Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Spice’

Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 2 – Group C Racing

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 26, 2010

Race Start

Kids these days are reared with diesel LMP cars as their heroes, I was reared with Group C cars as mine. I make no effort to hide my love or enthusiasm for them, my mind is still vividly filled with childhood memories of them, and my shelves are groaning under the weight of models and books about them!

After seeing the Group C Racing series race as part of the Silverstone Classic for the last two years, I was happy to hear that they would be supporting the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2010,with a very promising grid, making my first Le Mans even more memorable, so here is a review of the 2 sessions, qualifying and race.

Qualifying in the rain

A massive downpour (the only heavy rain of the Le Mans week thankfully) was the weather that the mostly gentleman drivers had to face, so for a while there were only a handful of cars circulating, mainly to get used to the track as some of the drivers had yet to sample it, others were driving their cars for the first time ever and at Le Mans to boot.

Still though the cars were fast, making massive rooster tails and with wet weather tyres fitted you could see the dry lines appearing as the cars went around. From my dry position in the Dunlop tribune, just before the famous bridge you could see who was committed and who was finding or pushing the limits, proven by several hairy braking moments for the chicane, or some cars going into the gravel. It was also interesting to see how well the cars could put the power down as back then it was a choice of either small – medium capacity turbo or large capacity normally aspirated engines, although with turbo technology not as advanced back then as it is now the N/A cars such as the Jaguars and Spice Chevrolets were having less difficulty than the turbo Nissans or Mercedes in getting the power down

Nissan R90CK - Le Mans 1990

So enough about the conditions, what about the cars? Id experianced the Porsches, Jaguars and Tigas at the Silverstone classic, the noise of the 7 litre N/A V12 fitted to the  Jaguar XJR-9’s still sends shivers down the spine along with the glorious 5 litre twin turbo V8 of the Sauber C11. Mixed into this was the raw unsilenced Chevy V8 in the Spice SE89C and the detuned 80’s F1 sounds of the DFV Cosworth equipped Spices and a much rarer car with the Swiss built Cheetah C2. Also a Kremer built 962C and a Dauer 962 – precursor to the ‘road version’ that won Le Mans in 1994.

One car I enjoyed seeing in action was the #17 Nissan R90CK,driven today by Kent Abrahamson, a car which during the 1990 Le Mans 24H race set a record speed of 227mph with the chicanes in place during qualifying, the 1st year of them being so, a record which I understand still stands to this day. Driven at the time by a then young British driver named Mark Blundell, helped by qualifying boost, close to 1100bhp was available from the twin turbo 3.5 litre V8 for a pole time of 3.27 – a mindblowing time back then, the fastest petrol LMP1’s grid time this year was 3.28 – shows how fast modern LMP1 petrol cars are and this is with a slightly longer lap. A video of the Nissans record lap can be seen here .  In the 1990 race the car failed to finish after a clash with a backmarker. Not sure if the car pictured is THE car from the video/lap, but it looked identical.

Mercedes C11 - Le Mans 1991

Another car I liked was the Mercedes C11,owned and driven by Bob Berridge, the car seen in these photos was the development car, it never raced back in the day but did plenty of testing mileage, including some by an at the time young German F3 driver named Michael Schumacher… A development of the Sauber C9, but with the same 5 litre twin turbo V8 engine, which makes arguably the greatest noise ever heard at any race circuit – click here (and turn the volume to 12, never mind 11). The car only raced at Le Mans in 1991 and none of them finished, but the preceding C9 won in 1989 and recorded the fastest overall speed on the Mulsanne straight ever at 247 mph, pre-chicanes days naturally. To compare to the Nissans potential this cars fastest qualifying lap in 1991 was 3.31 – which is still an impressive time. To gauge a good time at Le Mans, anything in the 3 minute bracket is fast!

In qualifying for the Group C race, it was a Silk Cut Jaguar 1-2-3 with the XJR-9 of Justin Law on Pole, the similar XJR-8 of Alex Buncombe alongside, the twin turbo V6 XJR-11 of Gary Pearson 3rd and Elliot Kinch 4th in his Chevy V8 powered Spice SE89C 4th, his time set before the deluge began. The Jaguar XJR-11 is special to me as it was the first Group C car I ever saw with my own eyes – in 1989! Alongside Ayrton Sennas McLaren MP4/4 to boot!

Only decent scrap of the race - XJR-16 vs R90CK

Onto the race, on a cool grey morning, the Jaguars immediatley took a commanding lead with  the C11 spinning at the start, but very quickly the race went in a downhill direction, reliability problems and cars constantly getting punctures (a problem which affected the main Le Mans race also) not to mention some drivers still struggling with the track and conditions, with a few cars going into the gravel and others hitting the barriers, the Nissan R90CK among them sadly. A true race of attrition perhaps, but in the end only 3 cars finished on the lead lap after a 45min race with 7 more cars a lap down. All but 1 car managed to do at least 2 laps, with Alex Buncombe into the gravel on lap 1. An indication of how fast some of the cars remain these days was the fastest lap of the race, set by Berridge in the C11 with 3.44, during Le Mans 1991 the cars fastest lap was a 3.35, not bad, a 20 year old car and a non professional driver, but sadly the field was far too spread out for any decent scraps to take place, the cars going around singularly or in 2’s or 3’s. From my position on the inside of the Esses and Tete Rouge, the cars were still fast but the field was just too uneven. Whether it was the level that the cars have been detuned, the drivers skill or just that some drivers were happy to just drive and not race, probably all of these factors! For the record Justin Law took his XJR-9 to victory, followed by Gareth Evans in the Nissan R88C second and Gary Pearson in the XJR-11 thord. Despite the dull race (a little like the races back in the day Im told) they are all to be saluted for bringing the cars back out onto the track to which they are most associated, as many less knowledgeable people still refer to them as ‘Le Mans Cars’. Long may it continue!

Click here for Group C qualifying photos

Click here for Group C race photos


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