Herbert dreams of a day to savour at Le Mans

One marque has dominated Le Mans of late, just as one marque is currently dominating Formula One, but those involved in the 24-hour sports car event this weekend will tell you healthy competition is assured.

Even if Audi are again a cut above the rest – including the main British challengers, Bentley and MG – a Ferrari-style carve up is not on the agenda. The German camp have four cars and crews capable of winning, and the rivalry between them will endure as long as men and machines keep going.

For the men in car No 1 a piece of Le Mans history beckons. Germany's Frank Biela, Italy's Emanuele Pirro and the Dane, Tom Kristnsen, have the opportunity to become the first trio to win the classic race three years in a row.

However Audi's other nine drivers recognise this may be as good as it gets and the one Briton in the line-up is intent in taking the acclaim of an estimated 60,000 compatriots who make the annual pilgrimage to this evocative corner of France.

Johnny Herbert, the former Grand Prix driver, has been frustrated in his attempts to break into American single-seater racing, but he hopes that on Sunday afternoon he will be standing in the middle of the Le Mans rostrum with team mates either side of him.

Herbert, who is partnered by two Italians, Rinaldo Capello and Christian Pescatori, said: "Any driver wants to drive a competitive car no matter what the race or the championship is, and I know I have a car capable of winning this race. I really don't think you can look beyond Audi for the winner."

Another of Britain's Formula One exiles, Mark Blundell, contends that his team, MG, who are entered in a category for smaller cars, have the potential to finish in the top three, but Herbert dismisses such claims as fanciful.

"I honestly see no serious challenger,'' Herbert said. "Dallara and Bentley are rivals, but I feel they won't be close enough. As far as MG, I think they are being optimistic if they say they can make the podium. They will be quick, but not quick enough and probably not reliable enough."

Positions two to four hold little attraction for Herbert, who has waited 11 years to make up for the celebration that was denied him on the one occasion of his success in the race so far. The ordeal that day took so much out of him that he collapsed at the end and was unable to join his colleagues from Mazda on the rostrum.

"I want to enjoy what I missed back in 1991,'' Herbert said. "Along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, Le Mans is one of the great races. I have actually won this race but I'd like to experience everything else that goes with winning.''

Blundell also made it to the top of the podium as a Peugeot driver in 1992, and the view is still as vivid in his mind as it was that afternoon. "Le Mans is a motor sport event held in France but it's effectively on the British motor sport calendar because so many Brits make the journey across," he said. "I still remember standing up there 10 years ago, seeing all those Union Jacks below. That's a hell of a kick for a driver. A repeat of that on this 10th anniversary would be perfect.''

This time Blundell is a leading figure in what he proudly proclaims as the only true all-British effort, and would settle for any position in the presentation ceremony. "Since Bentley is part of the VW/Audi group, I don't think you can call them truly British," he retorted. "We are and we have British drivers in our two cars, so there is a patriotic feel to it.

"In any case I think we will be quicker than Bentley. My objectives are firstly to finish the race, secondly to win our class and thirdly to be standing on the podium. I believe we have a realistic chance of achieving all three."

Blundell, busy developing a new career with ITV's Formula One commentary team, shares his MG/Lola with an old friend, Julian Bailey, and Kevin McGarrity. The other car is driven by Anthony Reid, Warren Hughes, and Jonny Kane.

"We've made a big impression in a short period of time'' Blundell said. "MG is back in motor sport and revitalising its brand. We're getting the name up there, through sports cars, touring cars and the rally programme. Everything is going in the right direction.''

If this sounds like the spiel of a company man, that's probably because it is. Blundell has also taken on an ambassadorial role with MG and is even planning to drive one of their cars at the Rally of Great Britain in November. But ask him about Le Mans and his obsession with the race emerges.

"For me the allure of Le Mans is as strong as it ever was,'' he said. "I am 36. There's still plenty of life in me as a driver, still plenty of ambition. Of course there are real risks in a 24-hour race with the disparity in the speeds of these cars, the changing conditions, driving through the night and everything else it entails. It can be dangerous.

"But then that's what it's all about, that the bug that's still inside me. I am drawn by the challenge to go back and try to win it again.''

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy