I used this heading for an article that I wrote in March last year, and for a number of reasons, I find myself writing such a piece again. I guess that, one way or another, I am always looking forward to Le Mans. But with my schedule for the journey now set, my anticipation is heightened, and I am truly looking forward to next week.
First of all though, I want to thank those who commented on my previous post about the ACO’s performance adjustments. Although it is not clear to me (at this stage) who the bookie’s favourite for this year’s race would be, it is absolutely apparent that anything but a diesel-engined car winning this year’s twenty-four hours will be a massive surprise and even a major upset. With or without performance adjustments, the petrol-engined cars simply don’t have sufficient pace. To what extent this is due to the regulations, and to what extent it is due to the fact that Audi and Peugeot are spending an awful lot of money (even compared to the eye-watering sums that Pescarolo, Rebellion and even Aston Martin are spending), it is not possible to discern.
However, the issue I have is with the basic philosophy. I wrote a little while ago (here) about the “new era” in which we now live, in which the underlying approach to long-distance racing has undergone a change in recent years. The only strategy required these days is to work out how much fuel and tyres you are going to use and then simply go as fast as your car and drivers will allow you to and hope for the best. (It’s not as simple as that, I know, but bear with me, for the sake of the debate.)
I remember an interview that Stirling Moss gave years ago, in which he expressed his dislike for Le Mans. I forget his exact words, but his feeling was that it wasn’t really a race - it was more a case of going at a sufficiently slow speed that would enable the car to last the distance. The problem, in the fifties, sixties and seventies was to decide how fast you could afford to go, given the likelihood of failures of various components, and then run as close as possible to that pace.
Yes we want a close race, but Le Mans is, in a sense, above such things. It’s a bit like the thousands of people who flock to watch the London Marathon - the interest is not simply in watching the race to see who wins, but in understanding the efforts of every single competitor and joining them in their triumphs and tragedies.
I am part way through Quentin Spurring’s Le Mans book covering the years from 1970 - 1979 (having already finished the one from 1960 - 1969) and jolly good it is too. Q reminds us that in those days, cars were given a “target distance” that they were to complete, based on their performance characteristics. Like today, many were not in with a chance of winning the race overall, but the primary challenge for each team was to finish and to be classified, by achieving the target distance. Position in the overall classification was of secondary importance.
I worry a bit that the ACO is losing sight of this in its bid to ensure parity and equality. The whole point about the Le Mans experience (for those who are there) is that the Event is bigger than the Show. Things were never equal at Le Mans, and in my view, they don't need to be. Le Mans is more than simply a race.
Anyway, I am looking forward to it. I look forward to the journey there, I look forward to meeting up with the various friends that I will see there, and of course I look forward to the race itself. Afterwards, I shall spend some time reflecting, and then suddenly I will start looking forward to next year’s race.