Charles Ivey Racing Team - 24hr Le mans winner in 1981, 82 & 83 (class 2) with Porsche
People often ask me how a small independent garage could create a racing team that could win the class 2 at Le Mans 3 times; between 1981 and 1983. The answer is love.
It was not love in the way I love my family but the love of building and nurturing an amazing racing car. Charles Ivey racing raced a Porsche 935 in 1981 and 82 then a 930 Turbo in 1983. These cars became everything we lived for.
Every night for nearly two months before Le Mans there were four of us tending to its every need. Working until late in the evening, greasy hands from working on the engine or the pizza that kept us going was the only salary we received as we worked away. We didn’t mind, as I said it was love that drove us on, we wanted to create the most reliable, high performance car in the world. We were determined to be the best.
Then the time came. The night before we left the UK I felt the same as when I was a child at Christmas, tossing and turning hoping that Santa was going to leave the gleaming toy train that I had been looking at all year. All the late nights, all the sweat and grime, would it be worth it.
So typically on the second Monday in June race week came and it was off to Dover, car loaded on the truck, some mechanics in the van following on while others had to stay behind to keep the business running but would join us at the weekend. For the first few days we rented a local garage in the outskirts of Le Mans and set to work. Gear ratios changed, everything checked. As we could not get access to the track we use to test the car on the village high street. It was quite a spectacle, locals on the way back from collecting their croissants deafened by a Porsche 935 accelerating up the high street to the amusement and ‘blind eye’ of the local police as it was all part of what the locals had been waiting all year for, the return of their race.
Middle of the week it was time for scrutineering in the local park. Fifty five cars being pushed around from test station to test station, mechanics fighting with the differential steering sweating under the French summer sun getting everything measured & checked. Petrol heads from a multitude of nations watching every move, trying to predict who would do well on the race day.
Then Thursday came and it was off to the track. Testing, testing and more testing. The first challenge was qualification. We were confident the car would do it but could the drivers. For a driver to make a team and be allowed to race they needed to get round within a set % of the fastest driver. Only once did it look as if one driver may struggle as the speed of the trees spooked him at 220mph going down the main straight but after a few practice laps he made it through.
It’s difficult to describe how you feel before the race, the atmosphere is amazing. Noise from the bands mixed with roaring car engines. People everywhere, TV crews after interviews, mechanics running to get spare parts desperate the car was ready for the off.
So the time came, 50 plus cars, Porsche’s, Ferraris, Mazda’s, Ford Cosworths, BMW,s Peugeot and many others with many representing works teams with all the resources of the manufacturer behind them. Then there was us, a ‘privateer’ according to the French record books. Charles Ivey racing, a small independent garage from Fulham, with a car built on love over many spring evenings. Would that love give us what was needed to win Le Mans. So off we go pushing the car to the start line, trying not to run anyone over, lost in the din of the cheering crowd who seemed even more excited than we were. Once on the grid in position it was like leaving your child for the first time at school. How would we get on? Could our beautiful Porsche, built on love, run for 24 hours non-stop and complete over 300 laps faster than all those other great cars?
Unlike racing these days we didn’t have to run back to sit in front of monitors we walked the few yards back to the pits waving to the crowds but at the same time suffering that tight anxious feeling as the race was about to start. The rumbling of engines soon became a thunder as the cars moved off for their rolling start.
The first few hours we started to settle into the routine of checking the equipment, getting ready for the pit stops having some of Charlie’s wife delicious beef stew with copious amounts of coffee as we headed into the night. Every hour the car would come in for fuel, two minutes was the permitted refuel time. Tyres were checked for ware and brake discs checked for cracks so we were ready at any time to replace them. There were no radios in the early 80’s it was either a lap board from us to tell the driver there would be a problem or they flashed their lights so we knew they were coming in next time around.
As the night came the darkness was broken by the continuous whine of the engines and the shot of flame out of the exhaust from the white hot turbos. In fact, the drivers used to use the turbo flames to judge how far they were from the car in front as the tail lights were poor, particularly in bad weather.
Trying to grab some rest in between pit stops, lying on floors with tyres as pillows dawn came and we were still running and were in the leading pack. As light came the crowds started to reappear and Charlie’s wife’s stew was replaced with traditional French fare of croissants, bread and even stronger coffee as we readied ourselves for the day ahead.
1, 2, 3 o’clock came and went and we were still in the race but would all that love for the car pay off and we would actually finish, but could we win it? Then come 4 o’clock our dreams were realised three years running, we won our class! Replacing the racket of the engines was the sound of popping champagne corks, cheering, hugging and the occasional kiss. All the time and effort over the many nights in the Fulham garage living off pizza had been worth it. The elation of victory is an amazing feeling, particularly when it is hard won through a fantastic team effort and love.
After elation comes exhaustion. With many of the team having to be back at work on the Monday packing up started immediately for the long journey home, but a very satisfying journey. We snatched a victory meal where fatigue was too much for some. Mike, our team manager was half way through his victory speech, which was becoming more garbled and meaningless, and eventually came to an end with Mike collapsed in front of us with his face in his food.
So in the days of the early 80’s when cars were an engineer’s delight where everything was down to the engineer’s ability and computerised systems did not exist Charles Ivey Racing won its class 3 times. We did go on to race at Le Mans a few years subsequently, but what happened then is a different story, best saved for another day!
1981: 55 entries, 4th overall and first in class (18 finished)
1982: 55 entries, 8th overall and first in class (18 finished)
1983: 51 entries 11th overall & first in class (20 finished)
To find more about Charles Ivey, please go to: http://www.charlesivey.com/about-us/
This article was written by Alvaro Crego, Manager of Charles Ivey garage and former mechanic of Charles Ivey Racing Team. The picture is thanks to Porsche Club GB