Part 4 The New David Cundy Collection & My Group C Racing The Golden Years
Le Mans 1988
Wow what a year I had a new sporty Hot Hatch Nissan Europa (Look it up: A Nissan Cherry with a powerful Alfa engine and clover leaf interior!) I was driving down to the race. I was taking friends to share in the experience!
Right from the start this was definitely like no other previous year. Everything was on a bigger scale. The whole ferry was just full of race fans, the roads were jammed with convoys of British plates and for the first time you had to drive on the left in the campsites! 50,000 Brits was a conservative estimate!
When we set up camp we were immediately greeted by our neighbours and offered a cool beer. It was a nice warm Le Mans week and this was a perfect start. Talk of the race was brilliant with the geeks like me explaining the ins and outs of Group C racing to the keen to learn Newbies.
Another new edition was the constant sound of the new British Radio station Radio Le Mans. After the influx of new British fans a rudimentary service was set up and sponsored by Jaguar in 1986 & 1987 now in 1988 it was a full on essential part of the British experience. And for the very first time it was very easy to follow the race with it’s commentary and witty banter.
I really do remember 88 in a special way: it was polite, friendly and was you might say grown up. It was certainly not wild, it was just really friendly.
Waiting for the start of the race on the terraces opposite the pit lane was so exciting. The atmosphere was carnival like with all the Jaguar fans with flags on mass in front of the team garages. And of course the anthem, what a noise that was! The French fans even applauded afterwards as a show of respect for our enthusiasm.
When the cars went off on the parade lap for the rolling start I know so many people were saying to their first time friends “You are going to love this”.
And sure enough when the massive 55 car field crossed the start and thundered towards the dunlop curve they did not disappoint. What a noise and spectacle!
Although still young I was already a seasoned regular at the race great race but there was a new exciting experience for me in 1988. I finally got down to the famous Cafe Hunaudieres on the four mile Mulsanne straight. I still visit the Cafe today but it seems almost unbelievable that at the time you could sit beside the barrier and eat a meal or have a beer. Maybe even have a glass of wine safe in the knowledge you are protected from the 200MPH cars by a couple of straw bales placed in the gap of the single metal barrier. It was sheer madness but oh so exciting. The noise was insane! Even inside the bar it was deafening and the whole building would be shaking constantly for the whole time of the race. I was lucky enough to be in the cafe at night, I was sat at a table inside where a large group of Aston Martin owners were having a full on waiter service meal. I can remember giggling with my friends as the cars flashed past and their lights made the inside of the room look like a UFO had parked outside. Obviously some of the patrons were regulars and were acting as if it was perfectly normal to stand at the bar, eat a meal or sit and drink beer in a building that could be wiped out may a stray racing car at anytime! God it was brilliant!
Just before we left the Cafe at midnight I can vividly remember sitting in the car listening to Radio Le Mans. The race was so close I believe 6 cars were on the lead lap and the Jaguars were setting the pace! Great news.
Early morning the news was still good, Jaguar was leading but it was close very close! The Porsche 962 of Bell and Stuck had had an early problem but were now matching the Jaguar for speed. Worst of all showers were forecast and the car appeared to be faster in the tricky conditions! This made for one of the most tense days I have ever witnessed at Le Mans. We parked our deck chairs opposite the Jaguar pits and spent the whole day cheering the lead car as it passed us lap after lap. As the day wore on the carnival atmosphere of the start returned and the scenes were truly amazing. The Jaguar shop had made a fortune as it seemed nearly everyone had some kind of Silk Cut Jaguar team clothing or green Jaguar flags.
With about an hour to go I remember the contrast between the Newbies and the regular fans. Champagne corks were popping off left right and centre and a section of the fans thought the race was already run. The regular Le Mans fans were not so sure, with experience we had learnt that the race is never won until the car crosses the line. The last pit stop was one such tense affair! The lead Jaguar came in for the last time. The engine stopped and the crew refuelled, cleaned the screen and Tom Walkinshaw threw a bucket of water over the photographers who were getting to close. Opposite the crowd was strangely silent tensely waiting for the car to restart. After what seemed and age a mighty roar of 12 Jaguar cylinders broke the silence. Mass delirium for the supporters who cheered the car onward and back into the race. With about ten minutes to go, even I was certain we had the race in our pocket so it was time to drink the already half empty champagne we had brought. Gosh it was beautiful. The memory is a memento of a time when I was so proud, so happy and certainly not alone in France!
As the crowd invaded the track to greet not only the valiant winners but also all the finishers of this amazing test of endurance. I watched on as emotional drivers were embraced by the adoring fans. Jan Lammers was on the front of the winning car celebrating like a true English Dane! It was wonderful and I remember reflecting on my emotional journey to this point. I had discovered a marque to support seen it try and fail but now was it’s time. And boy was the timing right! I really desperately wanted them to win in 88 like in no other year. The new fans were there and it was the start of what would become known as a British race in France which still holds true to this day. We came on mass in 1988 but we never left!
Keywords: 962", group C Racing, IMSA gtp, le mans 1986, le mans 24 hours, porsche, porsche 956, Sauber Mercedes, silk cut Jaguar, tetre rouge le mans, twr, wec'
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