Our past and present automotive icons rubbed shoulders and drew huge crowds at this summer’s Le Mans Classic, a living celebration of nearly a century of endurance racing history
Motorsport is an indelible part of our DNA, and few races can match the prestige, spectacle and sheer drama of the Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans. The white heat of the 24-hour endurance race held here has forged the reputations of innumerable cars and drivers over its 95-year history, including the McLaren F1 GTR that stormed to victory in the 1995 race.
Trouble is, once the dust has settled, engines cooled and winners crowned, you’re always left wanting more than just a memory. That’s where the Le Mans Classic comes in. A unique event that takes the rich history of this glorious race and puts it back centre stage, classic motorsport heroes return to the track for a whole new generation to enjoy.
An icon from our own history took its place on the starting grid this year, in the hotly anticipated premiere of the new Global Endurance Legends category. Even with 78 other GT cars in the line-up, it was impossible to miss the iconic red and grey ‘Lark’ livery of Andy Bruce’s 1996 F1 GTR (originally piloted by Ralf Schumacher and Naoki Hattori and raced in Japan) as it swept through Tertre Rouge, its naturally-aspirated V12 opening its lungs and propelling this stunning car onto the shimmering heat haze rising from the Mulsanne straight.
It wasn’t just our racing heritage grabbing the attention of the record 135,000 fans who attended the event. Our newly developed track weapon, the road-legal McLaren Senna, was on display at the centre of the paddock, finished in Kyanos Blue. Flanked by a 570S Coupé – the most useable and extreme ends of the McLaren supercar spectrum sat side-by-side.
Richard Mille has sponsored Le Mans Classic since the inaugural race meeting in 2002, and this s immeringly hot and sunny July weekend provided the perfect opportunity for the watchmaker – a long-term partner of McLaren Automotive – to share the passion for motorsport it shares with us and enjoy every aspect of stunning road cars old and new.
The brand’s eponymous founder – a lifelong racing enthusiast – was in attendance all weekend, hosting guests including our own CEO Mike Flewitt and his wife Mia, and promising young American racing driver Aurora Straus [pictured above]. Richard also used the event to launch a limited-edition piece: the white ceramic RM 11-03 Le Mans Classic (LMC) automatic flyback chronograph. His son, Armand, even took to the track, competing in their 1970 Lola T212 – just one of the 700 cars that raced on the high-speed straights and twisting turns of the 13.7km track.
Mille’s guests were given the privilege of experiencing our Sports and Super Series models being driven flat-out around the famous circuit, while Felipe Massa, one of Richard’s longest standing ambassadors, took to the driving seat of a Memphis red McLaren 720S - and was spotted sliding it gracefully through Arnage during one of the demonstration laps.
As with the 24-hour race, the classic only really comes to life once day turns into night. A dusk walk through the teeming paddock is like a trip back through time, air filled with the smell of burnt race fuel, finely-tuned six-, eight- and 12-cylinder engines howling, and headlights flashing in the dark. The chaos of race teams, engineering crews, overheating drivers and bright-eyed fans all jostling for position with these priceless cars is an endearing reminder of a time before health and safety regulations neutered this type of spectacle.
Expect an even stronger McLaren presence at Le Mans Classic in 2020, when the biennial event will next be held. The 10th running of this glorious event promises to be the biggest and best yet.
Images courtesy of Didier Gourdon and Phillipe Louzon for Richard Mille