The Club held its regular Le Mans dinner at Pall Mall on Thursday 30th May, previewing the most iconic sportscar event on the calendar. The upcoming Le Mans race which begins on Saturday 15 June and ends on Sunday 16 June, marks the second and final race to take place at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the current World Endurance Championship Super Season. Although Toyota Gazoo Racing clinched the title with their win at Spa a few weeks ago, a coveted Le Mans trophy will still be one they will want to add to their cabinet.
Joining us for the evening was our host and Le Mans commentator Bruce Jones, who spoke to a number of drivers ahead of the race, each gauging their chances of success as well as talking about the whole occasion and spectacle that is Le Mans.
An American Soundtrack
Le Mans veteran and five times class winner, Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin, spoke during dinner of the joy that many of the fans get from listening to the big American cars, among an ever-growing group of hybrid, smaller engine and quieter cars now competing in the race. The Corvette’s bellowing V8 doesn’t disappoint the fans year after year and it’s one of the key points of discussion with the fans at the Le Mans town centre driver’s parade.
The Secrets of Le Mans
Joining Bruce on stage after dinner were Mike Conway and Alex Brundle. Mike, a two-time runner-up at Le Mans for Toyota Gazoo Racing, generated a collective gasp from the members and guests when explaining that the overtaking button on board these phenomenally powerful hybrid cars, allows you ‘an extra 500 bhp on demand’, to get by the traffic of the slower GT cars. Furthermore, he told of the challenges of sharing information between the two Toyota cars and trying to beat your team-mates in the other garage. Small margins and ‘little secrets’ are what gives you the gains, such as ‘knowing that there is gravel at one corner, or the grip in another corner has changed – you have to continually adapt during your stint to take advantage’. Unsurprisingly, Mike’s darkest Le Mans moment was in 2016 when his car was in the lead with barely three minutes of the 24 hours remaining when it had a mechanical problem and was beaten to victory on the last lap of the race. A tough one to take.
Meeting the Fans
Alex Brundle, the son of Formula 1 driver and presenter Martin Brundle, and current driver for the United Autosports Ligier team in LMP2, told the audience about some of the behind the scenes work that is part and parcel of the preparation week leading up to the race, including the punishing PR activities that teams and drivers are required to do: ‘The organisers helpfully put something on very, very early at the beginning of the day and very, very late at the end of the day, so it gives us a chance to hang out and meet people, such as the group of fans who always dressed up as Smurfs and used to follow one of the teams I drove for. It’s a cool and fun time ahead of the race and it’s really enjoyable to meet really passionate fans’.
That Famous Bentley Victory
In addition to listening to the protagonists for the 2019 event, in the year of Bentley’s centenary we also took the chance to speak to Brian Gush, Director of Motorsport for Bentley. Brian oversaw Bentley’s landmark 2003 overall Le Mans victory and he shared some of the stories of the development of the car from their first modern attempt in 2001 to the victory in 2003.
Before the dinner, the Club was delighted to record a podcast with Mike Conway and Alex Brundle who chatted to Bruce Jones in the Segrave Room at Pall Mall about their chances of winning the great race. To watch the video, click the link below.
To view images from the event, click here
To watch the Podcast with Mike Conway and Alex Brundle, click here