2018 Le Mans Classic Review Part Three

Our third and final article of the series picks up where the story left off, Plateaux 4 covering 1962 through to 1965.


Plateaux 4 1962-1965


Ferrari continued to dominate through the early 1960s winning 6 consecutive years between 1960 and 1965. Ford join the series with young Kiwi Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon looking to go head to head with Ferrari for the overall win. Ferrari introduce the mid-engine layout and so begins the battle of the V8 vs the V12, the artisan from Northern Italy vs the powerhouse from Detroit. Away from the front, Porsche continue to improve with additional class victories.

In 1964, Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt found themselves down in 15th place after three hours of running. The pair were in an old Ferrari 275 LM entered by NART. Jochen Rindt was a star of Formula 2 at this time and would later go on to win the F1 World Championship in 1970 whilst Masten Gregory was a very quick driver who had previous experience with both Jaguar and Aston Martin. By this point he had taken part in Le Mans nine times but finished no better than fifth in 1961 in a Porsche. He did however, have the 1960 lap record in the Maserati so there were no doubts that he had the pace.

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Sitting down in 15th place, they began to fight back, carving their way through the pack. The works cars of both Ford and Ferrari all retired, primarily due to shattered brake discs but Gregory and Rindt were flying. At every fuel stop, they were both getting an earful from NART team boss Luigi Chinetti who had only authorised the duo to use at most 7500 RPM to save the engine. The pair ignored him, pushing the engine to 9000 RPM, gradually clawing their way up the field and taking the win.

Plateaux 4 was dominated by Ford this weekend Diogo Ferraro taking the first race win of the weekend in the #61 GT40 MK1. He went on to finish second in the remaining two races, a strong performance for the Portuguese driver. Shaun Lynn came home in second place in the first race just ahead of Ludovic Caron in the Shelby Cobra 289. David Hart took the second race win of the weekend in the yellow #8 Ford GT40 from Ferraro and James Cottingham in the #64 Ford GT40 MK1. Race three was a near repeat of the results with Cottingham and Ferrao taking first and second as the #51 Ford GT40 MK1 of Grant Tromans took the final step of the podium.

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Plateaux 5 1966-1971


Plateaux 5 represents the domination of Ford in the late 1960s, taking four consecutive victories for the GT40. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took their first win in the GT40 MKII in 1966 starting a brief period of dominance for the Americans. A change in regulations see’s the birth of the early prototypes in 1970/1971 with the Porsche 917K taking two straight wins on the bounce going up against the likes of Alpine, Alfa Romeo and Matra. 1969 saw the last Le Mans start in which the drivers would run to their cars. A protest by Jacky Ickx in which he walked to his car rather than running, nearly getting hit in the process, forced the organisation to make a decision. The decision was made for them when Ickx won the race. The aerodynamic prototypes are still in their infancy at this stage and are incredibly tricky to drive with not enough downforce over the rear end to keep the cars stable. That said, they are seriously quick in a straight line and lap times are now averaging around 240km/h! The 917 was maxing out at 360km/h! In Grand Touring the battle continues to rage between the Porsche 911s, Porsche 914s and the Ferrari GTB and Daytonas.

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In the 1960s, Denny Hulme spent the majority of his time racing at McLaren, both before and after the death of Bruce McLaren. However, there is one particular race that could have seen that relationship change dramatically. With the finish of the 1966 race in site, the blue Ford GT40 of Hulme and Ken Miles was in the lead, McLaren and Amon were sat in second. It was at this point that Henry Ford decided to organise a dead heat final, to “underline the victory of the car rather than one of its driver line-ups”. Miles slowed to let Bruce draw level along with the third place GT40 which was a few laps down. The trio crossed the line together. The organisers declared the result a victory for Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon as they had been slower in qualifying and therefore started 20 metres further down the grid and as a result covered more distance during the race. Hulme and Miles would never win Le Mans. Whilst Hulme continued to race with McLaren, Miles was killed in an accident whilst testing the new Ford J just two months later.

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The racing this weekend swung in favour of the prototypes of the era, with the #69 Ligier JS3 DFV from 1971 taking the first two wins of the weekend. It was a strong performance from the Lola T70 MK3 with at least one making it into the top three in each of the races. David Hart took second place in the first race at the wheel of the #34 Lola T70 with Carlos Tavares taking third place. Jaques Nicolet took second place in race two followed by a win in race three in the Duckhams Ford. Tavares took third again in race two with Pierre Alain France rounding out the top three in race three in the #70 Lola T70.

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Plateaux 6 1972-1981


By this point, there has been a big step forward in engineering and aerodynamics, with the potential for cars to hit 400km/h down the Mulsanne. As a safety precaution, the organisers limited the size of the engines to 3 litres. As a result, Matra took a trio of wins between 1972 and 1974 with the Matra Simca MS670 piloted by Henri Pescarolo, Graham Hill and Gerard Larrousse. Ford jumped back to the front in 1975 with their V8 engine befor Porsche dominate for the next two years with the Jacky Ickx driven Porsche 936. At this point, aerodynamics are becoming more refined, rather than running as much downforce as possible. In GT, the Daytona’s and Porsche’s rule before Ferrari and BMW arrive with the BB and M1 Procar respectively.

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It's 1977, Le Mans was a disaster for Porsche. The Favourite car was broken and the other was running 49th. “I’ve had some great races but there’s one in which I really excelled myself,” says Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx. “Le Mans in 1977 with the Porsche 936. I’ve never driven as well in my life. It was unbelievable! The mechanics, the other drivers, everybody was in another world! And we transformed what had begun as a debacle into victory. I did double stints at night in the fog and the rain. I was on the absolute edge in the car, the circuit, the conditions. I pulled back such huge chunks of time on the Renaults, which were comfortably installed in the lead, that no one could believe their eyes! I stopped at the pits” “Do you want to change?” “No. I’ll stay in the car. And then you take charge, and nobody dares to say a word to you. Ask the Porsche engineers. They’d never seen anything like it in their life. We were running rings around the Renaults which weren’t exactly slowcoaches!”

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It was a strong performance this weekend from Yves Scemama in the Toj SC 304, taking one race victory in Race two and two second place finishes in the first and third race. Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall took the first win of the weekend in the Mirage GR7. Patrice Lafargue took third place in race one followed by second place in race two with Paul Lafargue and Dieteren Lalmand wrapping up third place in Race 2 and Race 3 respectively.