6/20/2013 - 11 Cars Voted As 'Top 10' Le Mans Cars? Don't Worry ... It's French Rules As Usual
Le Mans, France - It wouldn't be the first time French organizers have tweaked the rules at Le Mans to suit their view of a preferred outcome, but a panel of racing luminaries culled a fan-voted list of the 30 greatest Le Mans race cars (three per decade) down to the top 10, or one winner per decade, as viewed by the multi-national panel. Not coincidentally, or perhaps diplomatically, virtually every major automotive manufacturing country ended up being represented in the Top 10, including England (2.5) (we'll explain later); Italy (2); United States (1); Germany (4); Japan (1) and France (1).
Wait a minute; that's ELEVEN cars in the Top 10....
Pardon our cynicism, but the panel opted to include a French car, the Peugeot 905, to represent the 1990s alongside the Japanese Mazda 787B, the only decade to apparently deserve two winners. We're actually okay with the Gallic selection, as this writer first learned to work a manual tranny on a Peugeot 505 sedan in the South of France in 1982.
Nevertheless, we'd have paid money to be a fly on the wall as this panel kneaded the selections down to 10 (oops, 11): former Le Mans 24 race winners (9 times among 'em) Emanuele Pirro and Yannick Dalmas; Brit journalist Gary Watkins; former Porsche chief engineer Norbert Singer; FIA president Jean Todt, Volkswagen Group motorsports exec Wolfgang Drheimer, jury chairman (no kidding) and president of Le Mans' Automobile Club de l'Ouest Pierre Fillon; president of the FIA Endurance Commission Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones; ACO special heritage advisor Herv Guyomard; 30-time Le Mans driver Yojiro Terada; Curator of Heritage Rodolphe Rapetti; and actor/racer Patrick Dempsey.
An unenviable task to be sure, but as couch-bound heel-and-toers across the U.S. prepare for this weekend's 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Speed Channel, beginning 8:30 a.m. EDT/5:30 a.m. PDT) let the list below begin the debates over each car's merits to lead its decade, and of course the cars that didn't make the final cut ( What? No Deutsch-Bonnet? Mon Dieu!).
1920s: Bentley Speed Six - took the last two of Bentley's four wins in a row 1927-1930
1930s: Alfa Romeo 8C - Four straight wins 1931-34; Bella Machinna!
1940s: Ferrari 166MM - WWII stopped all racing until Ferrari's end-of-decade win; easy pick
1950s: Jaguar D-Type - Following C-Type wins in '51 and '53, D's swept 1955-57; good show old chap!
1960s: Ford GT 40 - As Lola developed the prototype, and Brits added bits, we give 'em half a point (above); Nevertheless, four wins in a row 1966-69 for the Yanks remains a landmark achievement
1970s: Porsche 917K - fastest car down the Mulsanne straight won in 70-71 and launched a juggernaut of wins through the '90s
1980s: Porsche 956 - this and its tweaked successor 962 won six straight from 1982-87, total domination
1990s: Mazda 787B - still the only Japanese and rotary-powered car to win the big one
Peugeot 905 - new rules let Peugeot's 3.5-liter F1-type engines take maximum advantage for wins in '92 and '93
2000s: Audi R10 TDI - Audi lost only one Le Mans the entire decade 2000-09 if you include the Bentley Speed 8 (a modified R8)
2010s: Audi R18 e-Tron quattro - add all-wheel drive to diesel fuel efficiency, for three straight so far this decade. Whoosh!
Photo: Peugeot 905 at speed (ultimatecarpage.com)