Vic Elford Recalls Le Mans In The Long Tail
© Andrew S. Hartwell (Original Publication Date Summer 2001)
I had a wonderful time talking with the legendary Vic Elford recently. He and I, and thousands of others with a passion for Porsche cars, were all at Lime Rock Park for the first ever Porsche Rennsport Reunion at LRP. The weather was incredibly beautiful with blue skies, moderate temperatures and no humidity. And the sights and sounds were beyond anyone's expectations as more Porsche racecars were assembled for this glorious weekend than at any point in history.
When you think of the history of Porsche, you can recall some of the greatest names driving some of that marques most enduring designs. Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert in the Gulf blue 917's; Mark Donohue in the 917-30; George Follmer or Hurley Haywood in the 917-10; Hans Stuck or Bob Wollek in almost anything Porsche. The list goes on and on.
Vic Elford was one of the drivers that wrote pages in the Porsche history book, taking their incredible cars to victories in the Monte Carlo Rally, at Daytona, at Nurburgring and at Sebring.
Here, Elford talks a bit about his experience in the 917 long tail at Le Mans. He begins with a comment that I believe the many in attendance at the Rennsport Reunion would be quick to agree with.
Vic Elford: "I think this weekend is fabulous! This is an incredible collection of cars. I was telling Mike Amalfitano - I was driving his 917 Spyder - that now that I have driven that one I am the only man who ever drove every single version of the 917. I drove the very first one. I drove the short tails and in 1970, I was the only factory driver to choose the long tail at Le Mans and with it, I was the first driver to lap Le Mans at over 150 miles per hour.
"I drove the 917-30 in Europe in the Interseries and now I have driven this one. I've driven every single one. And all of them are my favorite! I loved them all even the first un-driveable monster! It was very difficult to drive but I still loved it because it was so fast. My philosophy at Le Mans was always - and still is - have the fastest possible car in a straight line. That way you don't have to race.
"In the days of the 917's and the Ferrari 512's, with the 917's I got to the end of the Mulsanne Straight at the end of the first lap and just as I was getting ready to turn in to the corner, there is this whole gaggle of 917's and 512's coming over the hump behind me. And they had to race! They had to brake hard and race each other. With the long tail, it was 25 miles per hour quicker than anyone else so if I caught someone up I simply waited until we went round the next corner and then just drove by them! Unfortunately I didn't win but that was the way to win.
"The car was so damn quick, by the time we got to the next braking corner they weren't close enough to even think about passing me back. We used to go from Tetre Rouge to Mulsanne as one straight and then from Mulsanne all the way back to Indianapolis. I would get to Indianapolis at over 200 miles per hour. Then for Arnage up through the Porsche Esses there was another long period of acceleration. And then through the chicanes they could catch up a little bit but not nearly enough to even think about passing. With the long tail it was flat all the way down to the esses again and fast through to Tetre Rouge and then I was gone again."
Elford set a record in the long tail when he hit 247 miles per hour on the Mulsanne straight! He also ran races in Alfa Romeo's, Jim Hall's Chaparral-Camaro in the Trans-Am series and the revolutionary and quickly banned Chaparral 2J 'vacuum cleaner'.
The man is a legend and a personable soul to talk with. He is currently mentoring young Milka Duno in her quest to ultimately achieve a place in the world of Formula 1. She could not have a better adviser to guide her along than sportscar legend Vic Elford.