Le Mans 1992 - Ayse's Story
Page 1 - The Prologue
So it's now May 2020, we're still in Covid lockdown, so it's an ideal time to press on with another update of my early (ish) Le Mans galleries and stories. The original 1992 was another quite remarkable for it's brevity. A single page with just four photos. It was also the first year that I hadn't gone to Le Mans with Ian, Martyn and the rest (soon to be christened as 'The Tourists'). As Ian decided not to go, I went with my friend Peter, aka 'Pierre' on a whistlestop coach trip. Here then is the full revised version of Le Mans 1992....
As you will have gathered from my comments in the recollections from previous years, I had been worrying for some time about the general state of sports car racing. Essentially, from 1992 it was intended that the sports car world championship would be for 3.5 litre, normally aspirated cars only. Despite interest from Jaguar, Mercedes, Peugeot, Toyota and Lola (back to the fold), there simply were not enough of these new (albeit very exciting) cars around to make the "show" a worthwhile one. At the end of the day, that show was not likely to pull in a good TV audience, and that seems to be the only acceptable measure of success, at least when judged by the FISA, these days! The organising body of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Automobile Club de L'Ouest, was clearly very worried, and rightly so. With a meagre grid of 38 cars taking the start in 1991, and even less predicted for 1992, the ACO (and many others, to boot) were concerned that the world's greatest race would turn into a debacle. There were even fears that we could end up with no finishers at all, or just one or two slow, hobbled cars struggling around the great circuit at 4.00 o'clock on Sunday afternoon. One of the other disappointments which followed the 1991 race was that no Radio Le Mans video of that year's race was issued. In each of the preceding years from 1987, I had bought the video of the race at the earliest opportunity, usually ordering it a week or two before the race took place. In 1991, there was apparently a problem between the issuing company, SportsSeen, and the ACO, which meant that there could be no video for 1991. Happily, the disappointment was relatively short-lived however, as, just before the 1992 race, it was announced that the problem had been resolved, and that the videos for both 1991 and 1992 would soon be available. Needless to say, I placed my order for both straight away!
In the weeks and months leading up to Le Mans 1992, there was disappointment piled upon disappointment. TWR were supposedly selling or hiring out a number of Jaguars to a private concern to race at Le Mans. Originally, the plan was to supply two 3.5 litre XJR14's, two FIA Cup XJR17's, and a further two XJR12's. We were even given the names of those slated to drive all of these cars - all looked very rosy indeed. Alas, the supposed Saudi Arabian finance never materialised, and the cars were never actually prepared or delivered by TWR. Following this disappointment, it was nevertheless thought to be assured that at least one Jaguar, probably an XJR12, would be run at La Sarthe by Swiss privateer, Georges Paulin. TWR apparently prepared the car for the race but, once again, a lack of funds prevented the car from being delivered to the private team. It was finally confirmed, only one week before the race that there would be no Jaguar presence, for the first time since 1983. As far as I was concerned, this was a major disappointment. TWR and Jaguar had raced at every Le Mans which I had attended and the knowledge that there would be no major British presence challenging for victory in 1992 was likely to put a very significant damper on the proceedings. When entries closed for the race, about two months earlier, the FISA went so far as to suggest that there were 43 entries. When the week-end of the race arrived however, the reality was that only 31 cars arrived at the circuit for scrutineering. It was abundantly clear (if it had not been previously), that the figures quoted by the FISA had been substantially massaged, in an effort to deflect the inevitable criticism. True, the line-up did include six top class cars, three Peugeots and three Toyotas, so at the very least, we could hope for a substantial battle between these two teams. Alas, the entry, small though it was, was bolstered further by the inclusion of three dreadfully slow open "spyder" cars, which would prove to be a constant nuisance to even the slowest of the other competitors during the race, and veritable mobile chicanes for the fastest cars. A big cheer would, however, be reserved for one valiant British effort. The entry of the BRM P351 was something to be applauded by all of the Brits present. Unfortunately, the car had been shown to have many problems in the extremely limited testing and practice which it was able to undertake, and only one of the three drivers slated to drive it actually managed to qualify, due to lack of track time. It would not be seen for all that long in the race, but while it was, it sounded absolutely glorious.
Much sabre-rattling and the usual empty promises came forth from the FISA headquarters in Paris in the run up to the 1992 race. The newly-elected President, Max Mosley, made a number of comments to try and satisfy those concerned that the FISA wished to assure the future of Le Mans, and it was even suggested by some cynics that we could find ourselves with another 24 hour touring car race on the calendar, bearing in mind the resurgence of popularity in that category. A thoroughly diabolical suggestion! The ACO would start legal proceedings against the FISA after the race in 1992, claiming loss of revenue as a result of the FISA failing to meet its contractual obligations with the organising club, as drawn up in 1990.