After last year's successful participation, the beautiful Škoda Sport roadster returned to Le Mans in France again this year. The crew of Stanislav Kafka and Michal Velebný took it to the Le Mans Classic, which is only open to cars that have once completed the famous 24-hour race or ,alternatively, to cars of the same type.
The story of this car is full of successes, hopes and also adversity. The Škoda Sport was based on the production model Š 1101 “Tudor” and was produced in two units. The car, with a 1,089 cc engine and 42 hp (31 kW), was given a beautiful all-aluminium body and in September 1949 it was presented at the Czechoslovak Grand Prix, where it won the class up to 1,100 cc. The sporting success encouraged the car's designers, and so the decision was made to enter the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was the 18th edition of this now legendary 24-hour race and Škoda Sport's participation was intended, among other things, to boost sales of the Tudor production cars.
The car has undergone a number of modifications and upgrades to take part in the endurance race. The engine power increased to 50 hp (37 kW), the car received two additional headlights and holes in the front bonnet improved the cooling of the drum brakes. The wheelbase was stretched to 2,150 mm (1,000 in), which improved the car's directional stability. With the set of tools and spare parts that the cars carried at Le Mans at the time, its weight did not exceed 700 kilograms. Thanks to this, the elegant car, which was simply nicknamed "the pancake" because of its body shapes, reached a top speed of 140 km/h and its consumption was around 12 litres per 100 kilometres, which meant less need to fill up the tank compared to its competitors and therefore saved time.
First participation at Le Mans
The factory crew of Václav Bobek and Jaroslav Netušil did a truly excellent job in the race itself. In the category up to 1,100 cc, they were driving for a long time in second position and in the overall ranking, after taking into account the performance coefficient; they climbed up to fifth place. However, after thirteen hours of racing, a trivial technical fault occurred: a broken connecting rod lock took the car out of the race. While this was certainly disappointing, the crew did not despair, as the goal was to learn a lesson from their first participation and return to Le Mans later on.
Unfortunately though, the Škoda Sport did not manage to do that during its active racing career. Although the plan was to enter two Škoda Sport cars in the 1951 race at the Circuit de la Sarthe, this has never happened. This was due to the political atmosphere of the "Cold War". To this day, therefore, the 1950 performance is the only time a Škoda has participated in a major race.
The Le Mans Classic historic car race has been running since 2002 and is open to historic models from 1923 to 1981 that have actually participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the past. The cars compete in six basic and several special categories. In each category, the cars complete a qualifying session, a night practice session and then a total of 2 hours and 9 minutes of racing. These are divided into three 43-minute blocks. In the middle of each run, there must be a driver change during a pit stop. One of the sessions is special in such a way that it starts in the traditional Le Mans manner, so drivers must, following the starter´s instruction run across the track to the cars which they then start and start the race.
Return to the Track de La Sarthe
Škoda Sport returned to Le Mans after all. Following careful renovation, the car was ready for the Le Mans Classic historic car race. After the original plans were postponed due to the corona virus pandemic, the car finally returned to the de la Sarthe track in 2022 with its original starting number. In the race, in which crews complete several practice sessions and then three 43-minute race sessions, the Škoda Sport started with its original 1950 starting number: number 44. The Stanislav Kafka and Michal Velebný duo then successfully brought the car to the finish line in 47th place out of 74 starting crews.
This year, Škoda Sport and its crew made another Le Mans comeback again. "Being at Le Mans is of course a great honour, because it is an absolutely legendary race," said Stanislav Kafka about his participation. According to him, the only Škoda car ever to take part in the race simply could not miss the La Sarthe circuit in the centenary year of the start of the first 24 Hours of Le Mans. "The history of this car is a family affair for me. The designer of the car's bodywork was my grandfather, who at the time was the chief designer of coachwork at Škoda," added Michal Velebný.
The crew completed Friday's qualification in 6:47:240 and the subsequent night practice in 8:06:060. However, Saturday's race was marred by an accident of the Czech representative. After the first lap of the race, the car got a skid at the end of the finishing straight and ended up on the edge of the track and the safety bay. Unfortunately, the Lotus driving just behind was unable to avoid the Škoda Sport and crashed into its side. Both drivers escaped uninjured, but the Škoda Sport was damaged to such an extent that it could not continue. The car's clutch and brake pedals were blocked and the floor was deformed. "This also belongs to motorsport," comments Michal Velebný and then continues “but the car is now fully restored and we took part in the Classic Days event in Düsseldorf at the beginning of August".
This year's Le Mans race was in the spirit of celebrating the centenary of the first 24 Hours of La Sarthe. It was not the 100th edition, the first race was held in 1923, and 2023 was the 91st edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was due to stoppages in 1936 (strike) and 1940-1948 (World War II and subsequent reconstruction of the circuit). During the corona virus pandemic, the main race was held, but some other Le Mans events (such as the Le Mans Classic) were cancelled.