MMR Blog

The Le Mans Start by Denise McCluggage

Posted on June 29, 2012 Comments (1)

The LeMans start made great sense when it began. Engines that wouldn’t fire, or worse, started and died shortly after underway leaving the cars perched for collection by dozens of machines bearing down on them at full song. A poor beginning for any event.

Le Mans Start

But angle the cars in readiness just off the course, have the drivers run across the track, leap in, fire up and take off. Each step spread the cars like spilled jelly beans.

Le Mans Start

Any stalled car sat safely out of the way. It worked. Particularly since early on in racing it was the rare driver who had belts in his car. Even much later only seat belts were common, simple enough to fasten a few laps later while steering with the knees down the Mulsanne straight. The belting/harnessing system grew more complicated (not to mention effective) and by 1972 the LeMans start made its last appearance.

I chose to shoot the opening of the race from across the course up in the spectators’ stand to take in the pits and the crowded stands above them.

Le Mans Start

I had been at LeMans in 1958 for Phil Hill's first LeMans victory. June again in 1959 he and co-driver Olivier Gendebien were back (#14 Ferrari) eager to chalk up another. They were on their way to doing just that—if leading by two laps in the 19th hour of 24 counts. But their TestaRossa, perhaps over-taxed by copying the early fast running of the Aston Martin team, simply gave out. (But then so did 41 other cars out of the cast of 54.) Aston DBR1s, led by the American-Brit team of Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori (#5), took the first two places.

Roy was driving the closing minutes with a lap in hand when I spotted Carroll entering the back door of the Aston pits. He had gone to change out of his blue driver's suit for his signature striped bib overalls. I chided him: "A change of costume for the curtain calls?" He grinned his wide-as-Texas grin. The good ole boy image was a great success in Europe as well as at home.

Carroll Shelby, aged 89 and the recipient of a heart and a kidney transplant, died May 10. Then 23 days later the man with whom he shared the1959 LeMans victory, Roy Salvadori, died at age 90.


Day Dreaming

Posted on June 15, 2012 Comments (3)

We received another interesting e-mail the other day from Michael Keyser of Autosport Marketing Associates, Ltd. He wrote us saying:

Le Mans 1974

Here's a shot of me and Milt Minter with the car at Le Mans in 1974… and after I smacked a guardrail in the Porsche Curves on Sunday morning… day dreaming again.

The car in the picture is a 1974 Porsche 911 RSR 3.0 running in the “Toad Hall” livery.

VIN: 911 460 9049
Production No. 104 0078
Engine No. 684 3215
Gearbox No. 0534

It was first delivered to Michael Keyser at Toad Hall Racing but it has lived an interesting life with extensive IMSA and European racing history. As seen in the picture, it competed at Le Mans but it also ran at Daytona and Sebring.

Le Mans 1974

It was the third '74 RSR 3.0 built and it would become one of the most successful and visible '74 RSRs to be raced in the US. With it's bright yellow paint with distinctive black trim, Keyser and Milt Minter raced it throughout the 1974 IMSA series, achieving several top three finishes (including 2nd at Road Atlanta, 3rd at Ontario, 3rd at Mid-Ohio, 2nd at Talladega, and a heat win at Lime Rock). It also ran at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1974, where it finished 20th overall.

In 1975, co-driving with Billy Sprowls, 9040 was 2nd overall at the Daytona 24 Hours and 13th overall at the Sebring 12 Hours. It would also continue to be very successful in the IMSA series, with high finishes at Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca, and Riverside.

Subsequent owners continued to race the car successfully from 1977 to 1979 in Trans Am and IMSA races, along with additional entries at the Daytona 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours.

More recently, Canepa Design comprehensively restored 9049 and it is ready to race or show. It is certainly one of the RSRs with the best US racing history, with several entries at Daytona and Sebring. It is also among only a handful of RSRs to have completed the Le Mans 24 Hours.

1974 Porsche 911

It remains as one of the best-restored 1974 3.0 RSRs and has its correct, highly recognizable, and distinctive Toad Hall livery.

I suppose, every June, it's only natural to day dream about your LeMans exploits. I know I would.

Michael did add one more comment: Not much to say. It was a wonderful car. Handled great. Reliable. I wish I still owned it.


Time Flies

Posted on August 23, 2011 Comments (0)

I was checking out the cars for the feature F1 race with another guy in his early twenties who wrote for the Canadian motorsports magazine, Track & Traffic. His name was Lance Hill. There were no drivers in the pits and we got reasonably close to the cars. We were just two young guys talking about yesterday's practice times and somewhat mystified by what we were looking at. These cars were only familiar to us from magazine pages. I remember him now as a very nice guy, very approachable, and with a good sense of humor.

Time moved on. At some point I was in an airport and picked up a soft cover edition of "King of White Lady" by Lance Hill. The author's description left no doubt that this was the same person I once met. It was a good read and I had it around for years before it somehow disappeared.

Several decades went by and my wife and I drove our newly acquired Ferrari 308 to Florida in winter to attend the Cavallino Classic at the Breakers in W. Palm Beach. Crews were unloading Ferraris on the closely cut lawn. Here and there a V-12 engine was being blipped. I looked up and into the Passport van and watched it disgorge a stunning red 250LM with California plates. To my mind, this is the most beautiful road car Ferrari ever made. Two men were gently handling it. The owner was close by and was an attentive observer. At some point, as the car was being moved away, I approached him. I told him that he seemed familiar to me and I told him my name. It didn't mean anything to him and he said he was Lance Hill. It clicked for me and I asked him about Track & Traffic and whether he was still writing about cars. He said he was, but that his professional name was now R. Lance Hill. I pointed to the car and he said that, yes, it was his. He told me that after his stint at T & T, he moved to California and wrote the book I once had. It was optioned several times for a movie, but the topic fell out of fashion, and the movie was never made. He subsequently wrote another book that was made into a movie with Charles Bronson. He now made a living as a "script doctor" for movies that were stopped in production because their scripts needed help. He said the pressure was hell but the money was steady and he had done very well.

Tony Singer's image of Ralph Lauren's Ferrari 250LM in our gallery and Chris Szwedo's story and sound track reminded me of those encounters.


MMR 2011 Competition Headlines Preview!

Posted on December 21, 2010 Comments (0)

MMR Competition Headline Predictions!

MMR has consulted the oracles, gazed deeply into our crystal balls and read the sediment at the bottom of countless bottles of mediocre wine to bring you these predictions! Look for these headlines coming soon to a website just like this one. Or... only this one.

2011 Formula 1:

  • Adrian Newey has been found guilty of "over designing" and will only be allowed to do one line on the 2011 Red Bull car! Competitors insist it must be the tire! 
  • The traditionally inept FIA race stewards will now have expert help: "Rex" the Seeing-Eye Wonder Dog will attend every race and bite every little driver who does a "no-no" on the track or "wee-wee" in his driving suit!
  • Hermann Tilke has been commissioned to design “the most exciting country in the world”! Based on his F1 experience, he has chosen Switzerland as a model. One person in Switzerland recently yawned! The remainder are lying about waiting for Prince Charming to come and kiss them on the lips!  
  • In order to put an end to the confusion, every car on the grid will be called a Lotus! Except the Virgin... which will be called a Virgin because…God knows, Virgins are hard to find in racing.

 Nascar:

  • Rather than simply give him the 2011 Winston/Verizon/Holiday Inn/ Nextel Cup, Jimmy Johnson has been asked to retire!
  • The Association of Mental Health Professionals has released the results of their study showing that every Nascar driver, except for Jimmy Johnson, needs sociopathic adjustment counseling!
  • Michael Waltrip is missing! He may have disappeared six years ago but his family didn’t notice until they turned on the TV and noticed he was not starring in consecutive ads for Maytag, Preparation H and Baby’s Own Shampoo.
  • Road races, exceptionally popular with the fans, have been eliminated! Nascar officials fear drivers will cheat once they get out of sight of the tower.     

 Indycar:

  • Rules have been changed to allow rodeo clowns in fiberglass “pretend” barrels to run out on the track during caution periods to try and distract the drivers. Car owners say “We fought Randy tooth and nail on this one. He wanted to stampede bulls on the track during qualifying. We settled for the clowns.”  
  • Roger Penske has bought the Indianapolis 500!

 Moto-GP:

  • The 2011 rules have been changed to compensate for over-talented riders! Valentino Rossi will be forced to compete this year on a uni-cycle!
  • Upon receipt of his signed agreement to the change, Moto-GP promptly cancelled the season and awarded him the title, thus saving all the manufacturers a fortune! Racing will resume when he is old!

 LeMans:

  • All non-French cars will be compelled to use Mercedes aerodynamic packages in 2011!
  • Audis have been banned because French announcers cannot pronounce the name of the car without sounding like lonely cowboys.

 That’s all the news that’s fit to print…here?


What Are They Thinking?

Posted on September 30, 2010 Comments (0)

That story follows. Recently, I received correspondence challenging my assumptions from a man who has attended the LeMans 24 Hours eighteen times and has a different view. If you have a thought on the subject, chime in.

The 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans. Long considered the premier long distance race, The 24 Hours of Le Mans, run by the Automobile Club du Ouest (ACO) can also be the most frustrating race in which to participate. Over the years, the rules set out by the ACO have often been subject to different interpretation and capricious application by its officials. The stories of past manufacturer battles with the organizers are legend.

To the French, Le Mans represents an opportunity for French cars and or/drivers to win for the "Glory of France". The French Peugeot team is a legitimate contender and historically the ACO have not been above "setting" or "interpreting" rules to help the home teams.

This year, the German Audi won their tenth overall victory in an exciting race that saw French Peugeot finish 13 seconds behind after 24 hours of racing. Yet despite the closeness of the racing in the LMP (Le Mans Prototype) classes, because LMP cars are so physically similar, many feel they lack the appeal of the familiar GT class. The two GT classes for "production" cars featured familiar names such as Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus, Aston Martin and others.

Corvette won in both the GTE Pro and the GTE Am classes. A wonderful result achieved against stiff competition.

Originally, LeMans was all about factories bringing their modified street cars to LeMans in order to win and thereby sell more cars. When specially built LeMans cars began winning against the street production cars, a second class was developed for low production, purported "prototypes", of cars to come. Once beautiful expressions of the pure racing cars, the science of aerodynamics has determined the similar missile shapes which all prototypes now share, and which some find less than attractive.

Obliged to chose, racing fans would probably prefer the familiar GT cars over the Prototypes. None-the-less, the Protypes are exciting to watch and do have a fan following so they race on in a world-wide series of endurance events for their type of car. It should be noted that the French don't have a competitive GT car.

The 8.5 mile Le Mans circuit is occupied by four different driver/car classes. 56 cars begin the race. The largest group of which, GTE -Am (Amateur) for Production based GT cars (18) is the slowest. The second largest class (17) is LMP-1 or Le Mans Prototype driven by the best long distance drivers in the world. This is the fastest class. LMP-1 cars qualified at 3 minutes, 25.7 seconds per lap. The final qualifier, in a GT car was 46.8 seconds slower. This is a massive difference.

For years it has been argued that the reason for many of the crashes at Le Mans is the speed differential between the "prototype" and the "production" cars. Only 27 cars were listed as finishers and the GTE-Am car was lapped 53 times by the winning LMP-1 car. Yet the winning car's real rival was never lapped and was only 13 seconds behind it.

85% of a LeMans lap is taken at full throttle and in each of the accidents that spectacularly destroyed the Audi LMP-1 cars, a GTE was involved. GTE cars are not slow, but the closing speed differential on the straights can easily be as much as 80 MPH!

Into this consistent maelstrom, the ACO, has created a new class; The GTE-Am class for "amateurs".

While amateurs, those racing in this class were certainly "qualified" and experienced drivers. An American Team driving a Ford GT III actually finished third (a podium placement) in the GTE-Am class. Driven by well known amateur David Murray and by the husband and wife team of Andrea and David Robertson, they are to be commended.

However, despite their prior experience, the physics remain and they were driving in a dangerous situation for which they could never have prepared to the same extent that professionals prepare. The two GTE's that crashed with Audis were driven by professionals and in at least one case, were not responsible for the accident.

Racing was not ever meant to be a totally safe endeavor. Those participating know that. However, the responsibility of the governing bodies and race organizers is to provide a set a rules and an environment where competition can take place in as fair and safe a manner as possible. In not addressing these issues today, the ACO do a great disservice to the sport. What do they need to have happen before they act? In the wrong political atmosphere, a catastrophic crash involving spectators could result in either dramatic changes to the track, and therefore the essence of the race, or its complete cancellation. Either of which would be a huge loss to motorsports.

At LeMans, in 2011, Audi driver Alan McNish made a mistake. He, the other competitors involved and the photographers nearby were exceptionally fortunate. Continued good luck to all.