Stephen Errity, Le Mans Correspondent
1992 winner David Kennedy returns – as a team boss
Mazda's rotary-powered 1991 win was one of the most popular in the history of Le Mans, and one of the winning drivers, Irishman David Kennedy, is back in the paddock at La Sarthe this year as one of the investors in the Status Grand Prix LM P2 team. Although based near the Silverstone circuit in England and featuring a Dutchman, Frenchman and Englishman as drivers, Kennedy's involvement sees it running under the Irish flag – just like fellow LM P2 team Murphy Prototypes.
“Le Mans is like a home from home for me,” said Kennedy in the Status garage during Thursday night's qualifying. “I think our podium performance in the ELMS race at Paul Ricard opened a few eyes, but realistically we're coming to Le Mans about three races too early.” The team has suffered two further setbacks in the run-up to the weekend: a huge crash in practice at the WEC round in Spa and the manufacturer of its car, Lola, going into bankruptcy protection. “It was a disappointment for the team and a personal blow for me,” Kennedy admitted, “as Martin [Birrane, Lola owner] is a friend and colleague and it's a shame to see his business in trouble. But we have a front-running car in the class and we're here to do professional job, so let's see how it goes.”
Matra to be celebrated in Saturday display
The French marque Matra won Le Mans for the first time 40 years ago, in 1972, then repeated the feat in '73 and '74. To mark the anniversary, the ACO has arranged for the winning cars from those years to run demonstration laps in front of the enormous crowds gathered at the track before the start of the 24 Hours on Saturday. The historic collection comprises the 1972-winning MS 670, two MS 670B's from the 1973 event (including the winning car) as well as another 670B that triumphed in '74. They will be driven by Henri Pescarolo (who drove in all three victories), Gerard Larousse ('73 and '74 winner), Josh Hill (grandson of Graham Hill, who shared the '72 winning car with Pescarolo) and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, a three-time Le Mans podium finisher.
Gerard Larousse wins 2012 'Spirit of Le Mans' award
He's entered the 24 Hours eight times, winning on the sixth and seventh occasions is a Matra shared with the legendary Henri Pescarolo, and has continued his involvement with the ACO as secretary of the Le Mans Driver's Club for active and retired drivers who've raced at La Sarthe.
Now Gerard Larousse's contribution to endurance racing has been further recognised by the ACO's 2012 Spirit of Le Mans award. “It's a great honour for me,” said Larousse at the presentation. “I saw my first Le Mans in 1958 when I was a student, and I wasn't very interested in motorsport at the time, but it's become a huge part of my life and I owe it a great deal. I would like to share the honour with all drivers to have raced at Le Mans, and I would like to thank my friend Henri, without whom none of this would have been possible.”
The 72-year-old ended on a joke: “My only regret is that I didn't buy the Ferrari 250 GTO that was offered to me for next to nothing by the ACO many years ago. If I had, I would be a multi-millionaire, but I am already a millionaire of good memories at Le Mans.”
1959 winners Shelby and Salvadori remembered
Aston Martin’s 1959 Le Mans-winning DBR1 will returned to La Sarthe, France this weekend as part of a tribute to its drivers Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori, and its chief engineer Ted Cutting, who all sadly passed away in recent weeks.
Aston Martin’s Head of Motorsport, David King, said: “We were deeply saddened by the loss of Carroll, Roy and Ted. They all played a hugely important role in Aston Martin’s racing history and will forever remain part of the company’s heritage. To mark their passing, we felt it fitting to return their car to the scene of its greatest victory. Many people have worked very hard to make this happen and we thank the Automobile Club de L’Ouest for its assistance.”
The iconic DBR1 will be on display outside Aston Martin’s hospitality suite. Aside from this, the factory-entered #97 and #99 Vantage GTEs racing at the weekend will both carry a commemorative plaque, while the drivers will also carry the initials of Shelby and Salvadori, and the number 59, on their helmets.