in the 1977 Le Mans race); and the V12 LMR that took the overall victory in 1999.

    Need more? How about the prestigious Concours Le Mans Heritage Club for cars that actually raced at Le Mans awarding the McLaren F1 GTR with a best in class award for the 1983-2016 period? And all this was on offer even before the racing began in earnest!

    On the Saturday afternoon Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, main sponsor Richard Mille (main partner of Le Mans Classic with EFG), and Pharrell Williams opened the event under the supervision of FIA president Jean Todt. The event started off with the oldest cars in ‘Plateau One’. A Swiss gentleman we have seen racing BMWs many times before, Christian Traber (who is well-known behind the steering wheel of a 2002 and an #BMW-M1-E26 / #BMW-E26 ), was now racing against BMW.

    Together with the American former SCCA driver, Spencer Trenery, they steered their 1939 Talbot Lago to first position overall, with another Talbot right behind them, relegating the BMW 328s to third and fourth places; the French équipe Bally/Leseur took third with the German 328 team Otten and Horbach not far behind. In total nine 328s took part. It was amazing to see so many of these cars on track at one time, and it gave us a real feeling for what club racing must have been like in the late 1930s.

    Apart from the BMW engines in several prototype cars from the 1960s and 1970s, especially the #M10 and #M12 four-cylinder, we saw a #BMW-2002 in action. The Group 2 2002Ti of Renavand and Bonny completed the event without issue and even though there was no fighting the mighty Lola T70s and the M12-powered Chevrons, they duo stood their ground in their own class.

    More BMW action was to be had when the ‘Plateau Six’ cars entered the arena. Two wonderful #BMW-E9 3.0 CSL Coupés caught our eye. Adrian Brady had a disappointing event when he ran into issues with his CSL during qualifying. Even though the mechanics thought it was only a head gasket failure they didn’t want to take any risks with the rare #BMW-M49 engine and parked the car up for the rest of the event. The second #BMW-3.0-CSL-E9 driven by Werginz/Janits/Andree/Huber failed after just two laps into race two. We spoke to Andree afterwards and learned that a broken con rod bolt unfortunately ruined their event. It was a pity after seeing so many CSLs being successful run at other events.

    In grid number six we saw some flame-spitting Lola prototypes, although when it came to BMWs spitting flames, the M1 immediately comes to mind. Christian Traber was fastest of his class with his M1 but two other M1s also completed the event without any issues.

    Every edition of Le Mans Classic is bigger and better than the previous one, and this eighth running of the event was no exception. It was a wonderful experience. The only down side is that we now need to wait two years for the next one. We recommend that you make a note in your diary to keep some days free in July 2018!

    Lovely #BMW-507 and V12 LMR were exhibited in the BMW pavilion; this year’s event was opened by Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, Richard Mille, Pharrell Williams and Jean Todt.

    Mixed grids add to the glamour of the Le Mans Classic.

    Right: BMW-engined Lola caught in wonderful flame-spitting action.

    Above: Superb #BMW-2002-Ti-Group-2 car of Renavand and Bonny went very well in ‘Plateau 5’ but couldn’t hope to keep up with the Lolas, Porsches and Ferraris in its class. Below and Left: #BMW owners had the rare chance to drive the full Le Mans circuit in their road-going cars during the event.

    Even though they never won the event the #BMW-M1 is always linked with Le Mans – they competed here for eight consecutive years from 1979 to 1986 – and Christian Traber’s example (above, seen leading a Ferrari 512 BB LM) was as quick as ever being the fastest M1 in its class. Below: The Latham and Baud M1 looking great with driving lights fitted.

    Above: Little Big Mans sees children competing in scaled down replicas complete with the traditional Le Mans running start! Left: Stunning (full-size) #BMW-328 pulling away from the start.

    The Roy Lichtenstein #BMW-E21 / #BMW-320i-Art-Car that took part in the 1977 Le Mans race looked as fantastic as ever – what a machine!

    Sadly both the CSLs entered this year suffered engine troubles but we know they’ll be back to fight another day.
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