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Le Mans: Then and Now

It becomes pertinent not just to know who won in 1966 or when Porsche earned its first of about a million wins, but also how the various teams got where they are today.
Dan Heyman
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ONE thing that’s so great about motorsport in general is just how deeply rooted it is in the minds of fans. Like the masses that cheer for the Manchester United football club or the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, the driver or team you support is often passed down through generations. It becomes pertinent not just to know who won in 1966 or when Porsche earned its first of about a million wins, but also how the various teams got where they are today, just as diehard fans remember who scored the Stanley Cup winner in 1973, or the World Series-winning walk-off homer in 1993.

Ford

Then: 1966 GT40
GT40
Perhaps the most famous image of the era at Le Mans is that of three of these crossing the finish line together in perfect formation. The car was developed not just to win, but to beat Ferrari while it was at it, revenge for a merger-gone-bad.

Now: 2016 GT

Ford GT

It doesn’t get much more perfect than this, does it? It was 50 years ago that that rolling podium occurred, and what better way to celebrate that then to take the latest incarnation of that iconic car back to Le Mans? Can the new car’s turbocharged V6 power and all-star case of drivers do justice to the iconic GT40 in its second year at the event? The fact that it’s earned pole position in its GTE class this year is a good start.

ALSO READ: Ford Returning to Le Mans in 2016 With All-new Ford GT

Porsche

Then: 1970 917K

917K

While the powder blue-and-gold Gulf and Silver Martini liveries may be the more memorable cars, it was the Ferrari-baiting red-and-white Porsche Salzburg car that took top honours. Today, the 917 is remembered not so much for its race victories, but more for its starring role in Steve McQueen’s race-car epic Le Mans, as well as being the first of a line of race cars that would eventually grow to include hillclimb specials and fire-breathing Can/Am racers.

Now: 2016 919 Hybrid

919 Hybrid

While the pundits may say they called it, you have to think Audi – winners of 12 of the previous 14 Le Mans tests at the time – was a little shocked when Porsche knocked them off the podium last year. This year, the brand will see if in can achieve what no brand other than Audi has over the last decade: two straight overall victories at Le Mans.

Alpine

Then: 1978 A442

alpine

Sporting the classic white, black and gold Renault livery (it graced everything from F1 cars to rally cars), the Alpines stunned the racing establishment by achieving an overall victory in 1978, ousting the Porsche favorites; the Germans would make up 6 of the top 10 finishers that year. It was a short-lived feeling as the Alpines faded quickly after that, but they’ll always be able to say they stood up to the big guns, and silenced them.

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Now: 2016 A460

alpine a460

While the name may suggest that just 18 years have passed since that great 1978 season, Alpine had been out of the endurance game for quite a spell. The 2015 season, however, marked their return to the ring. Painted a nationalistic blue, red and white for this year, the cars are nevertheless spectacular-looking and will have the advantage of proven Nissan power; the VK45DE V8 mounted amidships has seen service both in desert-beating trucks – so it should be durable – and Japanese Touring Cars, so it should be an able performer.

Ferrari

Then: 1967 330P4

ferrari 330p4

As pretty looking and sounding as it was, the 330 P4’s nearly-identical 330 P3 predecessor has the inauspicious title of being “the car that Ford beat”. That does not, however, take away from the fact that the 330 was an accomplished racer itself, most notably finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona, which ended with a photo snap of the three Ferraris crossing the line together, just like those pesky Fords at Le Mans a year prior. Probably one of the prettiest cars we’ve ever seen on the starting grid, to boot.

Now: 2016 488 GTE

488 GTE

This marks the first time the twin-turbo’d 488 has taken to the track at Le Mans, but you have to think that the knowledge gained from the successful 458 and 430 racers over the last few years will play into the car’s favour this year. It will have to if Ferrari expects to wrestle the class victory back from Chevrolet.

Chevrolet

Then: 1974 Greenwood Corvette

Greenwood corvette

It wasn’t hugely successful on the circuit – indeed, the Corvettes hadn’t quite made it to the big time on the world stage just yet – but darned if it wasn’t one of the most eye-catching, with its proud stars n’ stripes livery and aggressive long-tail, wide-body styling. The Greenwoods never completed a Le Mans test, but you have to say that their efforts earned Corvette some good karma for the many victories they’ve enjoyed since.

Now: 2016 Corvette C7.R

c7r

Once dominant in its class, the Corvette has had its hands full the last few years thanks to strong competition from Ferrari and Porsche. Still, the pushrod V8 remains an incredibly strong engine, and there’s no question that Chevrolet knows what it’s doing when it comes to endurance racing, evidenced by a class win last year, in the C7.R’s inaugural season. Is it time for another multi-season run for Corvette Racing?

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