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The Jane name returns to La Sarthe

Nearly 40 decades since supporting an all-star Australian attack on the 24 hours of Le Mans, the name Jane will once again return to the iconic French event.

Porsche Carrera Cup Australia Championship driver Rodney Jane will race at Le Mans in the support race for the globe’s leading endurance event in a 992 Cup Car similar to what he competes in locally for Sonic Motor Racing Services.

It will be Jane’s first start as he reflected on what the event means to him.

“This trip for me means more than just driving a race car at Le Mans,” said Jane.

“My father was instrumental in the careers of many racing drivers, including some of the best names in the sport and he played a pivotal role in getting Peter Brock and Larry Perkins to race there 39 years ago in a Porsche in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Two Bathurst legends racing there was massive news at the time and I’d like to think that this trip is a small way to pay homage to that.

“I’m really excited for this adventure. It is really going to mean a lot to myself and the Bob Jane T-Marts business.”

Jane’s father Bob supported an all out assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans led by Peter Brock and Larry Perkins in 1984 in a John Fitzpatrick Racing Porsche 956.

Having already forged a reputation in local endurance events particularly at Sandown and Bathurst as part of the Holden Dealer Team, the next step was Le Mans.

There was a strong contingent of Australians racing in France in 1984 led by reigning winner Vern Schuppan joined by 1980 Formula 1 World Champion Alan Jones in a Kenwood-sponsored 956, Allan Grice was also in a Porsche as was Australian GT champion Rusty French. In the class battle, Neil Crang was driving a Tiga.

Both Brock and Perkins had experience racing in Europe, particularly the latter as he made it to the heights of Formula 1. Both also had raced at Le Mans, Brock in 1976 driving BMW’s famous 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’ purchased from South Africa and rebuilt in Melbourne, though a head gasket ended his debut 17 hours in. Perkins on the other hand had finished second in class driving a Charles Ivey racing-prepared Porsche 911 six years prior.

During the 1983 Australian Grand Prix, the idea was hatched by a visiting Fitzpatrick for an all-Aussie attack on Le Mans. With the help of Bob Jane, Porsche Australia boss Alan Hamilton and renowned driver manager Greg ‘Pee Wee’ Siddle, the Team Australia entry was launched.

Running a warm up event at Silverstone, a suspension failure forced the team into retirement as Brock in particularly found the increased downforce of the Group C Porsche difficult to drive, while Perkins was experienced with these set ups having been in Formula 1 six years prior.

Between Silverstone and Le Mans proved a chaotic time as the John Fitzpatrick Racing 956 the pair had raced at the English track had been sold to Charles Ivey Racing leading to the crew working overtime to prepare another chassis.

Qualifying 15th, the pair endured a tough opening to the race due to its gruelling nature and the reward was fifth after three hours before a multitude of problems afflicted Brock and Perkins.

The first was a wheel coming off, then a broken rear rocker arm and finally while trying to overtake two lapped entries, Perkins crashed just before 2am at an estimated 240kmh.

Plans to run a new Porsche in 1985 came to nil as Brock was truly spent after Le Mans leading to an introduction to Erik Dowker leading to a dramatic change in his lifestyle.

Perkins remained team manager of the HDT until mid-1985 when he left to form his own engineering company as he won a further three Bathurst 1000s and provided a significant customer support program for many privateers.

Brock did not get to return to Bathurst, but Perkins did in 1988 by joining the all-conquering Tom Walkinshaw Racing Silk Cut Jaguar team finishing fourth outright.

Australian success at Le Mans started with original ‘Bentley Boy’ Bernard Rubin in 1928, Geoff Brabham for the factory Peugeot squad in 1993, with younger brother David completing the feat 16 years later for the French marque.

Many more the likes of Mark Skaife, Wayne Gardner and Mark Webber have also contested Le Mans, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend.