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Peugeot on LeMans pole - Track changes from the 70s

40 Years after record setting time by Vic Elford
Thursday, June 10, 2010

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For the 78th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, French driver Sébastien Bourdais has provisionally set the fastest qualifying time of 3 minutes 19.711 seconds. Exactly forty years ago, Porsche driver Vic Elford qualified fastest for that year’s race by setting a time of 3 minutes 19.80 seconds. Even today the English driver’s time is still one of the fastest ever at the Sarthe track.

In forty years, the Le Mans track has changed considerably and at the time when the Porsche 917s ran the track it had a length of 13.469 kilometers. Today the cars have to cover a lap that is 160 meters longer and that includes some slower curves and chicanes. “In the sixties and seventies, we did not have the chicanes at the Hunaudières straight and our cars were made for top speed,” remembers Vic Elford. The English driver was one of the first to compete with the famous Porsche in 1969. “It was a bit scary in 1969, the first year we drove the 917. The car was only introduced a couple of months earlier and at both Spa and the Nürburgring, its drivers were not too enthusiastic. But Porsche did a lot of development work and we went to France with two factory cars.”

Although neither of them finished the 24-hour race, a legend was born and in both 1970 and 1971 the celebrated sports car had its moments of glory. “For the 1970 race, Porsche had two long tail versions prepared which was very fast on the straight but lacked some speed in the corners,” Elford continued. “I was a rally driver and so I was accustomed to rough driving on all kinds of surfaces. The Porsche was a handful, but I was not as negative as some team members.”

The 1970 race was eventually won by the Porsche team with German driver Hans Herrmann and Englishman Richard Attwood. It was Porsche’s first overall victory at the French classic and 15 wins would follow over the next three decades. For the German driver it was his final race: “Before going to Le Mans that year, I promised my wife that after nearly twenty years of being a racing car driver, I would stop racing. And winning that race was of course a fantastic end of my long career,” recalls Herrmann, one of the drivers who will attend the Rolex Former Winners’ Dinner at the new Le Mans Club House on Saturday evening, 12 June.

Today Vic Elford, who celebrates his 75th birthday on this very day (10 June), enjoys a relaxed life in Florida. “I am still a bit involved in racing, but mainly in historic events.” Last January, Elford was nominated as Grand Marshal for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race he won with Porsche in 1968. “I have some great memories of the Daytona speedway and was really honored when I was asked to be the Grand Marshall.” During a dinner in Daytona held in tribute of Elford’s the Friday before the race, Allen Brill, President and CEO of Rolex Watch USA, presented the Brit with a brand new Rolex Timepiece in honor of his racing achievements. “I’ve still got my original winning Rolex from 1968, but I was of course very pleased and honored to get this additional recognition.”

The provisional pole for the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, set by Sébastien Bourdais for this edition of the race, was set in perfect conditions on Wednesday evening. A rainy Thursday will likely prevent any other driver from beating Bourdais’ time.

Tomorrow evening, lucky fans have a chance to see the drivers up close during Friday's Drivers' Parade, a much anticipated event that takes place in the Le Mans city centre to build excitement for the official race start.

The 78th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will start on Saturday, 12 June at 15:00 local time.


Spirit of Le Mans, a Le Mans tradition
Every year, a special Spirit of Le Mans trophy is presented by the ACO to personalities who best embody the spirit of this great endurance race. This prestigious trophy is a Rolex timepiece that has the words 'Spirit of Le Mans' and the name of the recipient engraved on the underside of the watch case.

The 2010 'Spirit of Le Mans' winner is Roland du Luart for his work as President of the “Syndicat Mixte du circuit des 24 Heures du Mans.” The trophy was presented by the 2010 Miss Le Mans and ACO President Jean-Claude Plassart, at the ACO press conference held today at the Automobile Museum of La Sarthe.

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