All of which can only mean one thing – it’s time to head off to Le Mans. A couple of colleagues and I have just serviced a slightly tired-looking Rover 216 Coupe, and the big plan is to venture down to Portsmouth and hop on an overnight ferry. All of which means we’ll be able to watch Porsches thundering around the world’s greatest race track barely a day later.
I know what the race fanatics are thinking already – that I’ve got my dates spectacularly wrong, because the Le Mans 24 Hours race was a couple of weeks ago. You know, the one where Toyota spectacularly snatched victory after decades of near-misses? When effectively Fernando Alonso was the winner, because you couldn’t remember the names of anyone else driving the car that came first?
Ahhh. Actually the one I’m on about is the Le Mans Classic, which isn’t actually one long race but lots of short ones, and is dedicated entirely – as the name suggests – to machines that pounded the Mulsanne Straight decades ago. I love it not only because it involves pretending to go camping but actually sitting outside your tent with a beer watching some Group C cars doing some night racing, but because classic Le Mans racers actually look vaguely like normal cars.
Think about it. Toyota will spend the next year going on about how winning Le Mans will somehow make the next generation Auris a bit better, but when was the last time you saw anything even remotely like its LMP1 racer on any sort of road?
A Ford GT40, on the other hand, was designed to humiliate Ferrari – which it did four times on the trot – but it still looks like a GT40 a very rich bloke might drive to the shops. Same with the Jaguar C-type of the 1950s, and if you don’t live in a world of Pathe newsreels, it’s worth remembering that the McLaren F1 that won in 1995 was based on a road car. The world’s fastest and most expensive road car, of course, but one that genuinely had as much luggage space as a contemporary Fiesta.
Maybe it’s time they revisited the rules at Le Mans to make the racers a teeny bit more relatable to normal people who aren’t Fernando Alonso – if it can’t be driven legally through, say, Crosby on a Friday night, then it ain’t going to Le Mans. It might mean the cars don’t look as bonkers, but it’d give hope to the rest of us that we might see cars vaguely like it bringing joy to people stuck in Volkswagen Passats.
Or just drive to France in a secondhand Rover and look at some old ones. You know it makes sense.