|Le Mans 5th July 2009|
This year's overseas trip was a real adventure, in every sense of the word. The weather was hot and the company excellent but there were some lows as well as highs, the most significant being Simon's injured knee resulting from his roll. We wish him a speedy recovery. Things also started badly for Equipe Cousy, consisting of John Jones' Cousy and Neil Hodges' Cooper. Arriving at Portsmouth for the ferry crossing, JB was informed that his passport had expired three days earlier and he was out before even arriving. As a gentleman, JB insisted that that the team continue with son Vincent, promoted to tow car driver and Cooper mechanic. This would have significant implications later in the weekend. As well as the usual Brits, we were joined by Patrick Morin in his Cooper Mk XI and five invitation class cars, the 850cc DBs of Francoise Deligny, David Coursier, Honore Durand and Alain Gawski and the Panhard of Gilbert Lenoir which made for a colourful weekend.
The LM Story event is new but has a large and diverse entry ranging from 60's sports cars, Le Mans prototypes to the "Racer 500s". It uses the permanent Bugatti circuit consisting of the start/finish straight, Dunlop curve and down to the Esses, from the full 24 hour circuit, then cuts back through a series of double apex corners and fast chicanes to rejoin at the Ford chicane. A highly technical layout which everyone found enjoyable and challenging. We were given an opportunity to learn the circuit with two "free" practice sessions on Friday after which there was the usual fettling to be done and much head scratching among the Norton engine drivers, many finding themselves struggling between second and third for several of the corners. Most of the crews were camping in the paddock so a series of "house parties" ensured, helped by the fact that Qualifying would be late on Saturday, including a "christening" for our youngest pusher, Laura Fowler.
After a relaxing day in the sunshine on Saturday showed who had learned the circuit and who had selected the correct sprocket, as a consequence, the times were rather more spread out than usual. Unsurprisingly, Francois Deligny headed the timesheets in the 850 cc DB, making the most of his power advantage along the long start finish straight. Nigel Ashman headed the 500s with a 2:15.4 with Simon Frost a second back. Next up came Gordon Russell's Mk VIII and Mike Fowler's Mk V then Martin Sheppard in his Cooper and Gilbert Lenoir in the Panhard. Casualties included the Martins of Roy Hunt and Richard Ellingworth both suffering mag related maladies, fortunately there was no objection from the Directeur du Course to them starting the race from the back of the grid. Shirley and Richard Bishop-Miller had problems with their JAP's but both would be sorted by race time. The most serious ailment was Neil Hodges' Cooper which broke a stub axle before even making the track, with no spare it was out. Retiring to the bar, Equipe Cousy, rang JB to tell him that the whole team would scratch. John came up trumps with an offer to drive the Cousy and a frantic hour of paperwork, preparation and scrutineering followed. The Cousy would race at Le Mans after all!
The rolling start was a little confused, Francois in the DB 850 lining up on the wrong side and making a poor start with Nigel, Gordon and Simon moving past in their Coopers before the Dunlop Chicane. Meanwhile, Richard Ellingworth in this Martin had made an excellent start from row seven to climb up to fifth by the end of the first lap. Francois made use of his power advantage to retake two before the end of the lap before making a robust move on Nigel under braking at Dunlop at the start of lap two. With nowhere to go, Nigel spun, rejoining down in seventh to start his fight back. Mike Fowler was the first victim so the order at the end of lap three was Deligny (DB 850), Frost, Ellingworth, Russell, Coursier (DB 850) then Ashman. Nigel picked off Coursier and Russell through lap four to leave him third of the 500s and fourth overall, still three seconds behind Richard with Simon leading the 500s by only a couple of seconds. On lap five, he closed the gap to just over a second while Frosty stretched his lead over Richard to nearly four seconds. On lap six, disaster struck, Nigel made a move on Richard at the Virage S Bleu only to see Simon, who had been pushing hard, lose the back of his Cooper at the exit of the second part of the corner. The Cooper went sideways then appeared to grip again, rolled and throwing Simon out. Nigel and Richard continued their battle through lap seven both taking the other but the pace car put a stop to racing and the pair toured round the the final three laps to finish in that order with Gordon Russell third and Mike Fowler fourth. Martin Sheppard had the loneliest race to fifth.
Meanwhile at the poor end of the grid, another battle had ensued, Roy Hunt in the other Martin, overtook several cars on lap one only to spin at the Dunlop chicane at the start of lap two. The engine stalled but Roy managed to restart on the gradient and resume flat last. Neil, starting from the very back in the Cousy and only the formation lap to get used to the car, was up five places by the end of the first lap, behind Shirley and ahead of Patrick Morin, who seemed to have an occasional misfire. These three would swap places numerous times until the pace car stopped play with Patrick taking the "victory" (sixth) followed by Shirley, then a very happy Neil. Having lost so much time, Roy had made up most of it by lap seven but could do no more with full course yellow flags so ninth was the best he could manage. With a failed drive shaft on his Mk II, Richard Bishop-Miller was the final classified finisher (and class A winner).
All in all, a most enjoyable weekend of racing and camaraderie, in spite of Simon's unfortunate accident. Well done to Nigel Ashman on his well deserved victory and well done to Richard for showing what he and the Martin are capable of. At the half way point in the championship, the points make interesting reading. with Gordon Russell and Nigel Ashman tied for the lead and Neil Hodges in third in class C. Roy Hunt leads class B from Mike Fowler and Richard Ellingworth. Class A is dominated by Richard Bishop-Miller who clearly need some early cars to play with.
| and Nigel Ashman's Mk XI |