Le Mans Classic 2012
It’s dusk and we had just been interviewed by a young lady from Motors TV in their live night time show. I’m starting to feel like some of the professional racing drivers I am about to enter the track with.
Why interview me? Well, that’s the very essence of Classic Le Mans. I have visited Le Sarthe as a spectator many times. I worked in the pits in 2001 with Dick Barbour Racing and now it’s my turn as a true Le Mans 24hr enthusiast to live the dream. That’s what the Le Mans Classic gives an owner of a special car the chance to do.
In the afternoon we had performed the run across the track in the 1955 style when the Triumph Works entered 2 then 3 cars for the 24hrs. PKV693 was the fourth car. The spare if you will. If another entry had dropped out PKV693 would have made up the 4th TR entry. 1955 was that tragic year in which many lost their lives. No thought of accidents now for that is the race drivers enemy. This is a race in the dead of night.
PKV693 fires up and we join C-Types, XK’s, Maserati, Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, Lotus, MG and of course 3 TR’s on the formation grid. Arriving slightly late we drive past the 30+ cars who are ‘slower’ than us. Many should be quicker but aren’t. Must be my driving ability or more likely the well-prepared PKV693!
I sit with my helmet on in the wet for what seems like ages getting progressively more nervous and anxious. On the signal to start up PKV fires as the faithful car that delivered my dad and I to the finish ramp on the Tulip Rally four years earlier surely would.
The rolling warm-up lap passes quickly and then suddenly the revs ahead rise and the race is on. The Maserati spears straight into the right-hand concrete wall before the start line and is heavily damaged. We blast up the pit straight, through the chicane under the legendary Dunlop bridge, down the hill through the esses and then into Terte Rouge which spits us out onto the Mulsanne straight.
Already in top gear, the Mulsanne captures my attention fully. The wind rushes past my head with increasing velocity. I sink in the seat slightly ducking down behind the aero screen as the pace picks up. Trees flash past on either side with the occasional light beam creating a ghostly viewing mass of towering swaying trees. Quite eerie. In the distance, but approaching rapidly is the first chicane. The bright floodlights reference the braking area and PKV snakes under heavy braking and disengagement of the overdrive. Down to third gear, we take 2 cars under braking. The rear fishtails out of the chicane with the tyres scrabbling for grip on the damp surface.
With my foot flat to the floor the revs rise again to 6500 and top gear is snatched, then overdrive at 6000. PKV is probably reaching 130mph which is far more than the works cars would have done over the 24hr race, however, this is a sprint and PKV is rasping and thrusting forward towards the next chicane. More confident of the wet weather I brake harder and later scrubbing off speed, taking third and accelerating aggressively through the chicane and back out onto the straight.
In my rearview mirror, I can see dozens of pairs of headlights searching for direction and swaying under braking into the corners. Magical Mulsanne. Lonely at times especially on the later laps. Frightening when being passed or passing another competitor. The engine noise is quite extraordinary as I pass a C-Type and then he is back again and then an XK140 and then a Maserati howling under high revs. There is no noise or sensory experience like the Mulsanne at night
How my ‘hero’ Vic Elford managed 24hrs of 200mph sorties down the Mulsanne fills me with awe and admiration. I did my best and PKV693 performed perfectly. When all of the racing was said and done, we’d we won the index of performance trophy which now sits proudly on my mantlepiece.
Le Mans Classic 2014? Yes Please. PKV will be back and giant-killing again. Love it.