Le Mans 1998 - Wayne Gardner and Riley & Scott
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Le Mans 1998 - Wayne Gardner and Riley & Scott

Victorious in the head class of the 500cm3 in 1987 and four-time winner of the 8 Hours of Suzuka, throughout the 1980s Wayne Gardner was Team Rothmans Honda's emblematic driver.

Victorious in the head class of the 500cm3 in 1987 and four-time winner of the 8 Hours of Suzuka, throughout the 1980s Wayne Gardner was Team Rothmans Honda's emblematic driver. On the world's circuits, he did battle with namely Randy Mamola, Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, Christian Sarron, Michael Doohan and Didier de Radiguès. It was with the latter, and Philippe Gache, that the fiery Australian took part in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, a first after a motorsports retraining that went full-time in 1993.

Gardner participated at the wheel of a car with a very characteristic look and sound: a Riley & Scott Mk III, whose 5L V8 Ford engine was designed and developed at Solution F.

During the prequalifying sessions on Sunday, May 3, 1998, the French team presented a nondescript white car. That day, during which the times clocked were of paramount importance, allowed Philippe Gache and his men to pursue the development of their machine. Though naturally the boss took the wheel of the  No. 21 Riley & Scott Mk III, only Anthony Beltoise accompanied him for Sunday's sessions. Despite a few power steering issues, the two men clocked encouraging times including a best time of  3:51:818 and were in 29th position by the end of the day.

So, it was at the technical and administrative verifications that Gardner officially began participating alongside Gache and de Radiguès with a car in the blue of the outfit's main sponsor. The free practice and qualifying sessions allowed the Australian to familiarize himself with his car and the 24 Hours circuit. The times clocked by Gardner were also encouraging and the No. 21 trio got the 26th time overall in 3:54:274, and the 11th in an LM P1 class dominated by the BMW V12 LM of Martini/Cecotto/Winkelhock.

As of the start, given by Bill Campbell (Mayor of Atlanta), the American prototype prepared in France put up a fight namely with the Courage C36 and Ferrari 333 SP. Though after four hours of racing, the driver line-up of the No. 21 Riley & Scott Mk III was in a very nice 16th spot overall, three laps behind the No. 29 Toyota GT One in the lead, Gardner was taken by surprise in the Indianapolis turn and lost control of his car. At 8:00 p.m., the trio dropped back to 22nd position overall before giving up another spot around 10:00 p.m. after a neverending hood change. The beginning of the night in La Sarthe that was spent in the middle of the Grand Touring pack was trying for Gardner and his teammates who finally had to give up in the 13th race hour due to a broken V8 piston.

Though Gardner never competed in the 24 Hours again, he pursued his racecar driver career up until 2002, particularly in V8 Supercars with Ford and Holden and in the Japan Grand Touring Car Championship in a Toyota Supra.