There is a place in the world, where the advent of summer, is celebrated with a motor race like no other. Among the ancient chateaus and castles, we are now in northwestern France, for the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest sports car race, if not auto race, in the world. All of the big name manufacturers are here, to do battle, to see who the best is. All the big names are here, including Lancia, Porsche, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Toyota, Klaus Ludwig is the race’s defending champion. He says the difficulty will be the same as 1984 when he won. The cars will only be able to use 2,210 liters of fuel among each one for the 24 hours.
Ludwig’s team mate from last year, Henri Pescarolo, who also won, is now racing for the rival Lancia squad. Klaus Ludwig says there will be a long queue of cars for the first few hours. Ludwig says Rothmans Porsche can choose three different speeds, and they will go very well, as they can do a fast pace with one car, a medium speed with one car, and a slow speed, with one car. The slow car will win if there’s no yellow flags, no rain, and lots of green flag running throughout the 24 hours, which is easier said than done, especially at La Sarthe. Ludwig says he is not sure how the New Man Porsche will do.
Klaus Ludwig likes to win, and he wants to win a third Le Mans crown, but says you just can’t predict a race like this. New Man Porsche won in 1984 of course, and there are two cars for the team, #7 and #8. #7 has Ludwig, the German, pairing with Italian Paolo Barilla, and West Germany’s John Winter. The sister #8 Joest New Man Porsche is being shared by Colombian Mauricio De Narvaez, Paul Belmondo of France (son of famous French actor Jean Paul Belmondo), and American driver, Kenper Miller. Barilla and Pescarolo have essentially swapped teams, as Paolo Barilla was a Lancia driver at Le Mans for the 1984 race.
The factory Rothmans Porsche’s which were absent from the 1984 race, are back in force, with three cars vying for victory. The Lancia’s are also here. They are quick in qualifying but have fragility and reliability concerns facing them in the race, and once again, we also have two Group 44 Jaguar XJR5’s in the IMSA GTP division, from the U.S. British sports car racing legend Brian Redman is sharing the #40 car with American’s Jim Adams and Hurley Haywood, while team owner/driver Bob Tulius spearheads the #44 lineup joined by fellow American Chip Robinson, and Frenchman Claude Ballot-Lena. Tens of thousands people have arrived by train, land, and airplane. People from as near as right in France, and as far as Australia, come to see the 24 hours every year.
The Joest Racing New Man Jeans Porsche’s are fourth and seventh on the grid. Car #7, to be shared by Klaus Ludwig, of Germany, Paolo Barilla of Italy, and John Winter of Germany, and again, #8’s driver’s strength includes Colombia’s Mauricio DeNarvaez, Kenper Miller from the United States, and Paul Belmondo from France. The roads are jammed as spectators’ line up to get into the gates and find their spots to watch. Speed, and fuel consumption are going to be crucial as we go into the 24 hours. Only 2,210 liters is allowed for use in the 24 hours. 510 liters is allowable for a 1,000 kilometer race like we see in every other situation here in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The ratio is 4.3. The expectation is, the winner of this race will cover more than 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles). Fuel consumption will be a huge deal.
This race has its own special atmosphere as the fans see the cars, the drivers, and obviously too, the Hawaiian Tropic girls. We’ve covered Joest Racing already and will do so more as the race progresses. Klaus Ludwig is going for his third Le Mans win in ’85. On the pole, however, is the #2 Rothmans Porsche 962, qualifying at over 151 miles an hour, to be shared by Derek Bell and Hans Stuck. The fastest cars here, the Group C machines, are pulling 230 miles per hour plus, down the Mulsanne straight. Now, the Mulsanne straight has lived up to its bad reputation as being a most dangerous part of Circuit de la Sarthe during practice.
Remember the eerie accident that happened during the 1984 race, to John Sheldon’s V8 Aston Martin Nimrod? There was a very similar crash, in practice in ’85. There was an incident involving the #55 John Fitzpatrick Racing Porsche 962C in the hands of British driver Dudley Wood, and the #81 Carma F.F. Alba AR2 Carma of Swiss driver Jean Pierre Frey. Screaming down the Mulsanne straight at 180+ miles an hour, both cars touched, vaulted over the guardrail, and flattened it for a length of 80 meters. Thank God, neither Dudley Wood nor Jean Pierre Frey was hurt in the crash. The John Fitzpatrick entered Porsche, was totally destroyed, and poor Fitzpatrick had just gotten this car to replace the other 956 that was smashed at Silverstone by Manuel Lopez.
So, John Fitzpatrick’s pocketbook has been hit hard these last two races. Two 962 Porsche’s destroyed within a month! Jean Pierre Frey’s Alba C2 racer is also totally written off. The crash was so hard, that even the engine block on the Porsche’s flat six turbo motor, is cracked, and has a gaping hole in it. Practice was undoubtedly red flagged. The wreckage was cleaned up. Now, let’s move on from this, and focus on the race itself. It’s time, to race the 53rd edition of the greatest sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
Group 44 Jaguar are back, and 25% (fully ¼ of this crowd) is British, so, they will no doubt cheer for Jaguar as the pretty girls from Hawaiian Tropic greet the fans. Just before 3PM on June 15th, 1985, we have one of the best entries in many years assembled for the vingt quatre heures du Mans. The weather is warm, as this 53 car field is ready to race. The trois couleurs flag waves, and the 24 Hours is underway! The Rothmans Porsche 962s are on the front row, and it’s going to be a race of strategy. Again, we’ve done the math, 5,000 kilometers is what the winning distance may be, but the fuel allowance is only four and a half times what is used during a typical 1,000 kilometer event during the season.
2,240 liters total is what is allowed. Now, the sleek Group C prototypes blast their way down the Mulsanne straight for the first time, again, touching 230 miles an hour, plus. Down the straight which is 3.5 nearly four miles long, these cars are amazing sight to behold. Modern Group C sports cars are truly engineering marvels. Frenchman Bob Wollek, is leading his home race for Lancia with the #4 Martini Lancia LC2/85 he is due to share with Alessandro Nannini of Italy, and Australian driver Lucio Cesario. The Lancia is just ahead of the winning car from last year, the #7 New Man Joest Racing Porsche run by team owner Reinhold Joest. Recall, in 1984, Rothmans Porsche chose not to compete at Le Mans because of a rules dispute with the FIA. Rothmans Porsche has three cars this year.
Already mentioned, the #2 Hans Stuck/Derek Bell car. In car #1, it is the formidable duo of Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass. The third car, #3, has 2/3rds of the lineup that won the 1983 Le Mans race, with Australia’s Vern Schuppan and American Al Holbert, joined by Northern Ireland’s John Watson for this race. Hurley Haywood, the American who would go on to achieve legendary status in sports car racing around the world, he is driving with Group 44 Jaguar in this race. Right now, the lead battle is surely afoot. It’s the #7 New Man Porsche vs. the #4 Martini Lancia, and a new contender, is the #14 Canon Porsche 956 shared by Jonathan Palmer, car owner Richard Lloyd, and British driver James Weaver. The #14 car has taken the overall lead.
So, it’s an all British squad in the Canon Porsche. Klaus Ludwig takes the lead briefly, but then Johnny Palmer says “I’ll lead for a while, thanks”, and goes by into P1. Another car to watch out for is the EMKA C84/1 Aston Martin. Now, Aston Martin had a horrible race here with the Nimrod a year ago as we’ve documented. But, they are back this year with the Emka Productions Limited team, with the same ground pounding Tickford built 5.3 liter V8 in the back of the car, being shared by a trio of British pilots. Tiff Needell takes the start, and will share with Nick Faure and Steve O’Rourke. The car is in fourth, and comes in for it’s fuel stop early in the first couple hours.
Running to this strategy allows the Dow Corning silicones liveried EMKA Aston Martin to lead Le Mans! The car thunders down the Mulsanne straight and Aston Martin leads Le Mans for the first time since 1959 when they won with the fabulous DBR1 in the hands of Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori. The privateer teams seem to have the edge so far over any of the factory cars, from either Porsche or Lancia, as this race goes on. Joest Racing brings the #7 Porsche 956 into the lane for fuel, tires, and the all- important driver change. Klaus Ludwig has done his first stint, and hands the wheel to Italian Paolo Barilla.
Lancia and Rothmans Porsche are also in the lane for service. Porsche #2 has been dealing with tire punctures, and they’ve lost some ground in the opening stanza of the motor race. Headed for sunset, the #3 factory Rothmans Porsche 962 with John Watson, Al Holbert, and Vern Schuppan leads Le Mans. It’s dusk, and you know what that means. Changes are in progress here at Le Mans, as always. Klaus Ludwig retakes the lead, and there’s trouble for the #14 Canon Porsche, as they have a misfire in the engine. This caused the Palmer/Weaver/Lloyd car to drop like a stone, to seventh in the overall, and promoted the #3 Watson/Holbert/Schuppan car to second. But wait, there’s more.
The Holbert/Watson/Schuppan car has been going like clockwork so far, but the same can’t be said for the #1 Rothmans 962 of Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass. The transmission ate itself and had to be changed out, dropping those two out of the top ten as dusk is falling here at Circuit de la Sarthe. The #18 Brun Motorsport Porsche 956 from Swiss privateer entrant Walter Brun, has worked its way to third overall in the hands of Argentina’s Oscar Larrauri and Italian’s Massimo Sigala and Gabriele Tarquini. Derek Bell and Hans Stuck in the #2 Rothmans Porsche, and in fifth spot is the leading Lancia of Bob Wollek, Alessandro Nannini, and Lucio Cesario. Sixth overall is the second Brun Motorsport Porsche 962 car #19, in the hands of car owner Walter Brun, from Switzerland, Belgian Didier Theys, and Frenchman Joel Gouhier.
German driver Leopold von Bayern is the team’s reserve driver, but he is not needed. One of the most effective drives we are seeing as darkness lingers here at Le Mans is that of the Canon Porsche and especially Johnny Palmer and James Weaver. Those two are really putting in some monster stints. Also during the night, there were some big problems for the #2 Derek Bell and Hans Stuck Rothmans Porsche 962. They suffered two wheel bearing failures, dropping them out of the top six points scoring positions. Still retaining second is the sister #3 Rothmans Porsche 962 of John Watson, Vern Schuppan and Al Holbert. How are the Jaguars doing? Yes, this question was sure to come up, especially from the British fans.
Well, the cars are outside the top ten, but they are leading the IMSA GTP division of which they are the only two cars entered. The Redman/Adams/Haywood car, #40 and the Tulius/Robinson/Ballot-Lena car, #44, are still circulating. For Rothmans Porsche, their race seems to go from bad to worse as transmission maladies continue for the Ickx/Mass driven car #1. Team boss Norbert Singer has a very resigned look on his face. He’d obviously prefer for Rothmans Porsche to be at the sharp end of the field. But, again, they’ve had a litany of issues. At the sixteen hour mark, the #14 Canon Porsche 956 is back to fourth in the overall. Jonathan Palmer has done yeoman service during the night along with team mates Richard Lloyd and James Weaver of course.
All is not well in the Martini Lancia camp. As the night is drawing to a close, the race may well be over for the #4 Wollek/Nannini/Cesario Lancia LC2-85 which needs a new turbocharger. The rosy glow of a summer’s dawn greets Le Mans with the #7 New Man Porsche still in front. Klaus Ludwig, John Winter, and Paolo Barilla, are set to give Joest Porsche their second straight win here at Le Mans after Ludwig and Henri Pescarolo triumphed here in 1984. Pit stop time it is on this Sunday morning for New Man Porsche, who has been running their fuel strategy perfectly in the race so far. Tiredness, exhaustion has taken over for many crews.
British fans have at least two cars still to cheer for even though Jaguar is out. The #14 Canon Porsche that has been mentioned on numerous occasions, and the leaders in C2, the #70 Hawaiian Tropic/Holts Tiga Ford of Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm, who are joined here at Le Mans by Irishman Mark Galvin. They will go on to win the C2 class at Le Mans 1985. The #14 Canon Porsche has continued to improve after, as mentioned earlier, hard driving and yeoman stints by Johnny Palmer and James Weaver. Team boos Keith Green has to be ecstatic about their progress. However, it is game over for the much beleaguered #3 Rothmans Porsche 962 as the engine has gone ka-blammo. It’s a complete failure of the motor that has put John Watson and company out of the race.
Derek Bell is in the pit lane, speaking to his Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent, who is here, supporting the Jaguars who are unfortunately out. Now, Bell’s car, the #2 Rothmans Porsche, it seems to have recovered from its earlier wheel bearing dramas. They’ve made it to third overall, and the 1985 24 Hours of Le Mans is now over. Joest Racing has won for a second consecutive year! The #7 Porsche 956 of Paolo Barilla, Klaus Ludwig, and John Winter, win Le Mans!
The American entered Jaguar’s from Group 44 have won in the GTP division, where they’ve essentially been racing against themselves here at Le Mans. It is the #44 car of Bob Tulius, Chip Robinson, and Claude Ballot Lena that wins, after problems for the #40 entry of Brian Redman, Jim Adams, and Hurley Haywood. For the first time, an IMSA GTP car has finished Le Mans. Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass finish tenth overall at Le Mans but maintain a lead in the Group C drivers’ championship points.
- Jacky Ickx Rothmans Porsche Porsche 962C 51
- Jochen Mass Rothmans Porsche Porsche 962C 51
- Manfred Winkelhock Kremer Porsche Racing Porsche 956 45
- Marc Surer Kremer Porsche Racing Porsche 956 45
- Hans Stuck Rothmans Porsche Porsche 962C 42
- Derek Bell Rothmans Porsche Porsche 962C 42