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MG Back To Le Mans

by Larry Roberts

January 29, 2001

Within the next couple of years, the starting grid of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race will take on the trappings of an old-school reunion. A number of brand names that raced there in "the old days" will be returning to the fray.

We've already covered the fact that Aston Martin, Chrysler, Bentley and a couple of others will return to the event as factory-sponsored Prototype teams. Some of these will be returning after an absence of many decades. The last Bentley to race there made the starting line in 1951 and Aston Martin last contested the event in 1959 and was the overall winner that year.

And now another famous British marque plans to reappear in that famous French race. MG (the initials of its original birth place, the Morris Garage in Oxford, England) is planning a major assault on the event and has gone to great lengths to mount a first-class attack.

This news is sure to gladden the hearts of the diehard MG "true believers" here who saw the venerated sports car leave the US in 1980, its nimble little MGB roadster having been vitiated by American smog and safety restrictions. Since that time, MG clubs here have become almost cult-like in they're dedication to maintaining the breed. The last time an MG raced at Le Mans was in 1965 when a lone MGB finished second in it's class.

The current MG Le Mans effort is being undertaken by the Hugh Chamberlin racing organization which was actually the second choice of MG Rover. Mike Earle's Arena Motorsport team was scheduled to undertake the project but elected at the last minute to go with a private Audi-based organization and a car, the Audi R8, that is a proven winner.

The Chamberlin group is financed in a three year, two-car run at the European sports car championship which includes the Le Mans classic. The powerplants are to be ARE-developed two-liter, twin-turbocharged MG-Rover engines. The cars themselves will be B2K/40 SR2 two-seaters built by Lola Cars International in Huntington for the LMP 675 Prototype class.

The MG Car Company has gone through a couple of tempestuous years as part of the parent MG Rover Group. Owned until a few years ago by BMW, it was on the brink of closure late last year when it was rescued at the 11th hour by John Towers, the leader of a British consortium that was determined to keep MG a British brand.

The MG Le Mans effort is reputed to cost around $45-million but the present MG-Rover Group believes it's worth the gamble to restore the shine to the MG octagon logo and could well lead to its return to the lucrative US market with its current two-seater, mid-engined sports car, the MGF.

That alone will give impetus to us American MG aficionados to lend it our whole-hearted support.