24h Le Mans
When brands show ingenuity...
Sometimes, side stories of sponsorship mix with the bigger story of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Here are four examples.
966 Advertising remains prohibited on cars carrying their national colours (French cars in blue, Italians in red, British in green...) Nonetheless, the front wings of the official Porsches and Matras carry a discreet BP sticker -- but without the two letters of the brand. Even more ingenious, the following year, the Ford GT40 entries from the Wyer camp arrive at Le Mans in the now famous Gulf colours, but without mentioning the marque anywhere. In the same vein, the Alfa-Romeos have the black cats from the Marchal projectors and some entries carry the Elf logo. The mascarade ends the following year when organisers, realising that the rising costs of competition are here to stay, allow teams to show sponsorship in full detail. demeure interdite sur les voitures qui portent toujours les couleurs nationales des écuries (françaises en bleu, italiennes en rouge, anglaises en vert). Mais déjà, les ailes avant des prototypes officiels Porsche et Matra arborent discrètement le blason BP – sans les deux lettres caractérisant la marque. Mieux, l’année suivante, l’écurie Wyer présente deux Ford GT40 aux couleurs bleue et orange de la compagnie pétrolière Gulf. Les Alfa-Romeo arborent quant à elles le chat noir des projecteurs Marchal et certaines voitures françaises le trépan Elf. La mascarade prend fin l’année suivante quand les autorités, conscientes des coûts de plus en plus élevés de la compétition, autorisent les équipes à recourir au sponsoring extra-sportif.
1977 The Oreca team returns to Le Mans with a BMW M1 and limited means. Thanks to his experience, ex European rally Bernard Darniche is given the first stint of the race. Shortly after the start, the car enters the pits, unscheduled. Hugues de Chaunac explains : "I was very surprised because the car had a reputation for being reliable. I was also a bit embarassed to see that we were the first to stop. The mechanics rushed to the car while I approached Bernard to see what's the matter. He was talking but I couldn't understand him, so I asked him to repeat himself. That's when he grabbed me by the shirt: 'Don't worry, I'm going to return to the race.' It's at that moment that I understood that he had voluntarily stopped because the first half-hour of the race was shown live on TV. By coming in to the pits, he knew we'd have the cameras all over us, the car and the sponsors. He simply pulled off an incredible marketing coup that day and it did no harm to our chances in the race."
1991 The new Évin law prohibits all tobacco advertising on French soil. It's a difficult blow to teams who have sponsorship from cigarette companies. But in 1995, David Price Racing found a way around the law when the team added just two letters to the sponsor's logo, becoming the name of an existing regional radio station: West FM...An international buzz for a small radio frequency!
1995 again. The Courage team has a good chance of taking the win. In the early morning, the car runs second. But, when a sponsor requests that the rear bodywork be changed so that their logo be more visible, the operation, usually simple, turns into a nightmare when one of the clips gets stuck. Getting it dislodged takes an agonising four minutes...one too many! The Courage was only three minutes behind the winning McLaren!
Texte : Julien HERGAULT/ ACO - Translated by Rainier Ehrhardt / ACO
Photos : Christian VIGNON, Dan MORGAN