Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman guides us in taking vintage cars around the Le Mans circuit
Pounding priceless cars around the race course was an opportunity too good for Tempus to miss, so we went along for the ride
There’s an almighty racket in the distance, and it’s thanks to Coldplay. Specifically, the band’s bassist Guy Berryman. The instrument he’s tuning up, though, is his silver Ferrari Dino 246 GT and he’s about to head onto the Circuit de la Sarthe, better known as Le Mans. Guy and scores of other classic car enthusiasts are spending the week roaring around France and early in the morning, under battleship grey and foreboding skies, they left Paris’s Grand Palais at an ungodly hour to arrive at this cathedral to motorsport and endurance.
I’m still brushing the sleep from eyes when a mk1 Porsche 911 rounds a corner and nearly runs me over. You can’t come to Le Mans and not think about Steve McQueen. His movie, of the same title, was the ultimate Hollywood vanity project but it also established the archetypal image of the macho gentleman racer. The Zenith Tour Auto Optic 2000 attracts exactly that, young and old, from around the globe, all linked by a passion for fast classic cars and, one assumes, the bank balance to fund it.
This was the 26th running of the 2,500km five-day marathon, and each of the 242 cars entered has a story to tell. Berryman’s Dino, for example, ran out of fuel a couple of days earlier, and while his co-driver marched off with a jerry can Guy was surrounded by French ladies in traditional dress cheerfully offering him oysters.
“There’s a real gang spirit and everyone’s here to help each other through and have a good time,” says the musician (who owns a barn full of classic Ferraris). Despite his fame, he was far from the biggest draw of the drivers. Five- time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Derek Bell and 1981 World Rally Champion and multi Paris-Dakar winner Ari Vatanen took the brunt of the autographing duties.
Under the barrel-vaulted iron, steel and glass roof of the Grand Palais, home to Chanel’s most spectacular shows, the cars looked like supermodels. Among them, the most valuable hand-crafted bodies ever created, like the Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France, built for the legendary rally this tour follows the tyre tracks of. All the cars here fit into a 1951 to 1973 timeframe. The twisting country roads of the route sweep through Brittany and Saint-Malo, Limousin, Limoges, Toulouse and Biarritz. During the day, the cars defy their age and look like the sprightly teenage dreams they were built to be, and at night they sit in the parc ferme on jacks and undergo open-heart surgery.
Sponsors Zenith have capitalised on the evocative nature of this gathering to release the handsome Chronomaster El Primero Open Tour Auto, with the French Tricolore owing from the matte slate-grey dial to its slate-grey bracelet. It’s a proud souvenir for the competitors, and helps them track their lap times around La Sarthe.
Around Le Mans pound a group of priceless GT40s, legendary Fords built speci cally for this track to destroy Ferrari 50 years ago. In 2016, Ford returned with an all-new state-of-the-art GT to recapture the crown. For the guys on the Tour Auto, though, the oldies are the best and Steve McQueen remains their patron saint. It’s all about living out those childhood fantasies, or those of their fathers.