One of the highlights and main features of the 24 Hours of Le Mans of yesteryear used to be the ride on the six kilometre-long Mulsanne straight. Group C was yet the fastest class of sportscars. Here’s the mixdown.
Earlier we discussed the changes to the Circuit de la Sarthe over the times. One of the most significant ones of later years was the FIA-regulated chicanes added to the infamous Mulsanne straight to keep the cars running at the insane speeds of Group C cars. Inarguably, it was the wise decision to make.
In 1988, at the height of the Group C era and two years before breaking up said straight, one French team decided to set one record straight (pun intended).
The plan was called “Project 400".
The Welter Racing Peugeot P88 was solely built with top speed in mind. A low-drag bodyshape was created along with some reconfiguration of the radiators and the turbo intercoolers, which proved to be next to undriveable under proper racing conditions.
Then happy hour set.
Unrelated video, just play it and read on.
The car was prepared for the blow the team had been waiting for all year. All body seals were taped, all vents, air intakes were covered, risking - but not minding - a blow-up of the engine.
All the efforts were made, all the work had been going on in the preceding 12 months to slingshot a car once to a yet uncharted territory of velocity.
The car - driven by Frenchman Dorchy - left the pits and slowly accelerated towards the final turn before the straight, taking a swing around Tetre Rouge.
Mulsanne is called a straight, except it’s not one. Horizontally, there’s a kink in it towards the end, vertically it has enough changes of elevation to send cars flying into the trees as many have experienced over the years. Surrounded by houses and a forest, looks like a sine wave from the side, bumpy, might be damp, could be covered by pieces of branches, oil and other car fluids and parts, while there is a race on it for 24 hours with dozens of cars driving around.
The V6 turbo turned its grunt to a scream and raced through the waves of the road, ever increasing its speed. The violent shake that can only be sensed by experienced drivers - however smooth it might seem for anyone else - got stronger, as the wheels were fighting with the asphalt and the body with the cloud of air it was pushing.
The Peugeot exploded past the speed trap. The readout was unbelievable.
The engine gave out shortly and that was the end of the run. Nevertheless, history was made that cannot be challenged any more.
The Mulsanne straight was broken up to three parts - divided by two chicanes for 1990.
Peugeot image is courtesy of ultimatecarpage.com. other image is of Creative Commons licence