01 June 2011
Dave Phillips looks at the most famous endurance motor race in the world - Le Mans - and the wealth of diecast model toy releases it has inspired. ...
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The magic of Le Mans
For lovers of the high-octane world of motor racing, Le Mans is synonymous with speed, drama and the romance of head-to-head battles between drivers behind the wheels of vehicles that have a passing resemblance to the cars that appear on our roads.
Le 24 Heures du Mans is the world’s oldest endurance sports car race, held annually in France since 1923 on a circuit incorporating public roads. The sleepy town of Le Mans wakens from its slumbers every year when hundreds of thousands of eager fans turn up to witness the spectacle.
For motor racing purists it is the complete antithesis to Grand Prix racing. For those who moan that modern Grand Prix is no more than a boring procession of expensive, specialised machinery steered by overpaid drivers, Le Mans presents a very different challenge. The 24 hours of racing means that reliability is as important as speed… and endurance is imperative for both cars and drivers.
Le Mans is different all right. The race starts with the waving of the French Tricolor, while the sound of the revving car engines is drowned out by the scream of jet engines as French air force jets fly over trailing red, white and blue smoke.
The first race was held in May 1923, but since then it has been staged mainly in June. These days it is held on the second weekend of the month, although a test day is held a week or so earlier. The race itself used to begin with the legendary ‘Le Mans start’, in which drivers had to run across the track to their parked cars, start them and roar away. The confusion of this start was a tragic accident waiting to happen and, happily, the organisers changed the rules from 1971 onwards, incorporating an Indianapolis-style rolling start...
Le Mans 'firsts'
The quest to produce super-fast, reliable cars to compete in this event has led to wonderful innovations that have trickled down to our own cars as well as plenty of other world firsts. Here are just a few…
• In 1967 winner Dan Gurney became the first racing driver to spray a magnum of champagne from the podium
• The smallest engine ever to compete was the 569cc Simca Cinq
• The biggest was the 7986cc Chrysler Viper
• The Jaguar C-Type was the first car to have disc brakes, in 1953
• The first diesel was entered by Delettrez, in 1949
• The first powered by ethanol was a modified Porsche 911, in 1980
Some of the best current diecast releases spanning the unforgettable decades of racing at Le Mans...
Bentley Sport, Le Mans 1928
PRICE £31.50 SCALE 1/43 REF NO LM1928
Some say that years between WWI and WWII were the golden era of motor racing. They were certainly years when the British-made Bentley was a force to be reckoned with, like this 4.5-litre beauty that stormed to victory at Le Mans 1928. It was driven by Bernard Rubin and the legendary all-round sportsman Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato who achieved three consecutive wins at le Mans (1928–30) as well as playing first-class cricket for Surrey! Those were the days. A beautifully executed model.
Zytek 07S, Le Mans 2009
PRICE £40.99 SCALE 1/43 REF NO S1523
The open cockpit of the Zytek 07S allows you to see the superb detail of the driver’s seat, down to the blue safety harness. The prototype, driven by Juan Barazi, Phil Bennett and Stuart Moseley for Barazi-Epsilon, completed 306 laps in 24 hours to finish 28th in the 2009 race.
Ferrari F430 GT2, Le Mans 2007
PRICE £92.50 SCALE 1/43 REF NO RL137
The Ferrari F430 GT2 was raced at Le Mans 2007 by Chris Niarchos, Andrew Kirkaldy and Tim Mullen, of the UK-based Scuderia Ecosse team, who took it to 35th place overall. This is a numbered limited edition Red Line model of which only 500 were produced. It is supplied in a Red Line showcase and Ferrari gift box.
BMW 328, Le Mans 1939
PRICE £69.50 SCALE 1/18 REF NO AA83945
Le Mans 1939 was the last before the outbreak of WWII. The 2-litre BMW 328, driven by BMW works drivers Ralph Roese and Paul Heinemann, finished 7th. This model, so evocative of the era, boasts all opening panels and even has miniature ‘leather’ straps to hold the bonnet in place!
Callaway Corvette, Le Mans 1995
PRICE £69.50 SCALE 1/43 REF NO RMG 006
The British-based Agusta Racing Team Callaway Supernatural Corvette GT2 competed at Le Mans in 1995 with the UK’s Robin Donovan and Eugene O’Brien and Italian Riccardo ‘Rocky’ Agusta sharing driving duties. The team finished in a respectable 11th place, after completing 271 laps. This model is hand-built for Racing Models.
*This is an excerpt of the article 'The magic of Le Mans' first published in Diecast Collector's July issue. To see which issues of Diecast Collector are available to buy online, click here
*Diecast Collector is a monthly magazine which focuses on all types of diecast models from Dinky Toys to Oxford Diecast
Many thanks to Racing Models for supplying some of the photographs used in this feature.