As 10 o’clock approached on the Saturday morning of the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours, any spectator who merely expected to see a gentle parade of fabulous old cars in the Le Mans Legend event was in for a big surprise. A full grid of 61 cars lined up for the 45-minute race put on by Motor Racing Legends: a historic race that perfectly recalled the 1949-65 era of the French endurance classic.
With the Lister Knobblies of poleman Alex Buncombe and Jon Minshaw taking their places on the front row for the rolling start, it seemed that the Lister Le Mans jinx was about to be broken. However, the first two rows of the grid were covered by just 1.2 seconds and a cracking race lay ahead.
Buncombe led from the start, closely challenged by Minshaw, with a crowd of cars jockeying right behind them. At the first chicane, Buncombe braked too late and ran off line, letting Minshaw through. Then, at the second chicane, Minshaw overcooked it slightly and the Bizzarrini 5300GT of Roger Wills and Joe Twyman (with, it turns out, Wills taking the first stint behind the wheel despite what the official commentators believed and the spectators were told…) went ahead but, as they reached Indianapolis, the Lister of Minshaw was poised to slip back in front.
At the end of a frantic first lap, Minshaw was just ahead of a recovering Alex Buncombe, Oliver Bryant’s AC Cobra and Carlos Monteverde’s Ferrari 250LM. The Bizzarrini was still very much in the hunt, soon forging back into the lead and looking comfortably secure until Bryant broke away from the Listers and Monteverde’s Ferrari, which was trailing a faint line of blue smoke after a trip across a chicane.
As Bryant’s Cobra closed relentlessly on the Bizzarrini, both the Listers appeared to be gradually fading. Soon the round of compulsory pit stops began, Bryant waiting later than most of his rivals. The D-types of Gavin Pickering and Neil Cunningham waited longer than anybody else, briefly assuming the lead, but as Bryant rejoined the fray he emerged from the pit road just in front of Monteverde’s Ferrari and the Bizzarrini.
Despite his trail of smoke and many exciting moments under braking for the chicanes, Monteverde passed the Bryant Cobra to take the lead. The furious pace was telling, however: the Bizzarrini, sounding rough, slowed down, Gregor Fisken retired his Aston Martin DBR1 and the Bryant Cobra – coming closer than ever before to the Le Mans Legend win the Bryants have wanted for so long – stopped on the Mulsanne Straight just two laps from the end.
Monteverde, the winner two years ago, took the fastest lap at an average speed of 108.7mph and claimed another fine victory, by just 2.4 seconds from Buncombe’s recovering Lister and the similar Lister of Minshaw.
But the hot contest at the head of this incredibly gripping race was reflected all down the high-quality field…
“Many of my personal highlights from the race involved cars further down the grid,” says race organiser Duncan Wiltshire of Motor Racing Legends. “There was multiple Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro, given permission by Audi to share Roger Wills’ Lotus 15 in the Le Mans Legend; or Patrick Watts’ 19th place overall (and class win) in the 1950 Allard J2 – a remarkable result for one of the oldest cars in the race. And congratulations must go to the 40th place overall achieved by Bob Birrell and John Hitch in their MGB – a car that was comprehensively stuffed at Monza the week before and which took a full week of panel-bashing to prepare for the Le Mans Legend.
“Finally, we must of course pay tribute to Sir Stirling Moss, who brought his own Porsche RS 61 to race it for the very first time, and then decided during qualifying that this would, instead, be his own, very last competitive event. It can be no easy thing to make such a decision, and we applaud the wisdom and strength of mind he showed in leaving the race itself to co-driver Ian Nuthall, thus ending – on his own terms – an incredibly long and illustrious career.
“In the years to come, we look forward to seeing plenty more of Stirling, who is as much a part of the motorsport world when he’s off the track as he is when behind the wheel of a car in flat-out racing action.”
Full results, plus lap charts and analysis, can be found on the Timekeepers’ website, which can be accessed from our Le Mans Legend Entries/Results page.
In addition, the entire Le Mans Legend race has been posted onto YouTube, in three parts:
Le Mans Legend will be back in 2013, although no decision has yet been made as to the eligible years.