Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: Le Mans

Good news. Someone with a big desk at the BBC has decided there will be 37 editions of Top Gear on your screens next year - 11 or so more than usual. There's also a new series replacing Motorworld, to go on air a year from now. Details are secret but think powerboats and helicopter gunships and you're on the right track.

As well, they've requested a special Motor-world Christmas programme on Britain. We've done the research - mostly by trawling through back issues of this magazine - and on Monday, filming starts in Tony Benn's office. As good a place as any.

Then there's the weekly columns for the Sun and the Sunday Times, the monthly pieces for Top Gear magazine and, for the those of you in the north, a few ads for Mansfield Bitter. And we can't forget Top Gear Live, the huge event at Silverstone where I spend five days on a stage, waxing lyrical about Jaguars and trying to talk you out of an Almera.

The upshot of all this is that my diary is full of clean, virgin pages. Hell, today's Saturday and there's at least a five-minute gap between writing this and heading off to the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

There's so much spare time, in fact, that I've jumped into bed with Noel Edmonds. His beard's a bit scratchy, but for a small person, he has a lot of energy. He's basically a hirsute version of the Caterham JPE.

Anyway, he went to Le Mans last year, scene of his beloved GT40's four crushing victories in the '60s and decided it would be a hoot to start a team and win the race in 1997. Simple. Easy as one, two, three. He also aims to take Le Mans out of the back pages of the Daily Telegraph and onto BBC1 on a Saturday night.

Noel is a man possessed. He revels in the history of the place, reminiscing about those bloody GT40s, Stirling Moss, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Roy Salvadori, the glory days.

Me, I revel in the money. A flick through the Sunday Times book of the 500 richest people in Britain shows a total absence of television presenters and, apart from Nigel Mansell, a dearth of racing drivers, too.

"I drank a lot as the night wore on but this time, there was a Winnebago waiting for my shattered and filthy body at 2am"

But team managers are different. Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and, of course, Bernie Ecclestone are all in there. So when Noel asked if I'd like to be involved in his outfit, I was out of the blocks like a hare with mustard up its bottom.

"No, I've nothing on at all. Me and motor racing - we're like that. Le Mans: I just love it. Go every year. Never miss it."

Not true. I'd been once before, in 1984 I think, and I'm happy to admit it was the worst weekend of my entire life. At three in the morning, I'd drunk so much, it felt like the race was going on inside my head but there was no comfy bed, no starched pillows, no cool sheets. The coach I'd gone across France in was locked and I was forced to doss down in what turned out to be a lavatory.

In the morning, I stumbled across to the track, where those infernal cars had been making such a din all night, to find the leader was about two hours in front of the bloke in second. Wow! This is close racing, I thought, as I tucked into a donkey's fifth leg the French call a sausage.

I went back with Noel this year, sceptical, and I just loved it. There were Dodge Vipers and Ferrari F40s and Porsche 911s which looked like real cars. Tiff was out there, too, battling for British glory in the remarkable Lister with its V12 engine.

I drank a lot as the night wore on but this time, there was a Winnebago waiting for my shattered and filthy body at 2am. Harrods, who sponsor one of the McLarens, provided breakfast. I was having a ball.

Noel was still twittering on about how he wanted to be a part of this historic event, how it would feel to be up there on the podium next year, having not only taken part, but won. Won perhaps the most famous and revered motor race of them all.

But as the cars crossed the line, at about 3pm, I found myself being motivated by something entirely different. I didn't care a toss about the so-called history of the race, and as for the money: who needs it?

First car over the line was a Porsche. So was the second. And the third. A BMW-powered car came fourth, giving Porsche fifth and sixth. I wanted to go back next year for one simple reason: To beat the Germans.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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