Last weekend’s 24-hour Le Mans Classic was more than just another race for Laurent Dassel and Vanderveken automobiles. It was a family affair.
Dassel, business manager for Vanderveken, was not behind the wheel of one his company’s luxury cars, but was at the race to support his step-father, Paul Grant, and his eight year old son, Elliot who were participating in parts of the race.
This year, Dassel’s son competed for the second time in the Little Big Mans, a race reserved for racing drivers aged 6 to 13.
The Litte Big Mans was the 19th race of Le Mans. The other 18 were reserved for models of luxury cars manufactured between 1923 and 1979.
The race was divided in to six grids based on the ages of the cars. For example, grid one was for cars from 1923 to 1939, while grid six was for cars made from 1972 to 1979. Each grid consisted of 68 cars that participated in a practice round as well as three rounds of the race.
Grant, whose wife usually races with him, participated in the first race grid, where he finished twelfth out of more than 50 cars. Although Grant had a solid finish, he and the other drivers had an additional challenge: rainy weather. Grant says that with rain during the night, it was more difficult to see the lights and it was important to look more at the pressure of the tires and feel the car more during the race.
Dassel describes Le Mans as “a big boy’s playground,” where the 109,000 visitors got to see the dream cars whose miniatures they played with during childhood. Some of the finest and most expensive automobiles in the world were at the race, as well as an eclectic group of driving heroes from all over: The United States, Australia, The United Kingdom, France, Germany.
Belgium was well represented at the race as well. Many old racing drivers and famous Belgian characters participated in the race including Roland D’Ieteren, CEO of Belgian car importer D’Ieteren SA, who finished second in grid one.
Although famous drivers participated in the race, Dassel says that with the right preparations, anyone can participate in Le Mans or similar races. All potential drivers need is the right car, a racing license and a medical check up. There are numerous races in which amateurs are welcome to participate and with a basic knowledge of flags and signs and a good car, it does not take long to get in to the sport.
There is no prize for the winner of Le Mans, just the pleasure and enjoyment of the race. Grant says Le Mans is a good race for him. The atmosphere is not aggressive or competitive and the race gives him an opportunity to see his driving friends.
Perhaps the greatest reward for Grant and Dassel from this year’s race is to see eight-year-old Elliot behind the wheel carrying on the family tradition. “It’s amazing to see the little boy racing,” says Grant.