Friday, 23 July 2010


I have mentioned before that there seems to be a great deal of sportscar racing these days – the month of May was congested generally, and July and August are particularly busy if you are involved in the American Le Mans Series.

In theory, this is good for spectators and entrants alike, as there is clearly a greater supply of sportscar races than there is a demand. However, this means of course that the quality of the individual events is somewhat less. Just as in Formula 1 racing (I do struggle to call them Grands Prix), there may be too much.

The same tendency is now happening in the field of historic racing cars. So far this year we have had the Monaco Historique, the Le Mans Classic and with the Silverstone Classic and the Goodwood Revival meetings still to come there is ample opportunity to see historic cars of all shapes and sizes in some wonderful settings. And now I read of the ‘Legends of Motorsports’ to be run at Sebring in December.


There had to be a ‘but’, didn’t there? And I have to admit that I haven’t been to, nor am I planning to go to any of these events this year. I used to go regularly to Silverstone, to what was then the ‘Coys Historic Festival’ (no need to use the word ‘Classic’ then), and I have been to Goodwood’s Revival, although that was a good few years ago as well now. I enjoyed visiting the Masters Festival at Brand Hatch on the late May Bank Holiday weekend earlier this year: as always at such events, the access to the paddock was marvellous, and my son relished the opportunity to sit in a 1960’s Ford Mustang, whose driver was happy to stop and chat.

I was tempted to suggest that ‘Classic Racing’ is an oxymoron, but that would be unfair. I much prefer the term ‘Historic Racing’, and I am the first to say how much I enjoy seeing old cars out on the track and competing, much more than in museums. I do like museums by the way, but I fear that might the subject of a different essay. What I dislike is (a) when owners of historic machinery restore them beyond ‘reasonable limits’ to be more competitive and (b) when competitiveness becomes excessive and the racing gets out of perspective.

There is probably a greater disparity in driver talents in historic racing than in any other form of motor sport. I find it a shame that some of the ‘heroes’ of historic racing haven’t been able to find recognition elsewhere. Drivers like Martin Stretton, Barrie Williams, Frank Sytner and Gerry Marshall all competed in contemporary cars as well, but were undoubtedly at their peaks when driving historic cars. And at the same time, wealthy amateurs were having a go in their pride and joy – but did it really matter who won? Well, yes, of course it did, but you weren’t going to re-write the history book as a result.

What Historic (or Classic) racing lacks is gravitas. At the end of the day, winning in a historic race does not make the Ferrari 512P quicker, slower, better or worse than a Porsche 917. Particularly if the pair of them get beaten by a Lola T70 Mk III. Indeed those are all anyway somewhat subjective matters. What matters is whether the car won in its day or not. I doubt whether historic racing in forty years time will involve Peugeot 908s or Audi R15s, but if it does, and a Peugeot wins, it will not change the fact that Audi scored a clean sweep of the podium positions at Le Mans this year. That was important. That was what the manufacturers were spending millions of Euros trying to do.

A favourite car of mine is the Aston Martin DBR1 that won Le Mans in 1959. It is great that the very same car often appears in Classic races, as well that it often wins. But there is a danger that the notion enters the consciousness of the common fan that this car was dominant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that it won the Le Mans 24 hour race was totally unexpected (and a credit to John Wyer’s skill as a master tactician).

It’s a bit like having a tour around a WWII battleship. You can stare up and marvel at the big guns, squash down into the rating’s quarters, or stand up on the bridge and gaze through the windows, narrow your eyes and visualise an enemy coastline. But you can’t truly imagine the emotion of being in the heat of battle without talking to someone who was really there, and is prepared to talk to you about it.

That’s why folk like Stirling Moss, David Piper, Richard Attwood and Jackie Oliver are important. Get them out in the cars, and their juices start to flow. What’s important is to listen. Learn from history and you have the chance not to repeat it – I know, I am paraphrasing, but therein lies truth.

I’ve got nothing against historic racing in general. The very fact that it is hugely popular with spectators and competitors, is not (always) outrageously expensive and it provides a way of extending the active life of cars that might otherwise stay in garages is a vindication of the genre. And if the opportunity would arise, I would go to any of the events I have mentioned without hesitation. But not all of them.

My concern is that these events represent organisers attempting to cash in on commercial benefits and once again offer us, the consumer, more than is good for us. A lack of moderation seems to be a sign of the times we live in.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bruno Famin's press release

So, Peugeot has issued the results of their post mortem. I am not sure how my readers (if there are any) actually find their way here, but it can be found in full on (or if you don't want to subscribe to dailysportscar). And you really need to have read both that and my own post Le Mans thoughts - which have been published only on - to make sense of this. On the assumption that you have, I shall proceed.

Firstly, I am impressed by Bruno Famin. I am also impressed by the English translation of his statement. (If only the publishers of the Le Mans annual would use the same translator, but that's another issue.)

Famin seems to get to the heart of Peugeot's engine problem without attributing any blame. It seems an honest and open analysis of what went wrong. There is the slight open question of what happened at the Sebring test, when a Peugeot arrived in the pits with a similar-looking flame from the exhaust pipe, looking suspiciously like an engine failure. Whether this alerted the men from Velizy to a conrod problem, and led to the development of the new part, we don't know.

It looks to me that the fundamental problem that Peugeot faced is the one of finding out where the limit is. I am reminded of one of Gilles Villeneuve's first tests in a Formula 1 car, when he spent the first session spinning at various corners, then went faster than anyone else had in the same car. In order to understand the limit, you need to go over it. Having a car that is reliable in testing is no use at all if your tests are not simulating race conditions.

By Famin's own admission, Peugeot's experience at Le Mans is limited to the four occasions they've been there since 2007. And of course Audi's experience since their debut in 1999 is augmented by all that they've learnt in their partnership with Joest Racing. In Famin's words: 'il est difficile de tout maƮtriser' (or 'it is very difficult to master everything').

As Audi discovered in 2009, when the R15's radiators got clogged up.

In a way, I find all this heartening: it shows that Le Mans is still a massive challenge, not just for the privateers, but also for the rich manufacturers. I feel that I can now draw a line under the 2010 race - what a classic.

And I hope that between now and the end of the year, we get a good set of regulations for next year's race, which will enable next year's race to be the starting point of a new era of sportscar racing.