Le Mans Classic

  • 2016 Le Mans Classic - The Movie

    The 2016 Le Mans Classic gave us a stunning collection of historic vehicles and great weather!

    Video Credits: Peter Auto

  • 2018 Le Mans Classic Review Part One

    In the first of this three-part special feature, Speed Chills View review the 2018 Le Mans Classic, an event firmly established in the motorsport calendar. Take a look at some of the pictures and the roundup of all the on-track action from the weekend.

    The Le Mans Classic made its debut back in 2002. At the time, it was a financial disaster for Patrick Peter and Peter Auto, the organisers. Back then, just 30,000 people came to spectate the event over one weekend in September. However, that first event sparked an interest and word began to spread. 16 years later, the Le Mans Classic has firmly established itself in both the historic racing community and motorsport community as a whole with over 140,000 people expected to attend this year with 10 previous winners of the Le Mans 24 Hour set to compete including Roman Dumas, Loic Duval and Jochen Mass.


    The Le Mans Classic is a truly special event. Le Mans is one of the few tracks in the world that is steeped in so much history. The 24 Hour itself, was first run in 1923 and all though the track has changed several times since then, this weekend, some of those original contenders have returned.

    The entry list for the Le Mans Classic is huge, that’s the only way to describe it. This year there are circa 750 racing cars on track with over a thousand drivers taking part across the three days.

    First of all, there are six “Plateaux”, grids too you and I, spanning 60 years of competition, from the early pre-World War 2 era of the 1920s and 1930s all the way through to the early 1980s. In addition to that, there are a number of separate races for classic Jaguars and Porsche along with a dedicated grid to the mighty Group C era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

    New for 2018 is the Global Endurance Legends Series, at this stage, they only featured for two 30-minute parade sessions, however expect a lot more from them in the coming years. The Masters Endurance Legends series held its first UK race at Brands Hatch earlier this year having been unveiled late in 2017.

    In short, the Le Mans Classic is the only event in the world where you can watch anything from Pre-War Bentley’s and Bugatti’s all the way through the classic sports car era of the 1960s to Group C and beyond to the early days of LMP alongside GT1 and GT2 of the late 1990s and early 2000s.


    The action began on Friday morning, 70 cars from the newly formed Global Endurance Legends Series took to the circuit behind the safety car for the first of two 30-minute sessions and what an incredible site it was. The field was led by a bright Yellow Ferrari 333SP in the hands of Michel Lecourt and despite it being a parade, it quickly became apparent a number of small battles were emerging, Andy Bruce in the Spark McLaren F1 GTR for one, going three abreast down the Mulsanne Straight with the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 and a Porsche 993 GT2 Evo at almost 180 miles an hour. Le Mans 24 Hour veteran Emmanuel Collard made his return to Le Mans in the very Toyota TS020 GT-One that he drove here back in 1999 with Martin Brundle and Vincenzo Sospiri. Unfortunately, the car retired part way through the race however the sister #3 car finished second that year behind the #15 BMW V12 LMR of Yannick Dalmas, Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini.

    A number of fan favourites from previous years also took part in the parade including the ex-Colin McRae Ferrari 550 GT1, the 2003 Bentley Speed 8, the Audi R8 and Peugeot 908. Manufacturers from the modern era of the FIA World Endurance Championship were well represented across the GT1, GT2, GT3 and LM GT categories including the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1, Ferrari F430, AF Corse Ferrari 458 GTE and Porsche 997 GT3 RSR.


    Next up, it was the return of the mighty Group C cars, a fan favourite for obvious reasons at the Le Mans Classic. A number of iconic liveries and brands made a welcome return to Le Mans including a host of Silk Cut liveried Jaguar XJR’s, Peugeot 905’s and Porsche 962’s. Regular FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 driver Michael Lyons returned in the 1991 Gebhardt C91, taking victory in the only race of the weekend. Shaun Lynn, father of Aston Martin factory driver Alex Lynn took second place in the 1987 Jaguar XJR-9 from the 1989 XJR11 of Ralf Kelleners and Ivan Vercourtere. They made for a spectacular sight this weekend with some pretty close racing throughout the grid. The ground effect aero causing the cars to stick to the track as they made their way down Dunlop Hill or through Porsche Curves at incredible speed was mind blowing. The 908 Peugeot’s were a highlight for many during the Group C sessions, their naturally aspirated V10’s screaming akin to an early 90s Formula 1 car with up shifts that sounded like canon fire, piercing the ear drums of anyone trackside at the time.

  • 2018 Le Mans Classic Review Part Three

    Our third and final article of the series picks up where the story left off, Plateaux 4 covering 1962 through to 1965.

    Plateaux 4 1962-1965

    Ferrari continued to dominate through the early 1960s winning 6 consecutive years between 1960 and 1965. Ford join the series with young Kiwi Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon looking to go head to head with Ferrari for the overall win. Ferrari introduce the mid-engine layout and so begins the battle of the V8 vs the V12, the artisan from Northern Italy vs the powerhouse from Detroit. Away from the front, Porsche continue to improve with additional class victories.

    In 1964, Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt found themselves down in 15th place after three hours of running. The pair were in an old Ferrari 275 LM entered by NART. Jochen Rindt was a star of Formula 2 at this time and would later go on to win the F1 World Championship in 1970 whilst Masten Gregory was a very quick driver who had previous experience with both Jaguar and Aston Martin. By this point he had taken part in Le Mans nine times but finished no better than fifth in 1961 in a Porsche. He did however, have the 1960 lap record in the Maserati so there were no doubts that he had the pace.


    Sitting down in 15th place, they began to fight back, carving their way through the pack. The works cars of both Ford and Ferrari all retired, primarily due to shattered brake discs but Gregory and Rindt were flying. At every fuel stop, they were both getting an earful from NART team boss Luigi Chinetti who had only authorised the duo to use at most 7500 RPM to save the engine. The pair ignored him, pushing the engine to 9000 RPM, gradually clawing their way up the field and taking the win.

    Plateaux 4 was dominated by Ford this weekend Diogo Ferraro taking the first race win of the weekend in the #61 GT40 MK1. He went on to finish second in the remaining two races, a strong performance for the Portuguese driver. Shaun Lynn came home in second place in the first race just ahead of Ludovic Caron in the Shelby Cobra 289. David Hart took the second race win of the weekend in the yellow #8 Ford GT40 from Ferraro and James Cottingham in the #64 Ford GT40 MK1. Race three was a near repeat of the results with Cottingham and Ferrao taking first and second as the #51 Ford GT40 MK1 of Grant Tromans took the final step of the podium.


    Plateaux 5 1966-1971

    Plateaux 5 represents the domination of Ford in the late 1960s, taking four consecutive victories for the GT40. Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon took their first win in the GT40 MKII in 1966 starting a brief period of dominance for the Americans. A change in regulations see’s the birth of the early prototypes in 1970/1971 with the Porsche 917K taking two straight wins on the bounce going up against the likes of Alpine, Alfa Romeo and Matra. 1969 saw the last Le Mans start in which the drivers would run to their cars. A protest by Jacky Ickx in which he walked to his car rather than running, nearly getting hit in the process, forced the organisation to make a decision. The decision was made for them when Ickx won the race. The aerodynamic prototypes are still in their infancy at this stage and are incredibly tricky to drive with not enough downforce over the rear end to keep the cars stable. That said, they are seriously quick in a straight line and lap times are now averaging around 240km/h! The 917 was maxing out at 360km/h! In Grand Touring the battle continues to rage between the Porsche 911s, Porsche 914s and the Ferrari GTB and Daytonas.


    In the 1960s, Denny Hulme spent the majority of his time racing at McLaren, both before and after the death of Bruce McLaren. However, there is one particular race that could have seen that relationship change dramatically. With the finish of the 1966 race in site, the blue Ford GT40 of Hulme and Ken Miles was in the lead, McLaren and Amon were sat in second. It was at this point that Henry Ford decided to organise a dead heat final, to “underline the victory of the car rather than one of its driver line-ups”. Miles slowed to let Bruce draw level along with the third place GT40 which was a few laps down. The trio crossed the line together. The organisers declared the result a victory for Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon as they had been slower in qualifying and therefore started 20 metres further down the grid and as a result covered more distance during the race. Hulme and Miles would never win Le Mans. Whilst Hulme continued to race with McLaren, Miles was killed in an accident whilst testing the new Ford J just two months later.


    The racing this weekend swung in favour of the prototypes of the era, with the #69 Ligier JS3 DFV from 1971 taking the first two wins of the weekend. It was a strong performance from the Lola T70 MK3 with at least one making it into the top three in each of the races. David Hart took second place in the first race at the wheel of the #34 Lola T70 with Carlos Tavares taking third place. Jaques Nicolet took second place in race two followed by a win in race three in the Duckhams Ford. Tavares took third again in race two with Pierre Alain France rounding out the top three in race three in the #70 Lola T70.


    Plateaux 6 1972-1981

    By this point, there has been a big step forward in engineering and aerodynamics, with the potential for cars to hit 400km/h down the Mulsanne. As a safety precaution, the organisers limited the size of the engines to 3 litres. As a result, Matra took a trio of wins between 1972 and 1974 with the Matra Simca MS670 piloted by Henri Pescarolo, Graham Hill and Gerard Larrousse. Ford jumped back to the front in 1975 with their V8 engine befor Porsche dominate for the next two years with the Jacky Ickx driven Porsche 936. At this point, aerodynamics are becoming more refined, rather than running as much downforce as possible. In GT, the Daytona’s and Porsche’s rule before Ferrari and BMW arrive with the BB and M1 Procar respectively.


    It's 1977, Le Mans was a disaster for Porsche. The Favourite car was broken and the other was running 49th. “I’ve had some great races but there’s one in which I really excelled myself,” says Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx. “Le Mans in 1977 with the Porsche 936. I’ve never driven as well in my life. It was unbelievable! The mechanics, the other drivers, everybody was in another world! And we transformed what had begun as a debacle into victory. I did double stints at night in the fog and the rain. I was on the absolute edge in the car, the circuit, the conditions. I pulled back such huge chunks of time on the Renaults, which were comfortably installed in the lead, that no one could believe their eyes! I stopped at the pits” “Do you want to change?” “No. I’ll stay in the car. And then you take charge, and nobody dares to say a word to you. Ask the Porsche engineers. They’d never seen anything like it in their life. We were running rings around the Renaults which weren’t exactly slowcoaches!”


    It was a strong performance this weekend from Yves Scemama in the Toj SC 304, taking one race victory in Race two and two second place finishes in the first and third race. Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall took the first win of the weekend in the Mirage GR7. Patrice Lafargue took third place in race one followed by second place in race two with Paul Lafargue and Dieteren Lalmand wrapping up third place in Race 2 and Race 3 respectively.

  • 2018 Le Mans Classic Review Part Two

    It is at this point, we take a gigantic step back in time, from the screaming V10s and ground effect aero of Group C, back to where it all began in the early 1920s.

    Plateaux 1 1923-1939


    Plateaux 1 covers from 1923 to 1939 with representation from Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Lagonda, Bugatti, BMW and Talbot to name a few. Back then the Circuit looked very different. It was 19KM long run mostly on gravel roads with cars reaching a averaging a speed of 107 km/h. By 1939, the circuit had been cut to just over 13km and tarmac roads, average speeds were now around 155 km/h. Top speeds today reached 200 km/h at the fastest points of the circuit.

    It was a time for invention and courage back then. French Engineer Jean Albert Gregoire was a pioneer in front wheel drive technology and one of the first to enter a front wheel drive car at Le Mans. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a head injury after a bad crash on a reconnaissance lap but despite this, he started the race with an enormous bandage wrapped around his head and a new unexpected team mate. He drafted in one of his mechanics to replace his team mate who was also injured in the same accident. Gregoire went on to finish seventh in his Tracta. The car may no longer be running; however, this represents some of the earliest developments in technology Le Mans has been responsible for over the years.

    In recent years, Plateaux 1 has been dominated by both British and French entered Talbots but this year, BMW put up a strong fight in each of the three races. In race one, Michael Birch in the #20 1932 Talbot 105 took the win against strong competition from the #69 Bugatti Type 51 and #6 1939 BMW 328 Roadsters. Rob Spencer challenged for the lead in race two in the #21 1928 Bugatti Type 35B but was unable to beat Gareth Burnett in the #17 1931 Talbot 105. The #14 BMW 328 Roadster of Albert Otten and Diethelm Horbach rounded out the podium in third place. Burnett took the final win of the weekend in race three after a challenging race against Michael Birch and the #14 BMW 328.


    Plateaux 2 1949-1956

    Plateaux 2 represents cars from 1949 through 1956, the last outing for some of the great pre-war manufacturers such as Talbot. New comers Ferrari and Jaguar dominated through the early 1950s. There is an increased focus on aerodynamics and brakes to achieve the best performance in areas such as the Mulsanne Straight. The race is now attracting some of the biggest names in the business; Fangio, Moss, Hawthorn and Collins to name a few. It also began to attract other manufacturers, one of whom went on to become the most successful brand in the event’s history, Porsche.


    The 1955 disaster resulted in a big overall of circuit safety, not just at Le Mans but around the world. The pit complex was raised and rebuilt further back allowing the pit straight to be widened. Whilst safety standards improved, the cars got faster, and open cockpit roadsters battled against closed cockpit coupes as average speeds now hit the 200 Km/h mark! The two Cadillacs entered by American Briggs Cunningham were the first to have radio links to the team in the pits back in 1950. That year they finished 10th and 11th respectively. Cunningham returned to the great race in the coming years and in 1953, the latest generation of the car had 400 horse power, an additional 100 horse power on the previous year. That year, the cars hit 249km/h on Les Hunaudieres. John Fitch brought the car home in third and immediately pulled up to his pit box to celebrate and join the team for champagne. It was as the celebrations began an official pointed out that he had crossed the line a couple of seconds before the 16:00 finish point and therefore still had one lap to go! Panic quickly ensued as Fitch dropped his champagne and jumped back into the car, still soaked from his earlier champagne shower! Luckily for him, fourth place was still far enough behind that he was able to re-join and complete the subsequent lap to take the flag and finish third. The Cunningham C4R is racing this weekend in the hands of Alain Ruede who achieved a best place of eighth in race three on Sunday afternoon.


    As in period, Jaguar dominated each of the three races this weekend, locking out the podium in two out of three races. The #3 car of Clive Joy took two out of three wins, winning the first and second race whilst finishing second in race three. Carlos Monteverde continued to challenge Joy across the weekend, taking first place in the final race but finishing second in race one and two. Maserati made a brief appearance on the podium in race two, Richard Wilson putting the 1957 Maserati 250 on the third step having finished fourth in the first and third races.


    Plateaux 3 1957-1961

    Plateaux 3 represents the next step forward in sports car racing, bigger engines, more power, more speed. Cars are now averaging over 200 km/h as large capacity 6-cylinder engines or V12s become the norm. Ferrari dominated the era with 3 victories over Aston Martin and Jaguars one apiece. The smaller Maserati also fought it out with the three bigger rivals in the top category. In Grand Touring, the cars are only slightly less powerful with Porsche scoring regular class victories and class championships. The American Carroll Shelby takes his first win alongside Roy Salvadori in the Aston Martin DBR1 in 1959 as lap times begin to tumble.


    Jaguar picked up another win in 1957, however there was a brief flash of brilliance at the start of the race that could have seen things go very differently. Ferrari were drafting in the best drivers from Formula 1 at the time so in 1957, Scuderia Ferrari entered a team of Maurice Trintignant, Mike Hawthorn, Luigi Musso, Phil Hill and Peter Collins. Collins quickly became a favourite with Enzo himself and in 1957, he started the race. Collins ran the sprint across the track, jumping into his 335MM and screamed off down the track, the 390bhp V12 roaring as he accelerated off into the distance. Just four minutes later, he screamed down the start finish straight at 300 km/h, close to 180mph! Despite a standing start, he had smashed the previous lap record. Just two laps later though, disaster struck. The Ferrari had blown a piston and would not re-join the race.


    Despite domination in period, Ferrari only took one win this weekend with Lukas Halusa taking the first race win in the Ferrari 250 GTO “Breadvan”. Roger Wills and David Clark finished a close second before going on to win race two and three in the #68 Lotus XV. The Breadvan went on to finish second in the third race after a good scrap with Clark and Wills midway through the race.

  • Button: can he win Le Mans?

    Well, what a great surprise. Jenson Button racing a Jaguar XJR-9 at Le Mans Classic in July is exciting. But now the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion has chosen to bring his La Sarthe debut forward by a month: he’s going all-out for an attack on the 24 Hours itself. Fantastic news.

    I must say, I was surprised. In his press statement, Jenson said “it’s always been a dream of mine to race at Le Mans”, but that didn’t seem to be the case during his Grand Prix career. Button enjoyed 17 eventful years in the F1 bubble and for most of that time showed little interest in anything else going on in the wider motor sport world. I recall times when he was asked specifically about Le Mans, especially in his later years at McLaren, and he tended to be a little dismissive.

    But like many of his ilk, now that F1 bubble has burst he’s gained some perspective. Always a good chap and a pure racer at heart, he’s embracing what else motor racing has to offer away from the cauldron of intensity that is life in F1.

    Jenson’s affinity for Japan led him to commit to the fantastic Super GT national series, in which he scored a second place in the first round of 2018 at Okayama a few weeks back, partnering Naoki Yamamoto in Team Kunimitsu’s Honda NSX-GT – and his taste buds for endurance racing have clearly been tantalised.

    Now along with his Japanese commitment, the 38-year-old has signed up for the Le Mans 24 Hours and a subsequent World Endurance Championship campaign with SMP Racing. Button will drive the new Dallara-built BR1 LMP1 alongside rapid Russian duo Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. He knows the former from Petrov’s time in F1 with Renault, while Aleshin has history as a talented Indycar racer. All in all, a potent line-up.

    SMP Racing at the Prologue 2018

    The big questions are how competitive the BR1 will be at Le Mans – and will it really have any chance of going the distance?

    We’ll know more about the genuine speed of the new non-hybrid LMP1 after this weekend’s WEC ‘Super Season’ kick-off, the Spa 6 Hours (which Button is missing). At the WEC Prologue test at Paul Ricard it was the best of the new breed of privateer prototypes and only slower than the hybrid Toyotas.

    Reliability is entirely another matter for SMP, as it will be for all the teams running new cars. Lasting six hours untroubled would be an achievement in Belgium, never mind over 24 in France.

    So why has Button committed to this unproven programme? He has spoken bullishly of going to Le Mans to win, but can that really be a goal this year?

    His old McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso is in an entirely different situation, of course. As a member of the only factory to compete in the top class, the Spaniard has a great chance of making a winning debut at the big race. That’s pressure.

    Button? The pressure cannot be so great when he’s racing a brand new car. Expectations for Jenson will be nowhere near as high as they will be for Fernando – and that could play to the Briton’s advantage.

    But again, can he really win? Well, Toyota has to be the hot favourite – but with its cursed record at Le Mans, nothing can be taken for granted. If the two hybrids falter, one of the privateers could pick up the pieces – and if that’s the case, it’s likely to be the one that has the least amount of trouble. In that case, why not SMP?

    Then again, and rather bizarrely, Button’s best chance of a debut win might have actually been with a well-run LMP2 in the prototype second division. They might not have the pace of the top class, but they’re proven over this distance. Who can forget last year when the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA led overall and was only eventually beaten by a hybrid Porsche?

    Whatever their fortunes, the addition of a pair of F1 world champions is a huge boost for the race, especially in the year following Porsche’s withdrawal. How they get on will be fascinating. All eyes will be on Button and Alonso on June 16/17.

  • Le Mans Classic pushes Jenson's button

    At 38, Jenson Button is still more than young enough to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time. But the fact he is choosing to make his debut at La Sarthe this summer in a Group C Jaguar at Le Mans Classic, rather than the contemporary race itself, tells you much about where his head is at right now.

    The 2009 world champion stepped away from the pressure cooker of Formula 1 at the end of 2016, and although he made a return with McLaren at Monaco last year as a ‘super-sub’ for Indy 500-bound Fernando Alonso, it was very much a one-off. Button subsequently confirmed he is now officially a retired F1 champ.

    Jenson Button

    Image courtesy of lemansclassic.com

    Since then, his racing focus has switched to the fantastic Super GT series for high-powered and spectacular endurance racers in Japan, a country for which he holds a deep affection and affinity. He made his series debut for Honda last August in the Suzuka 1000Kms and is about to embark on his first full season in an NSX GT for Team Kunimitsu, starting at Okayama this weekend (April 6/7).

    Le Mans? He’s never shown much enthusiasm for the place when asked about it – which he was on occasion during his F1 sunset years at McLaren. In fact, you would have been forgiven for interpreting his coolness as a surprisingly dismissive attitude to the great race.

    But should we be surprised he’s been enticed to come out to play at the fabulous Classic meeting on July 6-8? Actually, no.

    For one thing, his mates have clearly talked him into it. Jenson will be driving for JD Classics, the Essex-based historics emporium for whom his friend Alex Buncombe regularly races. For another, Button is enough of a blue-blooded racing enthusiast to be curious about sampling the glorious 8.4-mile circuit, but without having to face the mass attention an entry in the 24 Hours proper would clearly inspire.

    Then also consider that age once again: Button is a true child of the 1980s.

    As a kid, he and his beloved old man (the late and much missed John Button) were avid Alain Prost fans. F1 was all they could think about back then. Still, Jenson couldn’t have missed the super-powered Silk Cut TWR Jaguars – especially when a sister chassis to the XJR-9 he’ll drive in July famously won the 24 Hours to national acclaim exactly 30 years ago. In 1988, Jenson was a racing-mad, impressionable eight-year-old.

    Make no mistake: with more time on his hands now he’s done with F1, the chance to drive a Group C Jaguar will certainly be pushing his, er, buttons (sorry…). Whether he’ll ever be tempted to try the 24 Hours for real is another matter – and might well hinge on what he makes of the place in July.

    But if he ever does to decide to make a commitment to the 24 Hours – and as an ex-F1 champion he’d surely be a welcome addition – it wouldn’t technically be his first entry into a big international twice-around-the-clock classic. Back in 1999, Button was a budding star in British Formula 3 when a sponsor diverted his F1 focus for a weekend to make a cameo appearance at… the Spa 24 Hours.

    Back then, Belgium’s own version of Le Mans was still run for saloons rather than GTs as it is today and admittedly wasn’t exactly in the midst of its greatest era. But even if it was only run for underpowered ‘Superproduction’/Group N 2-litre hot-hatches and rep-mobiles, it was still a loud and clear bleep on the radar for sponsors and car manufacturers.

    Fuel company FINA had a proud history at the Spa 24 Hours, and with a new campaign backing Renault’s Promatecme-run British F3 campaign for which Button was racing, made sure his contract included a three-line whip for the Spa enduro.

    A pair of BMW 320is were entered under the FINA banner by Italian Gabriele Rafanelli, a true Italian racing gent best known for previously running BMWs in Europe under the respected Bigazzi banner. Rafanelli was now running his own FINA-backed team in Formula 3000, but was more than happy to return to more familiar territory for one weekend.

    His F3000 aces were gregarious Belgian David Saelens (very quick and very funny, especially after a beer or three) and highly likeable Czech and future Aston Martin Le Mans regular Tomas Enge (who would sadly earn infamy in 2002 for losing his F3000 title after testing positive for marijuana). Button would join the pair at Spa to form a junior trio in one of the smart looking 320is.

    Experience was clearly lacking for such a race, but this was a potent line-up. And when they qualified 12th, hopes must have been raised at FINA that their investment in young talent was about to pay off. Sadly, Button wouldn’t even get to turn a wheel in the race itself.

    A fuel leak not only forced Saelens to retire the car early on, it almost gassed him. Fumes in the cockpit left him physically sick, leaving Enge and Button facing an early trip home. From what I remember, Jenson wasn’t exactly overcome with disappointment.

    I happened to be at that race working on a story for a magazine and knew Jenson quite well having followed him to his British Formula Ford and Festival double in 1998. He was a pleasant, uncomplicated lad back then. Yes, hype already surrounded him, but Dad John was always there to keep him grounded. I experienced their natural father-son bond that weekend in a hospitality tent when John quietly rebuked his boy for an uncharacteristic moment of arrogance. Still only 19, Jenson clearly had some growing up to do – and John wasn’t about to let him forget it.

    Earlier on, I’d caught up with Jenson sitting on a wall at the end of the pitlane before a practice session. He was on his own, looked a bit lost and seemed genuinely pleased to see a familiar face. During our brief chat he made it clear that while he loved Spa, driving what amounted to little more than a lightly tuned road car held little interest for him.

    Funny to think that within a year, he would have concluded an unremarkable F3 season with Renault and FINA – then be handed a dream test for his old hero Alain Prost, who was grappling with the unhappy challenge of running his own F1 team as the century turned.

    Prost’s car was uncompetitive, but Alain saw enough of Jenson to be deeply impressed. He made a recommendation to Frank Williams, who was running out of options in his search for a replacement for the disappointing Alex Zanardi – and the rest is history…

    The cameo in a saloon at Spa was soon forgotten, and a torrent of time and racing has now passed since that weekend nearly 20 years ago.

    Now with the perspective of an F1 life well lived, Button might be about to soften his attitude to 24-hour races. If anything can change his mind, it will surely be that Jaguar on the greatest circuit of them all.

    Damien Smith, former Editor of Motor Sport Magazine