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2012 Le Mans Classic
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Apres la pluie, le beaux temps
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Le Mans Classic was held for the 6th time this year. Celebrating the rich Le Mans history, it is the only other event held on the full Circuit de la Sarthe apart from of course the '24 Hours'. As in the past editions, the 2012 Le Mans Classic featured six grids, or 'plateaux', with cars ranging from the 1920s all the way up to the early 1980s. Over a 24-hour period each group completed three 43-minute races. What did change was the weather as for the first time, rain was a major factor in the event with heavy, and at times local, showers spread over all three days. These were often followed by clear spells, or as the French would say; apres la pluie, le beaux temps. This did mean that the track conditions were rarely the same around the lap, making it particularly tricky for the drivers but also entertaining for the crowd. In addition to the action on the track, the event also attracts a large number of clubs, bringing along thousands of interesting machines. A special treat this year was a visit from the normally very private Ferrari 250 GTO tour; nearly two dozen examples lined up in the paddock and later took to the track for some demo laps.
Braving the weather and coping with not one but two reluctant cameras, we spent most of the weekend trackside, resulting in this action-packed 300-shot gallery.

Artcurial Motorcars Le Mans Classic Sale
Like most major historic events, the Le Mans Classic featured its own auction. Organised by Artcurial Motorcars, the sale boasted a colourful mix of road and racing cars, and also the complete collection of French specialist manufacturer/coach-builder Heuliez. The line-up of unique and often very unusual machines sold for close to three-quarters of a million euro, with the striking Citroen SM Espace topping the Heuliez cars at EUR 109,600. Going for nearly twice the entire Heuliez collection was a rare competition-bread Ferrari 275 GTC, which found a new owner for just over EUR 1.5 million. Winner of the 1966 Nurburgring 1000 km race, this is the only 275 to officially receive the 'GTC' type name. Further stars of the sale included a Peugeot 905, sold for EUR 654,700 and a race-bred ASA RB Type 613, which changed hands for EUR 297,800. Fairing not so well were two fabulous Ligiers offered by Guy Ligier directly, which both remaind unsold. At the end of the eight-hour sale, around 80% of the lots in the packed catalog sold for a total of nearly EUR 9 million. This is an improvement of close to EUR 2 million compared to the inaugural Artcurial Motorcars Le Mans Classic Sale in 2010.

Plateau 1: 1923 - 1939
Plateau 1 featured the earliest cars of the event, spawning the complete pre-War period. As always a complete armada of Talbot 105 team cars were found at the head of the field with some drivers competing in more than one example. After two of the three rounds, the #6 Talbot with Gareth Burnett, Richard Evans, Alex Ames and Julian Bronson sharing driving duties, looked set for victory. Unfortunately they lost a lap in the final round, handing the victory to Christian Traber and Bruce Trenery in the far more modern Talbot Lago Monoplace Decalee, which, effectively, is a Grand Prix car with fenders and lights. Bentleys were also very well presented with one of several 'Blowers' piloted by none other than Derek Bell. Probably running very rich, the car produced big flames on the overrun. Another entry of note was the Lorraine-Dietrich B3/6 Sport of Rudolf Ernst and Michael Hibbard; a sister car to the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1925.

Plateau 2: 1949 - 1956
Racing returned at Le Mans in 1949 when a diminutive Ferrari successfully took on the mighty French manufacturers. Although it was a sign of things to come, Jaguar would first come to the fore in this period. Among the participants in this group were a host of Jaguar C and D-Types but oddly the 1955 winner was actually competing in Plateau 3. The D-Type nevertheless featured strongly in this year's race with outright victory eventually going to Gavin Pickering ahead of Carlos Monteverde, Gary Pearson and Andrew Smith in another D-Type. An impressive third was for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL very skilfully driven by Peter Mulder, Patrick Simon and Hans Kleissl. Other interesting machines included in this grid were the Fiat 8V Zagato piloted by Plateau 1 winners Erich Traber and Bruce Trenery, this time joined by Jurg Konig, and also an assortment of Maseratis, some of which were in contention for the victory but ultimately proved not quite as consistent as the Jaguars.

Plateau 3: 1957 - 1961
A Le Mans Classic regular is the Aston Martin DBR1 that was designed by Ted Cutting and driven to the outright victory in 1959 by Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori. The honour of these three legendary men, who all passed away earlier in the year, was this time upheld by Gregor Fisken. After the three races, he was in an impressive second overall. He was beaten only by the Lotus 15, piloted by Roger Wills, Joe Twyman and five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro. Third overall was for the Belgian Ferrari 250 GT SWB, raced as always on the limit by owner Vincent Gaye. In addition to the numerous types of Lotus and Porsches, there were also several less familiar machines in this grid. Most striking of these was the AC Ace Bristol driven by Pierre Modas, Patrick Percevault and Frederic Berchon. Looking nothing like the Ace we all know and love, this unique machine sported a heavily revised nose and a hard-top roof.

Plateau 4: 1962 - 1965
With a close fight between several Ford GT40s and a single Cobra, Plateau 4 was more than a fitting tribute to the late Carroll Shelby. Hounding the intrinsically quicker GT40s for most of the three races was David Hart in his spectacularly driven Cobra but thanks a spin in the opening round, he eventually had to settle for eighth in the final result. This left the podium an all-GT40 affair with Leo Voyazides and Roland d'Abel de Libran taking the spoils of victory despite losing time in the final race with an exhaust issue. Second was for Shaun Lynn and third for Hans Hugenholtz in their respective GT40s. Another noteworthy Cobra in the race was Luis Perez Companc's recently acquired Daytona Coupe. One of just six built, this is the most valuable of all Cobra variants and it famously ended the reign of the Ferrari 250 GTO at Le Mans, taking the GT class victory in 1964. Further highlights in this plateau were a Ferrari 250 LM and one of only four open Ford GT40s built.

Plateau 5: 1966 - 1971
Representing what is arguably sports car racing's finest hour, Plateau 5 featured one of the event's strongest grids. The period started with the fierce Ferrari and Ford fight and ended with the equally enthralling battle between the Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917. Representatives of both these rivalries were on the grid, including the Ford GT40 Mk II that placed third at Le Mans behind two sister cars in 1966 and several examples of the Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917. The race was particularly harsh on the latter as the Vern Schuppan piloted example brushed the barriers in practice and Vincent Gaye's freshly restored machine crashed in the final leg. There were no such issues for the Lola T70 Mk III driven by Bernard Thuner as he raced to a back-to-back victory. Second, and nearly four minutes behind was the Gulf-liveried Porsche 908/3 of Roald Goethe and Fabien Giroix. Also grabbing our eye were three Alfa Romeo Tipo 33s, one of which was co-driven with great verve by Brian Redman, who in period actually raced against these machines in both Ferraris and Porsches.

Plateau 6: 1972 - 1979
The first half of the 1970s was very much a Matra affair but between 1976 and 1978 Porsche faced off against Renault-Alpine with the first competitive turbocharged machines. Remarkably examples of both of these machines were on hand with Carlos Monteverde bringing his recently acquired 1977 Le Mans winning Porsche 936 and Renault bringing the actual 1978 winning A442. Although these proved quick over one lap, they did not feature at the sharp end of the grid. It would turn out to be Chris MacAllister's day, who before the race told us that he would be happy to finally reach the finish in his Mirage M6. He did much better and took the outright victory in Plateau 6, which was affected most by the wet conditions. On hand to witness this victory was legendary Gulf Racing team manager John Horsman, who sharp as ever and with a stopwatch around his neck offered technical advice to the mechanic of the other Mirage on the grid. Second was for the BMW M1 driven by the Hinderer brothers and Martin Stretton, while Dominique Guenat finished third in his Lola T286.

Final thoughts
Despite the weather, which was far from ideal, a record number of 109,000 spectators ventured to the Circuit de la Sarthe to see the 450 classic cars in action. Many of these even stayed awake throughout the night to enjoy the ever spectacular flames and glowing discs. Throughout the weekend, they were treated to a great show, which more than made up for the tempestuous conditions. Our only quirk with the event is that we have to wait two years for the next Le Mans Classic. Hopefully, our 300-shot gallery will make up for some of that wait.

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Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Wouter Melissen and Pieter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com