A HIGH OCTANE LOVE STORY
I fell in love with classic cars in my eleventh summer, when my dad turned up at home with a 1969 Alfa Romeo Spyder, of course, in vermillion red. Previously boring car journeys to visit relatives became full blown adventures. It was the raw material childhood memories are made of.
I felt a similarly childish level of excitement upon attending Le Mans Classic this summer, a biennial vintage sports car event held on the grounds of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, jointly organised by Peter Auto and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. Patrick Peter, the owner of Peter Auto, is a long time friend of Richard Mille. Peter approached Mille back in 2002, being aware of his passion for cars, to propose him to be the title sponsor of the event. Mille accepted and they have since worked together to make Le Mans Classic the successful and famous event it is today. Mille is not a stranger to racing, “I do like to drive on circuits during the year,” he says, “what I like the most is to have a few laps as quickly as possible, to have my dose of adrenalin and then I am done.
Generally, to run hours and hours is not my cup of tea. I prefer to spend quality time with friends who share the same passion.” Richard Mille’s love of cars started at an early age, “Since I was very young, I was fascinated by the mechanics of cars. I went with my father to my first Grand Prix in Monaco in 1966. This was a revelation in following what would become the golden age of motor racing.” It was here that he saw Bruce McLaren driving the M2B, the very first McLaren Formula 1 car, designed by Robin Herd and fell head over heels in love with the sport, to the point that he actually bought that very car six years later. To date, I am told this car holds a special place in his heart. This year, Mille had two cars competing during Le Mans Classic: a LOLA T212 FVC 1970 and another LOLA T70 Mk III B 1969. Mille´s two lifelong passions, watches and cars, finally came together when he signed a ten year partnership with McLaren, and the high-tech RM 50-03 McLaren F1 was created, to the delight of watch collectors worldwide. “There is a very close link between this passion, the brand
“There is a very close link between this passion, the brand and its developments,”
Mille explains, “we develop our watches with the same consistency required for the construction of a racing car, in which the chassis, engine and bodywork must all be conceived together. Calibres can be removed with the same speed as engine blocks, and access to any particular component very rarely requires that the movement be entirely disassembled. In the automotive world, as in watchmaking, high-performance mechanics call for a similarly excellent chassis. Much as McLaren was the first F1 team to use carbon to lighten their car’s chassis, we introduced the use of carbon nanofibre for baseplates before designing a mono-body baseplate in Carbon TPT®. Formula 1 cars from the 1960s have also influenced me. Their tubular chassis are veritable works of art, so much so, that they inspired the tubular baseplate of the extremely rare RM 012.” Mille’s creativity inspired by the automotive world extended to create a series of Le Mans Classic limited edition watches, the latest of which, the RM 11-03 Le Mans Classic has an RMAC3 automatic.
Their tubular chassis are veritable works of art, so much so, that they inspired the tubular baseplate of the extremely rare RM 012.” Mille’s creativity inspired by the automotive world extended to create a series of Le Mans Classic limited edition watches, the latest of which, the RM 11-03 Le Mans Classic has an RMAC3 automatic calibre heart (or should I say “engine”), completed with a flyback chronograph that can literally flatten the on-track lap timers. Furthermore, its twin mainspring barrels offer fifty five hours of power reserve. The case is made of white ceramic combined with Graph TPT®, a carbon-based material six times lighter than steel and 200 times stronger. Dial detailing in British Racing Green and yellow lends an undeniable classic racing vibe to what is otherwise an almost futuristic-looking watch. Just a hundred and fifty of these watches will be made.
The Le Mans Classic event of 2002 was the first time since 1923 that the full 24-hour circuit, part of which is public road, was closed specifically for an event other than the annual running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with contemporary sport cars and prototypes, thus allowing car owners and drivers to experience what it must have been to race these cars on this circuit. The event consists of a series of races for cars which have competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans or for similar cars of the same model. Only cars from prior to 1979 are allowed, with all being broken into six different eras. To compete in the races, a driver must own an FIA International Competition license, meaning the drivers are of professional level. Car shows and auctions are hosted on the Bugatti Circuit grounds, with various car clubs meeting
The event consists of a series of races for cars which have competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans or for similar cars of the same model. Only cars from prior to 1979 are allowed, with all being broken into six different eras. To compete in the races, a driver must own an FIA International Competition license, meaning the drivers are of professional level. Car shows and auctions are hosted on the Bugatti Circuit grounds, with various car clubs meeting to show off machinery. The 2018 edition saw record-breaking numbers of participants (700 cars) and attendees (135,000 spectators), with over a thousand drivers coming from all over the world, plus more car clubs, exhibitors and activities available on the grounds. In 70 years of history of this great endurance event, the 2018 Le Mans Classic celebrated the 40th anniversary of Alpine’s victory in the 24 Hours, the 25th of the historic triple of the Peugeot 905; and 70 years ago Porsche really came of age with the launch of its first series production car, the famous 356.
There were numerous celebrations of other iconic makes and models starting with the 50th anniversary of Ligier, the Ferrari 365 Daytona, the BMW 2002. In addition to the traditional Grids 1 through 6, and Group C, representing Le Mans racing cars from 1923 to 1993, the new Global Endurance Legends grid introduced a new era into Le Mans Classic, the GT1s and other LMP1s of the 1990s and 2000s. With this demonstration grid, the event now widens its retrospective view of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to 2016, with the famous Audi R8, Bentley Speed 8, Peugeot 908 HDI and more, such as the McLaren F1 and Maserati MC12. Richard Mille famously invites a number of friends and partners to this adrenaline charged weekend, such as Mike Flewitt, CEO of McLaren Automotive, the future Formula E driver Felipe Massa, WRX driver Sébastien Loeb and football player Didier Drogba, who gave the start on Saturday for Little Big Mans — the race for children.
A hundred or so replicas of endurance vehicles promptly sprang into action on the straight before the stands as the public cheered them on. Their adult colleagues took to the track at 4.00 pm, with Grid 1 reserved for pre-war vehicles (1923-1939) marking the official start of the 9th edition of Le Mans Classic. Sébastien Loeb and Felipe Massa together waved the French flag, signalling that man and machine were free to take on the Le Mans track. The grids would follow one another in lining up until the following afternoon at the same time. Between the races, the activities organized by all the car make clubs, those hosted in the Collectors’ Enclosure and all the events in The Village (Drive-In cinema, bowling pitches, period motorbikes…), it is difficult for me to think of a better way or better company in which to spend a summer weekend.