LE MANS
Pre Le Mans
-
14/06/2001
 
Those We Won't See
This Year
 
Before getting down to preview material, first a chance to reflect on those we shan't have a chance to admire at the 69th running of the great race.

There will be some famous names missing, a few of them for the saddest of reasons. As the proper millennium started just over five months ago, we would have expected to watch Bob Wollek have at least one more effort at a second class win, see Michele Alboreto seek another overall win, perhaps spy Jean-Louis Ricci somewhere at the event and even, although that may not have been hinted at then, looked out for Dale Earnhardt at his first French 24 hours.

NASCAR's hero loved the Daytona 24 so much, he was seriously suggesting that he ought to try the real thing. Perhaps it wouldn't have been this year, perhaps it would. A real racer, that man. February's events at Daytona still defy belief, but the state of Florida was to be the scene of Bob Wollek's demise a month later. That one stunned fewer people, because road racers from Europe don't attain the adulation from so many people as NASCAR boys do, but Bob had even more history behind him. 30 starts at Le Mans, and still as quick as the young guys. Struck down on his bicycle, leaving Sebring on the afternoon prior to the race. Heartbreaking. Spare him a moment or two as the 69th race starts.



Michele Alboreto will be close to the hearts of the Joest Team throughout race week. He loved to be behind the wheel, racing whenever he could. He was in a Lamborghini at Monza the weekend before he died - simply because he loved it. No typical ex-F1 man this, a gentle, polite man, as good as any at his peak, another 24 hour win a real possibility. Snatched away by a puncture. Perhaps the shape of things to come will start to become clear after meetings at this year's race. His legacy could be safer cars for everyone from 2004.



Jean-Louis Ricci was a 12 time racer at Le Mans, the last in 2000 with his son Romano - and Thierry Perrier - in the latter's GT3R. He'd driven Courages and 962s with gentlemanly aplomb, but sharing with his son must have been better than that. He took his last chance to do so, before cancer took him.





Shane Lewis should have been here this time, in the Callaway C12, but he's had to withdraw on medical grounds. It should have been a simple little operation, to insert a small pin to strengthen the tibia in his right leg. Walking two days later? That was the plan. The gap between Sebring and Le Mans was the longest all season, so that seemed like good timing. Shane didn't know until the morning of the operation that there was a chance they might have to do a little more. That involved all sorts of hardware, and the pain was appalling. Despite endless physiotherapy, he's had to withdraw from the 24. When he heals, he'll be better than new and raging to race. Look out ALMS.

Other absences this year are for more predictable, racing / budget / drive-availability reasons. Or in Allan McNish's case, an F1 contract. Audi wanted him back as stand in, but he's committed to F1, for now. JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller would have been sensational in the M3 GTR round Le Mans, but they'll be on the sidelines this time. If BMW had entered, Porsche would have had to respond, and LMGT could have been an almighty scrap. Which other manufacturer might have responded to BMW's challenge? It's a privateer battle this time, so no Lucas Luhr - while Sascha Maassen moves up to a Reynard. No Wolfgang Kaufmann as this is written, though Freisinger's entry is still listed with only one driver. Two quick guys to join Gunnar Jeannette, perhaps? Who could that be?

Olivier Grouillard is too busy with his business to drive for Henri, Thomas Bscher has faded from the scene with his '98 BMW, Mauro Baldi hasn't found a drive, Pier-Luigi Martini didn't seem to want a drive, the Ferte brothers may have flirted with the idea of an old Lotus, and Bill Auberlen is racing M3s. David Donohue and Tommy Archer were classic 24 hour men, but both are lost to GT racing internationally (for) now.

Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere's name is missing this time, which will make the entry easier to reproduce, while Pierre-Henri Raphanel returned last year with Mario, but not this time. Jean-Marc Gounon was a possible for the Gulf Audi but didn't make the cut, while James Weaver chose not to be involved in 2001.

Driver selection for this race is a fickle old matter. It's not Daytona, where the dollar will always get you a seat, but if you've got talent and a sponsor......if you've only got talent, you'll likely have to wait. The depth of talent on display will likely be admired by at least one watching F1 driver, while Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell (former winners of course) come back to Le Mans for another try. Have a safe journey, all 144 of you.




Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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