All Day And All Of The Night
I've always meant to make the trip to
It is not the only 24 hour race but it is far and away the most significant. The Daytona 24hr race always attracts a solid line-up of the best US driving talent but the circuit is not a patch on Le Mans and the cars are little more than spec-formula racers. The Nurburgring 24 hour race is held on a still more legendary circuit and attracts a huge entry, but is largely an amateur affair. The clincher, for me, it was also the subject of the only ever decent movie about the sport, Steve McQueen's atmospheric
When the sport first got its hooks into me,
This year, though, things look a little different. The early rounds of the Le Mans Endurance Series have demonstrated that Peugeot now have a car which has edged ahead of Audi's older R10. Audi, with sportscar veterans Joest Racing in charge of their team, have decades of experience running in this category of racing to call upon, and by now near bullet-proof reliability to call on. It's a battle being played out according to the oldest plot in racing. Outright speed against solidity and experience. If you're an Aesop man, you'd back Audi's tortoise, but if you're more inclined to take the advice of legendary sportswriter Damon Runyon and remember that "the race is not always to the swift... but that's the way to bet" you might back the French team. They do have form after all - their 1993 victory remains the fastest achieved by anyone at
Behind them, there's plenty else to keep the enthusiast interested. The class-within-a-class battle to be fastest petrol engined car, and first non-manufacturer entry, home looks equally intriguing. It will probably come down to a fight between Hugues De Chaunac's ORECA Courages and Henri Pescarolo's Pescarolo Judds. On driver line-up, you'd have to back ORECA. who have a very solid line up of French guys like Duval and Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis at the wheel, but it would be a fool who would write off the Dumas/Boullion/Collard Pescarolo. An interesting wild-card comes in the form of Czech businessman Antonin Charouz's Lola-Aston Martin coupe. The only petrol engined car to have threatened the diesels on pace, it probably won't go the distance but you never know.
One of the wonderful things about sportscar racing is the sheer variety of equipment on display. Japanese chassis builder Dome is running its own car for a trio of little known Japanese drivers. Desperately short of mileage, it is unlikely to figure, but it is the most beautiful machine on the grid, at least to my eye. The Epsilon Euskadi Judd runs it close, and a line-up of three former Grand Prix drivers in the second car- Johannson, Nakano and Gounon should get some pace out of it, although I'd be surprised if it was still running at the end.
Sadly. the most competitive LMP2 teams, all of which are based Stateside, are giving
GT1, on the other hand, is almost a mirror-image of the Audi/Peugeot battle for overall honours. Works Aston Martins and Corvettes go head to head and predicting a winner is far from straightforward. Both teams have well-sorted, competitive cars, and both have put together serious, professional driver line-ups. Me? I'm hoping that the Astons win, though I must confess this is mainly because they are painted up in the same Gulf colours as those awesome Porsche 917s of the early 1970s. There's some decent private Astons and Corvettes in the field too, although there's little chance of them winning unless the works cars race each other into the ground.
GT2 I can't summon up much enthusiasm about, though it can often end up the closest fought of all the categories. The cars are just too slow. It will be interesting to see whether Ferrari can finally break Porsche's dominance of the category though, as a mere trio of 911s go up against 7 Ferrari 430s, several of which boast all-professional driver line ups.
Now, I've just got to work out how I can get away from my desk for long enough to keep up with the action. As for making the trip to La Sarthe. Maybe next year..