Le Mans (Bugatti Circuit)
July 7th - July 8th 2007
SUMPTER’S LE MANS HAT TRICK
Barely had the mud dried after the 75th edition of the 24 Hours, than sportscars were back at Le Mans for the third event on the 2007 Group C/GTP Racing calendar, reports Mark Cole.
Mark Sumpter, who triumphed at the Nürburgring three weeks ago, won both races convincingly in his 1989 Joest Porsche 962C, Saturday’s dry but Sunday’s starting in the heavy rain that has blighted most of this summer.
The cars from the golden era of sportscar racing attracted huge attention at the Le Mans Story historic weekend, among visitors to the Group C garages was historic Ferrari racing French prime minister Francois Fillon, and Yves Courage, who was racing his first-ever creation.
Sussex Porsche expert Mark started both from pole, having quickly come to grips with the 4.3-km Bugatti, the first time any of the 18 entrants had been on the short circuit here at La Sarthe, not a few of them overawed to be racing at the spiritual home of Group C.
Race 1 started with a fight between Sumpter’s FAT Turbo Express car (chassis 011, which gave Porsche its last-ever Group C win at Dijon in 1989 with Bob Wollek and Frank Jelinski in Blaupunkt colours, but now sporting the livery in which it contested the 1993 Daytona 24 Hours) and American Brian de Vries’ 1993 Intrepid Chevrolet GTP. Brian hung on gamely, but eventually 962 turbopower told, and Sumpter pulled away to a 19-second win.
Third was David Mercer, in his C1 Spice-DFR SE90C (which in Fedco colours won the C1 A-class of the 24 Hours in 1991), fighting off a determined challenge from Swiss Fredy Kumschick, who has now forsaken his beloved TGP Formula 1 cars to run a pair of GTP Spice-Chevrolets for himself and German Guido Diefenthal.
Sebring 12 Hours winner in 1983, American Jim Mullen was 6th in his Spice Chevrolet (the last to be built), ahead of Henry Pearman’s wonderful Nissan R90CK. This NPT car led throughout the night of the 1990 24 Hours with Geoff Brabham, Derek Daly and Chip Robinson, only to retire with a split fuel tank at 9am Sunday. “It was never raced in the wet,” said Eagle E-Type owner Henry, “having contested only Le Mans and two Daytona 24 Hours. So Nürburgring three weeks ago was its first-ever race in the rain, and not that easy with the turbomotor – it’s nothing or 800bhp, not the best thing on a wet track".
One notable retirement was that of Jim Loftis’ 1988 Mazda 757, which caught fire after the silencer split. The 1988 Le Mans GPT2 winner suffered mainly bodywork damage, but was pristine again on Sunday after overnight work by the QM team.
Rain was what nobody wanted after Brands Hatch and the Nürburgring, but two hours before the Sunday’s Race 2 it arrived, as heavy it had been on both qualifying nights for the 24 Hours. Pearman wisely elected not to take the start, as the rest of the field slipped and slithered around for two laps behind the safety car. With less of an embarrassment of power, de Vries went straight into the lead, but once Sumpter mastered the conditions, he went out ahead and was never to look back, this time winning by 28 seconds after 45 minutes of racing. “It’s been such a good weekend, everything went right and to win here at Le Mans is more than I could dreamed of.”
Kumschick tigered his way through the spray to finish 2nd, these two lapping the whole field, several of whom spun in the dreadful conditions. “I love racing in the wet, so it was fun for me,” said Fredy. “It’s only our second time out in the Spices, but I think we’re learning quickly.”
Behind the first two, Mercer and de Vries fought a spirited battle for third, decided in the Orpington dentist’s favour. 5th went to Mullen, and 6th to Neil Clarke’s C1 Spice-DFR, with Welsh Tiga racer Alvin Powell having a faultless race to finish 7th.
Three other cars which were returning to Le Mans for the first time since the 1980s were Ian Stinton’s 1986-winning factory C2 Spice-DFL, back in its Listerine/Cannon colours, Simon Wright’s Kenwood Kremer Porsche 962C, and Australian Rob Sherrard’s immaculate 1986 Blaupunkt 962C, the only Thompson-chassised Joest car. Sherrard, who founded the Virgin Blue airline with Richard Branson. Sherrard lost his clutch in qualifying and missed Race 1, but an overnighter saw the car back on the track for Race 2, at the venue at which it finished 3rd in the 1988 24 Hours behind Jaguar and factory Porsche. All three finished, Stinton’s in 8th with a wet-electrics misfire, and Sherrard in 10th, just ahead of Wright.
Missing the Le Mans weekend were two the two Silk Cats and the Bud Light Jaguars, but all will be racing in Britain at the end of July for the two Group C/GTP Racing presence which headlines the Silverstone Classic over July 28/29.
Sumpter will be joined by Derek Bell in the two-driver, pit-stop races. Derek is also demonstrating one of his Le Mans-winning Rothmans Porsche 956s, where more than 50 cars – some from the Porsche museum - will be racing or on show at the Northants circuit.