24h Le Mans
30/11/2019 - 16:01

Pink Floyd and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1/2) – 1979, Le Mans and 'The Wall'

1979 was a landmark year for Pink Floyd. The group released the iconic double album 'The Wall', and two members made their début at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: manager Steve O’Rourke and drummer Nick Mason.
Pink Floyd and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1/2) – 1979, Le Mans and 'The Wall'

Pink Floyd released their last album The Division Bell 25 years ago. However, with Nick Mason revisiting The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets, the band’s first two LPs (1967 and 1968), on tour, and The Later Years 1987-2019, a retrospective box set, coming out in time for Christmas, Pink Floyd are back in the news. A short while ago, we talked to Nick Mason about how he got into motor racing.

The musician had dreamt about Le Mans from an early age. His father (documentary film maker Bill Mason) was an acquaintance of Sammy Davis, one of the famous ‘Bentley Boys’, who won the 24 Hours for the British manufacturer in 1927. Mason Jr, however, had to put his passion for motor racing on ice until his music career had taken off. “It was only really in the seventies when I actually had some money from music that I was actually able to go into motor racing myself,” he disclosed. “The Dark Side Of The Moon definitely paid for it! I actually started motor racing with vintage cars because this is what my dad did and it seemed the best way for me.” 

I had never driven a racing car [before the 24 Hours of Le Mans], but eventually it was one of the best things I ever did.
Nick Mason (Pink Floyd)

After taking the plunge, the next big step was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, forty years ago. “Two things happened,” the drummer-cum-gentleman driver said. “First we realised that we would have to record The Wall abroad and we got to be actually away for a year on tax exile. At the same time Augustus Bertelli, who owned the Aston Martin works in the 1930s, died and I was asked to bring my Aston Martin Ulster to his funeral. There I met Brian Joscelyne who was a member of Dorset Racing and he asked me whether I would like to go to Le Mans. I had never driven a racing car, but eventually it was one of the best things I ever did. Then we spent most of our time in the recording studio, but I had a friend called Simon de la Tour, who used to run the Winfield school and I did some training with him. I did a lot of driving so I got more confident for the 24 Hours. In 1979, we won the Performance Index classification and finished second in class [2-litre Group 6 prototypes]. I think the weather conditions were even more difficult the following year when we were third in class.”

While Hollywood star Paul Newman – runner-up overall – stole the limelight that year, another member of Pink Floyd’s ‘inner circle’ was on the grid: the band’s manager Steve O’Rourke. “When I told Steve I would compete in the 24 Hours, he came with me to have a look at the circuit,” Mason continued. “And then he said: ‘You know what? I think I’m going to do this too!’ He bought a drive with the Ecurie Francorchamps and Ferrari. and I raced a Lola prototype.”

The timing of Mason and O'Rourke’s participation in the legendary motor race raised a few eyebrows as the drummer and fellow band members David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright were in the process of recording one of Pink Floyd’s most celebrated albums. “I guess they probably thought we were insane but the band really had a relaxed approach regarding what people wanted to do,” Mason said. Several years later, guitarist Gilmour joined the band’s motor racing fraternity when he started the Mexican marathon, the Carrera Panamericana, in 1991 alongside O’Rourke, with Mason in another car. A documentary film was made of the race and included a soundtrack with extracts from Pink Floyd’s 1987 opus A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

The driving careers of Mason and O’Rourke were far from over... as we shall see in the second instalment of this series.

PHOTOS (© ACO ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 9 & SUNDAY 10 JUNE 1979. Steve O’Rourke (with Nick Faure, Bernard de Dryver and Jean Blaton in the #61 Ferrari BB 512) and Nick Mason (with Brian Joscelyne, Tony Birchenhough and Richard Jenvey in the #24 Lola T297-Ford) both reached the finish line, in 12th and 18th places respectively, on their Le Mans début.