I first lugged a camera to the great race, Le Mans 24 Hours, in 1979 – but spectacular incompetence, even by my own lofty standards, meant that none of the photos were exposed properly. But you live and learn, and a year later I returned mastering some of the basics. Now as June approaches, I have an impulse, lemming-like, to head in the direction of La Sarthe. What will I do in early summer when I no longer have an association with Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans is anyone's guess. Therapy will probably be part of the answer, or perhaps the bottle… but I digress. I looked back earlier at my professional (if that is quite the right expression) relationship with the Le Mans 24 Hours HERE, HERE and HERE . Check out any of those or follow along with me here as I look back at some old photos and remember the way that Le Mans 24 Hours 1980 unfolded.
Back in 1980 I was using negative film, so the poor quality of these images is not wholly down to the photographer, just mostly, especially when trying out some "art". Today I would judge this effort to be as valid as cave dwellers etchings…
My modest foray into photography skills had indeed improved in the year since my first time capturing the race, as I managed to sell the above shot to Excellence magazine some 30+ years later. I even got paid! Jürgen and Simone enjoying a private moment in that most public of places, the pit lane.
Jürgen Barth had been one of Porsche's heroes in their epic come-back victory in 1977 (I wrote a cameo about that car HERE). In 1980 he was part of a team that was developing the 924 Carrera into a race car - with Manfred Schurti he would finish sixth overall.
Nowadays at Le Mans 24H, which is taking place this a week from now, one thing that is totally different is the ability of the paying public to witness the activity in the pits – it is a different view entirely.
The best of the 512BBs has some attention.
As does the De Cadenet on its way to seventh.
By this point the drivers are hidden in their pit boxes until the car comes in, but photographers are still annoying.
The race was largely composed of privateers - as the recent Porsche v. Renault factory battles in the leading prototypes ended with the Regie's victory in 1978, leaving them to depart to Formula One. Lancia sent two factory Lancia Beta Monte Carlo GTs, but both were retired within two hours of the start with engine maladies as a consequence of oil pressure problems.
Lancia salvaged a little pride with a class victory for the Jolly Club entry of Carlo Facetti and Martino Finotto.
Numerically, as was common at the time, Porsche was the best-represented marque on the grid with 23 out of 55 starters. Typical of the privateer entries from Porsche was Puerto Rican 934 for Armando Gonzalez, Francisco Romero and Diego Fables - they retired after an accident, having completed 164 laps.
There were 15 variations of the Porsche 935 in 1980, with the best of the bunch finishing fifth overall and taking IMSA GT honors.
Said car was entered by Dick Barbour, who shared the driving duties with John Fitzpatrick and Brian Redman. Here, Dick anticipates a stop by the second car while driver Bob Garretson looks on. Garretson would win the Daytona 24 Hours the following year, leading to taking the 1981 World Endurance Championship for Drivers.
There were five Ferrari 512BB to contest matters with Porsche - this Charles Pozzi entry for Pierre Dieudonné, Jean Xhenceval and Hervé Ragout being the best, with a spot in the top ten.
Resembling the current day LM P2 prototype class aimed at privateer teams was the under 2-litre Group 6 class, this Dorset Racing Lola T297/98 driven by Martin Birrane, Nick Mason (Pink Floyd's drummer,) and Peter Clark finished third in class.
The race was horribly wet with the deluges punctuated by hot spells, all very unpleasant but it actually led to a thrilling finish.
Here as the shadows lengthen along the Main Straight, the WM P 79/80 of Max Mamers and Jean-Daniel Raulet leads the pre-race favorite Porsche 908/80 of Jacky Ickx and Reinhold Jöst.
As an aside, virtually nothing remains of this scene just 35 years later, with everything changing in 1991 when the new pits were finished. The Gendarmes (outfitted officers for you Westerners) have also largely disappeared from the stadium area, a pity as they added an authentic Gallic flavor to the proceedings.
At first glance, a casual fan would have looked at the Porsche and assumed it was another of the 936 squad, in fact it was designated a 908/80. The 908/80 was a bit of mongrel, a consequence of the Top Brass at Porsche decreeing that the three-time Le Mans winning 936 be put into retirement - largely as reaction to the shellacking they received from Renault in the 1978 race.
A number of 936 spare parts were “liberated” from Weissach and magically appeared in Jöst’s workshop. There a new car was assembled, but to tow the corporate line it was designated the 908/80 - to simple folk like me it was a 936… quack, quack, quack and all that.
The main opposition was expected to come from a trio of locally built Rondeaus and a trio of Peugeot-powered WMs.
The final result was, as so often happens at Le Mans, decided in favor of the team who read the changing weather conditions best - Jean-Pierre Jaussaud (right) managed to hold on, against the best efforts of Jacky Ickx. For Jean Rondeau it was his day of days, he remains the only driver to win Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans in a car bearing his name.
The fashion police in the 70's would have had their work cut out at Le Mans that year, the already questionable taste in clothes was further corrupted by the torrents of rain, we were all glad to get that race finished.
A trip down memory lane... stand by for some exciting coverage coming from 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours!