Report from Le Mans, part III

Posted 2010-06-14 in Car

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When leaving Le Mans after the race, it’s like a piece of you goes missing. I definitely understand all the fans coming from far away to share the experience. 238,150 motorsport enthusiasts were in place for the 78th installment of the 25 Heures du Mans since 1923.  It’s an amazing experience and 24 hours is far longer than you actually think. It’s comparable to 13 consecutive Grand Prix! And there a four different classes of cars on the track going at it at their own pace. The flat out Audis and Peugeots dominate and there’s a considerable difference in speed down to the LMP2 class, however, then there are two GT classes as well: GT1 and GT2 consisting of an Aston Martin, a Lamborghini, Ford GTs, a Saleen, BMWs, a Jaguar, Corvettes, Porsches and Ferraris. In other words, if you’re racing, there are another 55 cars on the track going at different speed that you have to look out for. Some are faster, some are slower so the level of concentration is unbelievable.

In endurance racing it’s not about who is the fastest really, but who can be the most consistent and reliable. The amount of different cars on the track also means that you rarely get to choose the perfect racing line. Either you’re overtaking someone or being overtaken so it’s a constant battle of keeping the car planted while going as fast as possible and, at the same time, keeping it out of the way of the others. I have an immense admiration for the drivers and teams that go through this as it’s one of the most grueling tasks you can get yourself into.

Another thing about Le Mans is the lack of women present. The ones that are here either work or have been dragged here by their motor mad boyfriends/husbands. There is also an immense amount of alcohol being ingested. When I was walking around at 4 am trying to get some night shots, most everyone I met was drunk out of their mind. I guess you have to drink yourself stupid if you live anywhere near the track as the roar of the cars can’t be explained. You can feel them going past, the sound is that incredible. Like vibrations in your chest. Absolutely fantastic. But it also makes it rather hard to sleep.

Along the track there are fans sleeping in whatever they brought with them, like sleeping bags, foldable chairs and someone had even brought out a cot and placed it on a hill, about 50 metres from the Dunlop esses. On my way to Arnage on foot to get some great shots, I ran in to obstacle after obstacle. Everywhere I tried to go, I was told to go back and around. Finally, I ended up at the Porsche curves instead. At 5 am I didn’t have much stamina left and I had probably walked, in excess of, 20 kms already. Next to me, in two foldable camping chairs, are what looks like  two large larvae in cocoons sleeping. I notice movement and one of the larvae is breaking out of its shell, looks around and reaches down into the cooler for a beer. This is a little after 5 am! Turns out that it was a Danish camp. No wonder then. The Danes really turn up in force. They have, at least that I noticed, two entire camping sites to themselves. A Danish journalist I spoke to estimated 50,000 Danes and I believe him. I could also tell by the trail of empty beer cans; they don’t sell Faxe Kondi anywhere but in Denmark.