Round 5: 24 Hours of Le Mans, Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans, France, June 13th-14th, 1987

It’s June in northwestern France once again, and that can only mean one thing, the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, a motor race in it’s 55th renewal in 1987.  More than 200,000 fans have packed the grandstands around Circuit de la Sarthe to see if Jaguar can win Le Mans for the first time in 30 years.  But, to pull it off, they’ll have to overcome heavy competition from rivals Mercedes and Porsche.  On the pole, is the #18 Rothmans Porsche 962 being started by Frenchman Bob Wollek who has yet to win this race overall.  His co-drivers are veteran German driver Jochen Mass, and 1983 overall Le Mans winner, Vern Schuppan, from Australia.  Three Jaguars are set to bring the heat to Stuttgart, though.

Car #4 has a driving squad of Eddie Cheever, Raul Boesel, and Jan Lammers, the Dutchman, sharing with the American and the Brazilian.  In car #5 the driver lineup is has Brits John Watson and Win Percy along with Jan Lammers.  Reserve driver Armin Hahne of Germany is ready, but not expected to step into the car.  The third car, #6 has Armin Hahne as a reserve as well, along with Dane John Nielsen and Britain’s Martin Brundle.  48 cars are set to start.  Let’s have a look at the top qualifying places, the top ten.

  1. #18 Wollek/Mass/Schuppan Porsche 962C     Porsche AG
  2. #17 Stuck/Bell/Holbert Porsche 962C     Porsche AG
  3. #4 Cheever/Boesel/Lammers Jaguar XJR-8       Silk Cut Jaguar
  4. #6 Brundle/Nielsen/Hahne Jaguar XJR-8       Silk Cut Jaguar
  5. #5 Lammers/Percy/Watson Jaguar XJR-8       Silk Cut Jaguar
  6. #13 Raphanel/Regout/Courage Cougar C20 Porsche Primagaz Competition
  7. #62 Dumfries/Ganassi/Thackwell Sauber C9 Mercedes Kouros Racing
  8. #61 Thackwell/Pescarolo/Okada Sauber C9 Mercedes  Kouros Racing
  9. #7 van der Merwe/Robinson/Hobbs Porsche 962C Joest Racing
  10. #15 Palmer/Weaver/Cobb Porsche 962C GTi Equipe Liqui Moly

We’re ready to start a race that has been declared wet.  It’s the first wet Le Mans since 1980 when the French Rondeau team won.  It’s lights out, and away we go!  Le Mans 1987, is on.  It’s the Rothmans Porsche’s that lead over the Jaguar’s headed for the Dunlop esses for the first time.  Hans Stuck leads Jochen Mass, Martin Brundle, Eddie Cheever, and Jan Lammers.  One of the Mercedes’ is also trying to make a move under the Dunlop bridge for the first time, as we see the action from the camera car, another Rothmans liveried entry of which there are four.  This is the #3 Brun Porsche 962C with an all-Canadian lineup.  Bill Adam starts the car, sharing with Scott Goodyear, who would later find success in IndyCar racing, and Richard Spenard.

The cars scream down the Mulsanne straight for the first time at 230+ miles an hour!  Talk about fast!  Late starters are released from pit lane, for a full 48 car field.  One of those late comers looks to be the #114 Tiga GC287 Ford Cosworth for Tiga Ford Denmark.  Regular driver Thorkild Thyrring is joined at Le Mans by Brits Ian Harrower and John Sheldon for this race.  Hard to tell who the other late starter is.  Rain makes the going treacherous especially at 200+ miles an hour on the Mulsanne.  Gently, boys.  The conditions are slick out there, so slick that marshals are posting local yellow flags meaning, danger, no overtaking.

The battle is afoot at the front no matter what.  It’s Porsche, Jaguar, and Mercedes, in a scrap for who is best, here at Le Mans.  Porsche has dominated.  Mercedes is looking for their first win since 1952, and Jaguar, their first since 1957, as documented a little earlier on.  Into Mulsanne corner for the first time the order is still Hans Stuck, Jochen Mass, Martin Brundle, and Eddie Cheever.  The turbocharged cars are more suited to this sweeping, long and fast circuit laid out on public roads it seems, even though the normally aspirated V12 Jaguar’s do have horsepower in boatloads.  Brundle follows the leaders as do Thackwell in fourth spot, and Cheever fifth.  One of the great things to do is stand with your back turned to the track, and guess who is going by, by the engine note.  A screaming V12, a sonorous turbo Flat 6, or a thunderous, rumbling turbo V8… they are all here.  Mechanical diversity in sports car racing, is something.

Conditions are still slippery, and at this time, into Mulsanne corner, no one knows that better than South African driver George Fouche at the wheel of the #11 Leyton House liveried Kremer Porsche 962C he is sharing with countryman Wayne Taylor, and Austrian driver, Franz Konrad.  Fouche gets a little tail happy in Mulsanne but keeps on trucking.  Jochen Mass has taken the lead from Hans Stuck.  Early on in this race, Rothmans Porsche could be playing a tortoise and hare game, or, it could be a case of “hey, I led for a while, why don’t you have a turn at the front, sunshine.”  They pass the all-Canadian Brun entry carrying the onboard camera.  Bill Adam is at the wheel of it, still.

Joest Porsche, factory Toyota, Kremer Porsche, factory Porsche, factory Jaguar, factory Porsche.  Variety is the essence of Le Mans.  Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda, are all here representing Japan.  The factory Toyota’s have former F1 World Champion Alan Jones (from Australia), sharing with Sweden’s Eje Elgh, and Britain’s Geoff Lees in their first car, #36, and the sister Toyota 87C (#37) is in the hands of Britain’s Tiff Needell, and Japanese drivers Masanori Sekiya, and Kaoru Hoshino.  Sekiya, would go on to be on a winning team at Le Mans in the 1990s, in ’95, with the McLaren F1 GTR.

Porsche also have their four wheel drive Group B 961 supercar based on the new for 1987 and very limited edition 959 road car.  Rene Metge has started the car, the Frenchman sharing with Canadian Kees Nierop and Switzerland’s Claude Haldi.  The 961 is running the same engine as the factory 962s are.  The twin turbo, 2.7 liter flat six.  The track is dry now and thus, many cars have headed for pit lane to change to slick tires, but this is causing confusion not just for the fans, but also for the lap scorers and timekeepers doing their jobs at various marshal’s posts around the circuit.  Worse, there’s something wrong with the chemistry of the fuel supplied to the teams.

It is causing burned pistons, particularly in the Porsche’s.  Joest, Kremer, and the second Rothmans factory car, the #18 car of Jochen Mass and company, have already had gremlins with their cars due to the fuel.  Porsche mechanics have changed a microchip in the sister #17 machine, the Bell/Stuck/Holbert car.  This is the same team that won Le Mans last year, in 1986.  Bell is on a drive for his fifth win at Le Mans.  TWR Jaguar #4 is in the lane now, and Raul Boesel will take over from Jan Lammers and start his stint here at Le Mans in the early evening.

It’s three against one.  Three Jaguar’s vs. one lone factory Porsche.  It’s three Spitfires, vs. one Messerschmitt.  This will go on, through the dark of night, but Kouros Mercedes won’t be so lucky.  Both of their cars will drop out of the race overnight.  The Johnny Dumfries, Chip Ganassi, Mike Thackwell #62 entry breaks a gearbox, and a severely punctured tire derails the hopes of the #61 Mike Thackwell, Henri Pescarolo, Hideki Okada entry.  No fifth win for “Le Grand Pesca” who has become a legend of Le Mans, with four overall victories.  He is currently tied with Derek Bell, and Bell, is going for his fifth here at Le Mans ’87.

The #61 Mercedes rumbles away from pit lane after service, but as mentioned earlier, the car won’t last the distance, sadly.  Brundle and Nielsen have the third Jaguar, car #6, in fourth overall.  Again Armin Hahne was listed on this car as well.  But, as we’ll see, the Jaguar’s will also run into trouble later on, at least some of them.  Evening comes, and with it, bon viveur for the spectators.  Good food and wine are always a part of a race like Le Mans.  Eat, drink, be merry, and watch sports car racing.  It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?  No letup in the scrap at the front.  A Porsche engineer has described it just as yours truly did, above.  It’s truly one Messerschmitt against three Spitfires.  Even late night rain won’t spoil this fair old dust up.  Derek Bell and John Nielsen, especially, they are running Harry Flatters out there, dicing for the lead of this motor race.

Darkness has come.  But, the spectators forego their warm beds.  They want to stay up and watch the drama unfold.  Caffeine, alcohol, and adrenaline, will fuel their passion, surely, throughout the hours of darkness here in France.  All through the night, the TWR Jaguar crews work to keep their charges at peak form.  But, at 3:00 A.M. (a time, between night and morning, where this always seems to happen at Le Mans), disaster strikes the #5 Jaguar with Win Percy at the controls.  A blown tire sends Percy on a horrifying, cartwheeling ride, down the Mulsanne straight at 350 kilometers per hour (219 miles per hour!)  Let’s hope Win Percy is OK after this horrific high speed acrobatic tumble!

Percy walks away unhurt, with only tarmac marks on his crash helmet.  Thank goodness!  The accident deploys the safety cars, but the overall complexion of the race remains consistent.  Two more Jaguars are continuing to chase down the sole Rothmans Porsche still in this race, in the lead.  We haven’t talked at all about the C2 category, but Spice are leading.  Spice Engineering with their #111 Spice SE86C Ford Cosworth, now running in silver, yellow, and black Dianetique colors, is shared by Gordon Spice and Fermin Velez along with Frenchman Philippe de Henning.  Swiftair Ecosse, they are second and third.

Their cars are being shared by the following drivers.  #101 has Mike Wilds as lead driver, and the Englishman is joined by American IMSA pilots Craig Carter and Andy Petery, while in the sister #102 Ecosse Ford Cosworth, Belgian Marc Duez is sharing with Brits David Leslie and Ray Mallock.  Dawn comes to Le Mans, but it isn’t really a rosy glow this year.  There’s fog at Mulsanne corner.  The Rothmans Porsche 961 supercar is still leading Group B as we ride aboard.  It is being passed by the Chamberlain Engineering Spice Hart #27 with Nick Adams, Richard Jones, and Graham Duxbury sharing the driving chores.  The Jaguar’s continue leading the sole Rothmans Porsche, now in the hands of Al Holbert.  Rene Metge in the 961 supercar passes, as Holbert heads for routine refueling in the pit lane.  So, the order is now Cheever, Stuck, and Brundle, and each of them pits promptly at 8AM.  But, there’s trouble again for Jaguar.  It’s game over for the #6 car with a blown head gasket and cracked cylinder head on the V12.

That evens the odds.  It’s one Porsche vs. one Jaguar to the end of Le Mans.  But, the finish comes too soon for the beautiful Porsche 961.  It is crashed by Canadian driver Kees Nierop.  Something broke mechanically on the car.  Nierop spins, and, wallop!  He’s hit the barrier.  But the drama is not over.  Something seized in the transmission.  He makes his way back to pit lane, the steering somewhat out.  But, he’s got bigger trouble than just the steering.  The car is on fire, and the pit crew is seeing this on their bank of monitors in the lane, but Nierop may not realize it.  Porsche team manager Peter Falk gets on the radio to tell Nierop, “get out of the car, it’s on fire!”  Nierop scrambles away.

The onboard camera continues recording, eerily, as dense smoke fills the cockpit.  But that camera won’t be recording too much longer.  It melts in the blaze, and so does the car.  It’s burned out, and it’s game over for the 961 Porsche team.  Gordon Spice, meanwhile, anticipates a win at Le Mans.  “I think at this moment in time we’re a little bit ahead”, he says, and explains their rivals in C2 are running into mechanical troubles.  We’re closing in on the finish of Le Mans.  A travel stained #17 Porsche 962 makes it’s final pit stop, as a weary Peter Falk looks on.  The surviving Jaguar, the #4 entry of Eddie Cheever, Jan Lammers, and Raul Boesel, has holed it’s transmission casing, and the repairs cause the car to lose 30 laps.

They will recover to fifth place overall and finish there.  Primagaz Racing is doing well in second and third.  Jurgen Lassig of Germany, Pierre Yver of France, and Bernard de Dryver of Belgium pilot the #72 Porsche, and the Cougar of course has another all-French lineup of Yves Courage, Pierre Henri Raphanel, and Herve Regout.  Regout, check that, is Belgian as is de Dryver in the Porsche.  But this year at Le Mans, it is all Rothmans Porsche, and win number five for Derek Bell!  He, Hans Stuck, and Al Holbert, can celebrate their second straight win driving together!

#17 Stuck/Bell/Holbert                  Rothmans Porsche 962

The Brits lost their Jaguar victory, but they have Derek Bell to cheer for.  Here are the Le Mans 24 Hours results.

  1. #17 Stuck/Bell/Holbert Porsche 962C     Porsche AG
  2. #72 Lassig/Yver/De Dryver Porsche 962C     Primagaz Competition
  3. #13 Raphanel/Regout/Courage Cougar C20 Porsche  Primagaz Competition
  4. #11 Fouche/Konrad/Taylor Porsche 962C    Porsche Kremer Racing
  5. #4 Cheever/Boesel/Lammers Jaguar XJR8         Silk Cut Jaguar
  6. #111 Spice/Velez/de Henning Spice SE86C Cosworth  Spice Engineering Ltd.*
  7. #202 Kennedy/Dieudonne/Galvin Mazda 757   MazdaSpeed Co. Ltd. **
  8. #102 Duez/Mallock/Leslie Ecosse C286 Ford Cosworth   Swiftair-Ecurie Ecosse
  9. #121 Wood/Los/Hessert Tiga GC286 Ford Cosworth  Comsik-G.P. Motorsport
  10. #114 Thyrring/Harrower/Sheldon Tiga GC287 Ford Cosworth  Tiga Ford DK

*=C2 winners

**=IMSA winners

Let’s look at the points after Le Mans.

C1 Drivers:

  1. Derek Bell 74 points
  2. Hans Stuck 74 points
  3. Eddie Cheever 60 points
  4. Raul Boesel 60 points
  5. John Watson 55 points
  6. Jan Lammers 55 points

C2 Drivers:

  1. Gordon Spice 95 points
  2. Fermin Velez 95 points
  3. Ray Mallock 80 points
  4. David Leslie 80 points
  5. Costas Los 24 points
  6. Rudi Seher 24 points

C1 Teams:

  1. Silk Cut Jaguar 88 points
  2. Porsche AG 74 points
  3. Kremer Porsche   35 points
  4. Brun Motorsport 34 points

C2 Teams:

  1. Spice Engineering 95 points
  2. SwiftAir Ecosse 80 points
  3. URD Junior Team 24 points

Next up, it’s back to sprint racing, with the Norisring 200 Kilometers in Nuremberg, Germany, two weeks after Le Mans.  We are set to begin in earnest, the second half of the 1987 WSC season.

Published by

the braking zone

International racing fan for over 20 years. I follow Formula One, Indycars, sports cars, touring cars and other varied forms of racing within and outside the U.S. I am a recent college graduate and have been following the world of car racing since childhood.

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