Legendary drivers discuss the challenge of Le Mans
Four stalwarts of the Le Mans 24 Hours took part in this year’s Credit Suisse Historic Racing Forum at Goodwood Revival, stirring up a wealth of entertaining stories and anecdotes in the packed Race Control building.
Five-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell MBE was joined by 1989 winner Jochen Mass, privateer driver and constructor Alain de Cadenet and designer Professor Gordon Murray. In the audience were drivers Richard Attwood, Jackie Oliver and Jo Ramirez, along with motorcycle racer Steve Parrish.
Commentator Bruce Jones led the proceedings in place of the late Henry Hope-Frost who’d previously chaired the popular forums. This year’s discussion was based around the famous 24-hour race, and the drivers pulled no punches; Derek Bell pointed out that they had only two drivers per car back then, no paddle shift, no aircon… and recalled that after one race his body temperature was 104 degrees, and he had to be laid out on a bed of ice with an intravenous drip to recover.
Jochen Mass had misgivings about his early 24 Hours experiences, remembering ‘being glued to the rear view mirror’ as the faster cars sped up behind him, only for Helmut Marko to spin as he was overtaking Jochen, missing him by inches.
Jochen wished his own car would blow up – ‘and it did!’ he laughed, only for him to be offered the use of a spare car, to his horror.
Alain de Cadenet, meanwhile, caused wide eyes in the audience describing his testing routine. ‘We’d unload the car at one junction of the M4 motorway, and we’d have another lorry waiting at the next junction, where we’d quickly cover the car and drive back up the A4 just in case.’
How fast did he go? Well Jack Sears famously prompted the introduction of the 70mph speed limit by testing at 180mph on the M1 – ‘and we went a little quicker than that’ admitted de Cadenet.
Gordon Murray had been a part of de Cadenet’s early Le Mans forays, designing his 1972 Duckhams sports-prototype by working until 3am every night for three months. ‘In F1 the cars were doing 175mph at the time,’ said Murray, ‘so doing something to run at over 200mph was very difficult. We had to run with minimal downforce – which is exactly what we did again in 1995 [for the McLaren F1 entry].’
Of course the stories got funnier and even less politically correct as the session went on, with Alain de Cadenet recalling how the rules were ‘try not to drink too much on race day, and no sex between pit stops.’
The last word went to 1970 Le Mans winner Richard Attwood though, who raised the biggest laugh of the morning by claiming that Le Mans ‘wasn’t that difficult, really’.
Once again this was a superb, informative and entertaining Credit Suisse Historic Racing Forum, enjoyed by the assembled VIPs, racers and press.