Racing at leMans - amazing machines they are


Racing At leMans - Amazing Machines They Are

Ken Visser

I started to do some research on a blog about the Porsche 917, one of the most successful and dominant race cars in history.  As I was going thru my photos, I came upon quite a few examples of successful leMans racers and have decided to pursue that storyline.

leMans, one of the toughest races on the planet.  24 hours of straight up racing on a mix of public and racing circuit roads.  Participants have to balance fuel, brakes, mechanical durabilty, tires as well as fatigue.  In 2010 the winning Audi covered 3,360 miles on the Circuit de la Sarthe.  

We are talking 6 times longer than the Indy 500 and 18 times longer that a Formula One Grand Prix race. Heck, from New York to LA its 2,792 miles!  Can you imaging running at top speed on the Mulsanne Straight at 3 am, checking your mirrors for a prototype approaching at 200 plus MPH, flashing its lights?  And I thought the DC Beltway was stressful during a Friday night rush hour...

To make matters even more tense, the race takes place in June with soaring temperatures and the ever present threat of rain.  Race cars don’t use air conditioning so the interior temperatures can get excruciating,  This is why you see roadsters competing, like our 59 Aston Martin DBR1 from the Simeone Museum.  Let's take a look.

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1958 Aston Martin DBR1 chassis 3 as presented by the Simeone Museum at the 2013 Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance

This spectacularly shaped 58 Aston Martin DBR1 has been lovingly maintained by the esteemed Dr Fred Simeone, an avid and astute collector of amazing historic competitive automobiles.  His collection is housed in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum near the Philadelphia airport.  

Aston Martin won the World Championship and a win at leMans with a small team of 4 DBR1 race cars.  Caroll Shelby helped win at leMans in 59, turning out to be one of his last outings as a race car driver due to a heart condition.

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1952 Mercedes-Benz W-194 as photographed at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.

The above #21 is the winner of the 52 leMans and is now owned by Bruce McCaw.  The famous gullwing doors were designed to take advantage of the lightweight tubular chassis.  In 52 the Ferraris were faster but they didn't last, allowing for the slower but steadier gullwings to win the day.

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1955 Jaguar D Type owned by Jim Taylor as shown at the 2013 Elegance At Hershey.

To say that the Jaguar D Type was successful at leMans is an understatement.  They won the big prize from 1955 until 1957.  Unfortunately the 55 race was mared by the death of 83 spectators.  A braking incident in front of the main stands cause a disintigrating Mercedes to hurl itself into the crowd.  Although they were in the lead, the MB team decided to retire from the race, leaving the Jaguar team to take the over all win.  Mercedes then withdrew from racing for decades as a result of the crash.

This particular D Type was the 14th of 42 produced saw very little track time and thusly retains all its original exquisite body panels and mechanicals.

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1954 Ferrari 375 MM

This beautiful 1954 Ferrari 375 MM is an example fo the same model that won at leMans in 1954.  In my view, you can see the lines of the Shelby Cobra in this shot.  Its incredible to think of men in little leather hats and no seat belts with drum brakes doing 160 mph on the back straight at leMans.


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The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance Best of show winner, a 1966 Ford GT40 chassis P/1075 as photographed by Brett Lemoine 

Finally an American car!  This legendary GT40 won leMans an unprecedented 2 years in a row.  Rule changes to combat the extreme high speeds kept the prototypes at bay, giving an opening to the sportscar classified GT40. 

As you can see from the above images, form follows function.  In the case of race cars, that form can be absolutely beautiful. 


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