Le Mans success for David & Lorraine in their 1963 Elan
Husband and wife team David and Lorraine Gathercole took their S1 Elan to Classic Le Mans in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Lotus Elan and the 50th Anniversary of The British Women Racing Drivers’ Club.
Despite the best efforts of the weather to spoil the event, no-one could spoil their mood when they achieved a fantastic first place in Plateau 4 on the Index of Performance.
Day qualifying – Antonia Loysen (fellow BWRDC member, and Le Mans Classic finisher from 2010) went with Lorraine to the assembly area, and although she may not have realised it, Antonia’s calm presence helped Lorraine keep her nerve for her first ever drive round the famous 13.629km circuit.
Lorraine did 3 laps and the red flags came out so she came in to hand over to David. David, who had driven the circuit 2 years previously in a Lola 212 in Plateau 5 and a Lola 290 in Plateau 6, then completed 3 laps before the session timed out. They were both pleased with 22nd overall in qualifying.
Night qualifying – Lorraine again went out first, and this was to be her first experience of a race track at night – what did she think: "it certainly was intense". After 3 laps she came in to hand over to David, who also managed 3 or 4 laps before the session ended. Unfortunately night qualifying was merely a ‘free practice’ and times were not to count as they had achieved the 7th fastest lap!
For the first race, which required a Le Mans-style start, David began as Lorraine was unable to get in, do up her belts and safety fasten the door unaided! The Le Mans start is a re-creation of the original starts and the drivers all went about it with great determination, no one more so than David who had left the car in gear with the ignition and fuel pump switched on, which then only required him to get himself in – head first - turn the master switch on, clutch down, hit the starter and away he went.
As the grid formed up for the ‘proper start’ heavy rain left the organisers no choice but to start the race behind the safety car for the first lap. Some 8 laps later it was all over with the Gathercole Elan finishing 12th overall and 2nd on the Index of Performance Classification (this handicapping system has been used by Le Mans for many years to equalise the performance of the cars by year and engine capacity).
The second race, held at night, was delayed by over an hour, and Lorraine started. On the first lap several of the front GT40s collided at the second chicane on the Mulsane straight, and in their efforts to rejoin brought much gravel on to the track. Lorraine kept her head down looking forward and was starting to enjoy the night-time challenge - then it started to rain! And she had no idea, in the dark of the cockpit, where the wiper switch was! Maybe some interior lighting for next time! Lorraine came in for her scheduled pit-stop and David took over the remainder of the stint.
After the session David went to re-fuel for the early morning race, and as he pulled away a small pool of oil lay under the rear of the car. On his return we discovered that the gearbox seal had come loose, so, instead of going to bed David and Andrew Higgins, who had come along to lend a hand, took the prop shaft out and re-sealed the gearbox. That left 2 and a half hours for sleep! (after a 1 mile walk to the campsite as all the shuttles had finished for the night).
Back up again at 7am, quick wash, and back into our race kits, Lorraine won the race to get her kit on, so she took the start again. Meanwhile David had collected a result sheet from the night race and realised that we had again come 2nd in the index of performance, but this time to a different car. So we were in a good position overall.
Lorraine took to the start in quite slippery conditions and as she came out of the first corner onto the start, lost the back of the car, enough to un-nerve the following drivers into backing off! The conditions remained very difficult with the straights very dry but the exits to all the corners very tricky and on her second lap Lorraine had a massive spin and lost several places. The scheduled pit-stop again went totally to plan and David set off. The conditions also caught David out with a spin at the final chicane with just a few laps to go, but no places were lost and he continued to gain on the cars ahead. All were so delighted to have finished the gruelling event that we gave no thought to the result.
During the afternoon we received a text to say that we were on the podium for the Index of Performance. We went to check out the results and saw that we were 3rd in the last race, but were still very happy. We helped pack up the car, tools and spares and had a bite to eat with our friends and then headed to prize-giving. When we got there, the final classifications were on the wall, and we were FIRST by some 6 minutes and 54 seconds!
We won the most splendid cup, a magnum of champagne and a very fine jacket each and haven’t stopped smiling since!
The Le Mans Classic is the most amazing experience, from driving a circuit that is only used 3 times in every 2 years, to competing at such a high level, and in front of a crowd of 109,000. Wow, when are the entry forms out for the next one?!
Published 07/08/2012 12:37
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