Pescarolo rolls back the years

Norman Fox studies the qualities that draw veteran racers to Le Mans

For most people, one experience of the Le Mans 24-hour race is enough. The sound is drummed permanently into the memory: not just the noise of cars screaming in protest at not being able to take off long after the speed at which jumbo jets leave the tarmac, but the all-night parties, the funfair and the jazz bands. Yet for many of the world's leading drivers, one experience of Le Mans is nowhere near enough, not even if they have driven in Formula One, which several of those who began the race yesterday had done.

The doyen this weekend is Henri Pescarolo, who has taken up the challenge 31 times and won on four occasions. He says that in spite of the introduction over the years of chicanes which interrupt some of the long straights and which he deplores, Formula One drivers find Le Mans an irresistible challenge to their sense of real motor racing.

His own first victory came in 1972 in a Matra with Graham Hill. "I thought that because he had been world champion, he wouldn't think Le Mans was important, but in the night when it rained, it was his driving that won us the race." The fastest driver in last month's pre-qualifying, another Formula One man, Martin Brundle, says the race draws you back "until you win or get too old to try". At 54, Pescarolo is one who cannot keep away. Neither can another veteran: Mario Andretti (57 and partnered by his son Michael) yesterday began still hoping to complete the ultimate triumph, the F1 title, the Indy 500 and Le Mans ... only Hill has ever achieved that.

Apart from Brundle, who had to opt out of his ITV work at the Canadian Grand Prix ("because you don't give up an offer to drive at Le Mans"), other ex-F1 drivers, including Riccardo Patrese, Nelson Piquet and Thierry Boutsen, set off yesterday afternoon. Brundle, driving a Tom Walkinshaw TWR- developed Nissan R390 GT1, had set a lap record for the 8.45-mile circuit of 3 min 43.15 sec last month, beating the highly fancied Joest Racing Porsche, also developed by TWR and driven by Michele Alboreto who, in Thursday's qualifying, was quickest of all, reducing the record to 3 min 41.581 sec, but there were rumours that the Nissans of Patrese and Brundle were keeping some revs up their sleeve. At least TWR started yesterday's race in France more optimistically than Damon Hill will today when he sets off in their still uncompetitive Formula One car in Canada.

Anyone thinking that this great summer event could bring relief from the seemingly unending football season would have been disabused by seeing on the starting grid yesterday two Lister Storms decorated in the colours of Newcastle United. Douglas Hall, son of the Newcastle chairman, Sir John, owns them and among the drivers he employed for the occasion was the BBC Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell.

If the Nissans were being held back a little in practice, the reality of their real work to break down the long, successful LeMans pedigree of the Porsche cars quickly became evident yesterday when Alboreto, the ex-Ferrari driver on pole, recovered from dropping to third place on the first lap to take the early lead. And even when he dropped back, more Porsche cars moved up to make their claims.

Some 50,000 British fans were at the race, but within three hours they were disappointed to see Needell's Lister develop problems and drop out, but that was nothing to compare with the troubles that quickly beset the multi-million pound Nissan challenge. All three of their cars began to slow with gearbox problems. Brundle's car was so badly hindered that it had to be withdrawn for a long period, leaving Porsche dominating the race as it went into the night.

Noel Edmonds, involved with the David Price Racing/Panoz organisation's entries, had sensibly decided that his own racing days were better remembered than revived. He volunteered for pit duty and was kept in full-time work as the team's cars found the pace painful.

Meanwhile, the ever-enthusiastic Pescarolo in the Courage Porsche C36 slid into a gravel trap but refused to concede defeat, had the car extracted and drove on ...true Le Mans spirit.

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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most