Part 1 The New David Cundy Collection & My Group C Racing The Golden Years
Group C The Golden Years
Just recently I was contacted by David Cundy a professional Motor Sport photographer who has given me access to an archive of thousands of amazing pictures. The biggest section of the collection is a massive selection of Group C Sports Car racing pictures.
I think maybe it is time to share my memories.
Part 1: My introduction to the great race 1977.
My First Le Mans
As a weekly subscriber to Motoring News when I was aged ten, I fell in love the Sports Cars. I am sure a lot of the fascination was due to the beauty of the Martini Livery on the all dominating Porches! The red, blue and white cars seemed to be on the front of every other issue
I was not from a rich family and the idea of going to the greatest of sports car races at Le Mans seemed a very unlikely prospect. Fortunately for me our family sometimes went on coach tours and one day through our front door came the Excelsior Brochure. An annual coach trip itinerary for the year 1977. Low and behold June 1977 a trip to Le Mans, for I believe £32. Well after an amazing amount of persuasion my parents reluctantly booked the trip that would change my life!
Come night time I remember trying to sleep in the parked coach with the rain pouring down on the steamed up windows. Outside I had no idea that my hero Jacky Ickx was driving the race of his life! Yes I was there but only now do I think I know what was going on. But the sights and sounds I had witnessed, and the amazing reports I read when I returned had me hooked for good. I bought magazines, posters a programme and these were now my new best friends. I also knew I had to return to the great race. The excitement of getting back was also doubled because on our budget trip we had cheap tickets that limited access to only the Dunlop Bridge to Tetre Rouge. I had to get hold of a full entrance ticket and see the pits next time! It was two years until I got back to my new drug but that is another story.
Part 2 The Group C Begins 1982
I got back to Le Mans again in 1979 then again in 1980 and 81. For 1982 I was 16 years old and desperate to be at the race, really desperate. I had become a big Porsche fan and had witnessed the debut of the new Rothmans Porsche 956 at the Silverstone 6 Hours. With just days to go I still had no way to get to France. But where there is a will, there is a way and there I was sitting at Portsmouth docks with a card board sign on the back of my rucksack “Le Mans Please”. I was hitch hiking!
I made it down to Le Mans and managed to blag a ticket and a Pit Counter pass. Amazing what a big smile and a story can get you!
I wanted to watch the rolling start from above the pits and went up there quite a long time before the four pm start time. I witnessed all the build up and can still feel the buzz of looking down at the Group C cars lined up on the grid. It was then I realised this was something very special. The cars were massive and oh so colourful.
Incredibly I had a small ridge tent which I pitched on the banking of the Dunlop curve. Can you imagine that today? The best time was late evening when I was sitting in the front of the tent watching the cars sweep through the fast first corner. I am not sure if I imagined it but the 956 cars looked faster than the competition and were easy to spot especially in the dark due to their sleek long bodies. I was really privileged to have these memories and they will never leave me! Even if sometimes they seem totally surreal today.
The fact that the Porsches steamrollered the race didn’t really matter to much. I watched as the crowd swept onto the track as the 956s rolled over the line. There was such a buzz about the future and the cars looked so majestic.
Part 2 In the next few days
Keywords: 962", group 44 racing, group C Racing, IMSA gtp, le mans 1982, le mans 24 hours, porsche, porsche 956, silk cut Jaguar, wec'
Michelle Kernick My first Le Mans was 1982 (part2)
Woke up got off the bus. Needing something hot to drink.
Found a vendor, Coffee and croissant. Disgusting but needed it. It was as thick as treacle, you could stand the croissant in it.
It did its job, woke you up. People use RedBull today lol.
Found a TV screen to check out who is leading, where your teams were and who was no longer in the race. Walked upto the Dunlop bridge area, to watch the cars coming over the hill. One car, you could tell was coming was the Mazda Group C2 cars they had got louder and louder. You needed ear protectors.
The pits were full of empty garages and broken cars. Teams with two cars, were taking one apart to try and rebuild their other car. It was fantastic to watch. All was done in the pit lane no garage to hide away in.
Do I miss that, defiantly. Its an experience many will never see.
The race continued, got something to eat (a bottle of Coke, frites and a hotdog), not much choice of food in those days. I do miss them today.
Settled in front of the Aston Martin pits. Ready to cheer them onto the finish. Every lap the British cheered as the Aston did another lap. Everytime it came into the pits, you crossed your fingers, that the car would leave the pits. I remember one long pit stop. They had changed something on the engine and were so tired they forgot which way the sparkplug leads went. Took about 30 mins to sort. As it left the pits a huge cheer went up. The Union Jack's were flying.
The end was getting near. People were starting to get ready to invade the track (in those days very few races at LeMans actually finished with the cars crossing the line at speed). The walking wounded teams were getting their cars out to cross the finish line. Everyone cheered these teams out. 18 cars out of 50 were still in the race.
15:00 came Porsche had won Le Mans but all we cared about was that Aston Martin had finished in 7th place. We didn't invade the pits that year.
The biggest thing you notice is silence. It was deafeningly quiet.
Some of the sites as you walked back to the coach. People carrying the front end of a Rothmans Porsche. Today they lock the garages and strip them to stop this. Saw him later on the motorway with they body strapped to his cars roof.
We passed on of the competitors on an open trailor, you don't see that today.
This was our first Le Mans and we booked our seat on the coach for next year.
I've been to Le Mans many times since but you never forget your first time.
The toilets were disgusting, that took many years to improve.
I've taken people who aren't into motorsports who have loved Le Mans. If you've never been you need to go at least once in your lifetime.
WHAT A RACE AND EXPERIENCE
From Michelle Kernick
My first Le Mans was 1982. (part 1)
Wanted to go see the Aston Martin return to Le Sarthe.
Picked up Autosport, saw an ad at the back. Coach of Porsche lovers from I think it was Middlesbrough needed help filling a bus.
Bus picked us up, on the A1 at Wetherby. Half were already drunk. One was so bad he didn't wake up until the return journey. Missed the wholel race.l
Arrived at LeMans with minutes to the start. Will never forget the cars coming around Ford chicane to start the race. The noise the thrill, still today watching the start getme
Stood watching the first few hours, watching the pit stops.
Only finding out who the leaders were every hour because the times were read out in English then.We
Moved away and found TV screens (very few), showing the placings. Didn't care it was just fantastic to watch the cars racing around the Porsche curves etc. Then you could see the white House with Masion Blanche written on the wall.
Watching through the Ss at twilight was amazing. God I miss them.
Going to the Fayre seeing the sights and smells, then watching the cars fly past while sat on the sandbank in front of the Fayre.
The noise of the cars and fayre added to the experience.
Back to the pits to watch the night pit stops. Paying the guard a couple of Francs to sit in the stand. The pits at night, especially the old pits was spectacular and probably still is my favourite part of the race experience for me. Crawled back to the bus for a few hours sleep.
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