Le Mans is a race, it’s about the race but for most visitors, it’s also a social event and time to enjoy the pinnacle of GT motorsport with pals over a beer as the sun sets and the cars just don’t slow down! Thousands of people visit the track and camp out, some arriving a week beforehand to enjoy the weather and other attractions Le Mans has to offer with plenty of live gigs, support races, qualifying and other fun to be had. Some of the campers take this part more seriously than others, so far I’ve seen a 4-poster bed in gazebo, a panel van with a seriously off road Land Rover tucked up inside ready for action, numerous beer mountains, the largest around 3m tall and more barbeques than you can count. The party doesn’t wrap up early in Le Mans, I stayed up with pals until around 2am and there was little sign of silence, fireworks filled the air constantly and the smell of burning sausages was ever present.
We spent dusk last night close to the track at the Porsche Curves, close to the camping and around 80% into the lap. Being up so close to the cars both the speed and instensity is very obvious. Tyres complain as the cars switch from the tight right into the left showing the cars are being pushed close to the limit and the 600 yard stretch we can see is covered by the LMP1 cars in around 8 seconds, they really are travelling quickly and this certainly isn’t a fast part of the Circuit De La Sarthe. Unfortunately as we’re watching, at around 10.15pm car 64 passes trailing a plume of smoke. They make it back to the pit and Le Mans radio (91.2fm!) report that the problem was a puncture, nearside rear and the car is back out on track in short order. Minutes later another Audi prototype, driven by Mike Rockenfeller collides with another Ferrari but this time on the 220mph Mulsanne Straight. A huge accident which completely destroys the car but he extracts himself from the safety cell unharmed, a solid testament to the levels of safety in motorsport.
Early mornings arrive in Le Mans in no small measure. The buzz of half a dozen helicopters a mere 1000ft over the track resumes at 6am and the cars, now down to 32 from the starting grid of 56 remind you why your here. Lotus number 64 is out following an unfortunate spin coming into one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight at around 3am. The car actually span twice leading to one wheel being removed from the car and the remaining left hand tyre getting a puncture rendering it impossible even to crab the car back to the pits. Leaving the car to be recovered to parc ferme, the driver walked himself back. Number 65 is doing very well, currently in 29th overall and 9th in class with just over 6 hours remaining. Overnight, many of the retirements were caused by crashes as the cars and drivers tire which leaves debris on the track. Johnny Mowlem collected some of this around 5.30am which damaged the rear undertray resulting in harsh vibration so the car was pitted and the part replaced. 2 slow punctures weren’t evident at the time so the car came back in and has been running well since.
It’s getting tense, we’re nearly at 75% race distance and the car is showing what was expected of it. It was never going to be the fastest, in fact the performance is slighty reining in to allow for the reliability but as I said on day 1, this isn’t a sprint. All the team in the garages are glued to the screens, most of them wide eyed, a few giving in and sleeping but it’s just too exciting for most….