INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (July 11, 2023) - Era Motorsport celebrated the Centenary celebration of the world renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans by participating in the Peter Auto Le Mans Classic, an incredible celebration of everything endurance racing from the very inception.
Over 800 competing cars, 1,200 drivers, 8,500 display cars, and 200,000 fans filled the iconic Circuit de La Sarthe as three and a half days of racing, demonstrations, and entertainment poured from every direction, no matter where you were on-site.
Racing for the official Le Mans Classic was split into 6 Grids separated by years to allow the most iconic cars of a given Era to race like it was the good old days.
Era Motorsport was given the incredible opportunity to enter two cars into the main event, and another into a support category.
First up was Dwight Merriman’s 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT Lightweight which had a massive upgrade in the form of a new engine right before the event, making it one of the top contenders not only in its class, but in all of Grid 3 with Era owner Kyle Tilley joining Dwight at the helm.
Meanwhile in Grid 5, the trusty and always quick Lola T210 would be competing with a slew of other similar prototypes and many other GT cars from the 1966-1971 era with Will Nuthall and Tilley behind the wheel.
In the Group C support category the team’s final entry was Merriman and Tilley sharing a Nissan NPT-90, which had undergone an extensive rebuild process prior to being shipped over to the UK earlier this year.
With three cars in tow, the Era Motorsport crew headed to Le Mans for what was sure to be one of the most memorable events of the year.
With a packed schedule of 16 total sessions across three days of racing, Era Motorsport hit the track early on Friday for the first qualifying session in the Group C category with the NPT-90. After the long rebuild, finally hitting the grid with a full field of incredible cars, from the Jaguar XJ9-R, to the Lola T92/10 was an incredible moment for the team. Unfortunately, during the first session things would end poorly for the Nissan, as an engine failure would bring irreparable damage to the car and take it out of the rest of the weekend.
“This one hurts,” admitted Tilley, “we thought we were over the initial engine niggles, but sadly it appears not, this one will be back to the drawing board again.”
Thankfully, the next session in the Aston Martin DB4 GT went better for the team, landing Pole Position in class and 11th overall out of over 80 competitors, a good omen for the car. In the night session things continued to look up as Merriman looked extremely comfortable in the car despite racing in the dark, in the wet, and using period-correct vehicle lighting.
The Lola T210 didn’t fare quite as well on its first day as a mysterious electrical gremlin seemed to be in the process of taking the car out of competition, but thankfully despite a few practice sessions lost to the process of fixing the car, it was fully fixed and ready to get on track for the races the next day when it really counted.
The first race for the team on Saturday evening went well as Tilley and Merriman finished with the DB4 in the top 15 after fighting their way back from an early spin, setting some of the fastest laps along the way.
Starting in 13th for the second race, Merriman and Tilley once again set to work, this time easily finding their way to the class lead, and fourth overall!
“The Aston was just incredible on track,” said Tilley. “I feel we have the chassis really dialed in now, and it’s just complimented so well by the new engine”.
Sadly, after making such an incredible push, the Aston fell victim to its own mechanical before the end of the race, when the mounts for the Watts Linkage failed.
Tilley was still able to finish 14th overall and third in class, which is quite the feat for having a broken car for two laps, but obviously it’s not the finish that the team was hoping for.
Sadly further investigation revealed the extent of the damage, and despite being incredibly quick, and being eligible for 4th on the starting grid in the final race, the Aston had to retire for the weekend.
And then there was one, the Lola T210. Despite not putting in a representative qualifying time, the car was back running on all cylinders and ready to hit the track for race-on of Grid 5 on Saturday evening.
Starting 65th on the grid, the duo had a lot of time to make up, but started making progress immediately. After one lap the little Lola was up 31 positions, and by lap five they had hit the top 20.
Their final finishing position was 18th, and 7th in class, with a 12th place spot on the starting grid for race two.
Sadly, that starting position wouldn’t matter in the end, as an issue getting the car started when heading to the grid left Tilley starting in 70th place.
Despite this, the team put in the best drive they had all weekend, reaching seventh place by lap six, and an overall finish of 10th by the end of the race.
In the final race of the weekend, The duo of Nuthall and Tilley finally had a good starting position and were able to move up to fourth place with ease, and hold that position for most of the race.
Bad luck had to strike again however, when contact with a competitor put Nuthall into the barriers on the run to the Ford Chicane.
“It’s easy to look at the weekend and be disappointed with the finishes we had, compared to the work and speed we showed overall,” said Tilley, “but really how upset can you be?”
“We spent all weekend surrounded by some of the most important race cars in history at Le Mans! And more than that, we proved we had some of the best speed in many of our cars.”
“How bad of a time can you really have at the Le Mans Classic?”