Blog: Diesel and dust
Glenn Brooks | 10 June 2011
The R26B four-rotor engine and the 787B at Mazda's museum in Hiroshima
Twenty years ago this weekend a Japanese car won Le Mans. I wasn't there. I was in what was for me then, the car industry and motorsport backwater of Australia, planning my escape to Europe. On the Tuesday morning, I bought the Sydney Morning Herald and as I waited for my train into the city on a cold, wet, wintry platform, I thrilled to learn that the little Mazda I'd seen at Le Mans on my first trip to Europe 12 months previously had done it - it had won. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Imagine also that back then, the TV news down under couldn't have cared less about European motorsport. But that was OK, as I was well-used to watching F1 coverage live at midnight with the BBC's feed via a local channel dropping in and out. Sometimes you never did see who won.
But back to my damp train station. The SMH had devoted only a para or two, tucked away in a global sports round-up after many pages of all the latest New South Wales rugby league news. Now there is the miracle of the web, and even, of live streaming. But I haven't forgotten how much I longed to be back in Europe, not at the bottom of the world as it seemed to me in those days.
The little model of the Le Mans-winning, Renown- and Charge-liveried 787B that I eventually bought now sits on my desk here in England. And it often makes me wonder why Mazda has never really capitalised on that victory. The rotary engine appears from time to time in media announcements - a hydrogen-fuelled experimental version of the Premacy is the last that I recall - but of the incredible achievement made by the four-rotor screamer, we don't see too much.
Wonderfully, that is set to change this weekend, when the organisers of the 2011 race will let the 1991-winning car back on track for a demo run. How lucky will be those who are there to hear the noise - from the angry barking throb at idle that transforms into the ear-splitting screeeeeeeem as beyond even superbike revs are achieved down the Hunaudières straight.
If you've never been to Le Mans, just do it. Drag your sunburnt self, ignoring the unbiddable brain's protestation of ...oh no...why...please...no...I want sleep... as you compel and propel your sore-feet-after-miles-of-walking-on-the-Saturday self from a tent at 4am, pausing to rouse your mates or else just quietly shuffle alone, cautiously picking your way through the dustgrass that is now peppered with prostrate-where-they-gave-up-trying-to-find-their-tents fellow enthusiasts, each one quietly snoring under their baseballs caps and carpeted with dew.
Just before the dawn light, be happy to pay what are way too many euro for a steaming espresso that you know that will soon jolt you alert. Trundle a bit further until at last you catch sight of the eight-miles long track that surrounds you, then stop, installing yourself on the inside of the slowest corner, Arnage.
Out of the dark will come at impossible speed and incredibly, only a few metres away behind the fences, perhaps a Peugeot 908 HDi, its brakes glowing orange, the exhausts banging with vapour from the V8's vast turbos' unburnt fuel, the driver's eyes hidden behind a visor but his concentration evident and immense. And then, a welter of flashes from cameras illuminate the long-tailed monster and its day-glo sponsors' logos right there in front of you, but in a blink, the car is powering away. People look at one another, tired, having travelled from nearby or else other parts of Europe and beyond, but still, most will be grinning as glances are exchanged, with the knowing that something pretty special was just shared.
My passion for Formula 1 has been dormant for a long, long time, awaiting a Senna successor. I have a look at a race from time to time, then, soon enough, I've had enough. But every mid-June weekend, I tune in to the web and watch as much of les 24 heures as I am able to. No more two-day wait for a rain-splattered broadsheet to know the results for me. Test out Audi's TV channel and ready yourself for some Le Mans action wherever you are this weekend. But in 2012, I'll be there again. Just writing this blog made me realise it's more than time that I recalled what Le Mans tastes like. Diesel and dust.
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