24 Hours of Le Mans – When the memorable Lamborghini Murcielago took on the LMGT1 class
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24 Hours of Le Mans – When the memorable Lamborghini Murcielago took on the LMGT1 class

With Lamborghini officially announcing its plans to compete in the Hypercar class from 2024, we look back at the striking LMGT1-class Murcielago R-GT seen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 2006 to 2010.

Industrialist Ferrucio Lamborghini founded the company that bore his name in 1963. It initially specialised in the manufacture of farm tractors to meet growing demand in Italy, a country undergoing massive reconstruction following the ravages of the Second World War. Unlike other Italian marques such as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Lancia, Lamborghini’s commitment to racing is relatively recent. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans the story really began in 2006, the company’s 55th anniversary year, although there had been one earlier attempt.

A 400 GT was the first Lamborghini to appear at Le Mans in 1975. Paul Rilly entered the V12-engined car in the GTX class for Roger Le Veve and himself. Unfortunately, an accident in free practice meant they were unable to qualify. The unexpected withdrawal of the NART crews by Luigi Chinetti could have opened the door for the car to be reinstated but Rilly missed the call to return it to the track.

Fast forward to 2006. The Japan Lamborghini Owners Club (JLOC) entered a Murcielago R-GT in the LMGT1 class – the elite class for Grand Tourers – that had attracted the likes of the Aston Martin DBR9, Corvette C6.R, Saleen S7-R and Ferrari 550 GTS. Designed and developed in the Reiter Engineering workshops in Bavaria, the Murcielago was driven by the Italian Marco Apicella, and Yasutaka Hinoi and Koji Yamanishi of Japan.  At the end of a race blighted by a spate of technical problems, the car failed to complete the final lap and, as a result, was not classified.

JLOC returned the following year with logistic support from local team DAMS. Atsushi Yogo replaced Hinoi. Hopes were high that the team would draw on their initial experience to field a more reliable car, but the black Murcielago R-GT did not fare any better. Apicella crashed heavily at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight during the first free practice session. The mechanics did a remarkable job to get the car back into shape for the race, but in vain. Gearbox failure ended the team’s race after a single lap.

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In 2008 it was a Russian outfit, Interprogressbank Spartak Racing, who entered the Murcielago R-GT. Roman Rusinov, Mike Hezemans and Peter Kox drove the car that now sported a white livery and was supervised by Hans Reiter himself. A second place in class at the 1000 km of Spa-Francorchamps has given cause for renewed optimism ahead of the race. Unfortunately, technical issues struck once again, preventing the #55 Murcielago from completing 70% of the distance covered by the winning Audi R10 TDi, thus resulting in non-classification.

JLOC returned to Le Mans in 2009 with a car assembled in Japan. However, due to a lack of preparation, the Murcielago R-GT assigned to Yutaka Yamagishi, Marco Apicella and Atsushi Yogo got off to the worst possible start in free practice. A broken driveshaft on the opening lap forced Yogo to bring the car to a halt. As the team did not have a spare among its stock of replacement parts, it contacted Reiter’s workshops in Germany. The repairs were completed but during Thursday’s practice session, a major oil leak was detected. Apicella had seen enough and pulled out. In the race itself, the car completed a single lap before retiring. Not easily discouraged, JLOC returned in 2010 with a Murcielago LP670 R-SV. The objective was clear – finish the race. Once again, however, a whole series of technical problems put paid to those hopes and ultimately forced the crew to throw in the towel after 18 hours of the race.

Despite failing to achieve the sporting performances that aficionados of the cars with the raging bull emblem expected, the imposing physique and V12 engine of the Lamborghini Murcielago will always be remembered at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.