Le Mans 24H 2010

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to make what is becoming a biannual pilgrimage to the undisputed home of endurance racing for the 78th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Our journey began in London at 7:00am on Thursday, with a late morning crossing at Dover to Calais and then the five-and-a-half hour drive down through rural France via Rouen, in the company of assorted TVRs, Caterhams, Nissan Skyline and a wonderful vintage Citroen.

Having set up camp on the outside of Maison Blanche, close to the aerodrome, we took in our first sight of the track in the second qualifying session approaching the Ford Chicane, blown away as ever by the noise and spectacle of the cars - the new Ford GT in particular proving a match for the time-honoured ear shattering Corvettes. We watched on the big screen as Sebastien Bourdais celebrated his pole position in the #3 Peugeot, but did I detect a trace of disappointment in the big crowds that the all-French crew of car #2 would only be lining up third?

On Friday there is no track action so we were up early for the pitlane opening at 10am. I should apologise for the quality of these pictures, actually - I had unaccountably forgotten to take my camera, so these were all taken on my mobile phone, alas.


A group of local youngsters are given a tour of ORECA's garage


Checks and polishing duties well underway at the Lola-Aston Martin pit

Naturally the area outside the Peugeot garages was absolutely packed, and the adjoining Spyker pits attacted quite a crowd also, the Dutch Le Mans GT class veterans being very popular with the large number of fans who travel down from Holland. The Beechdean Mansell pit was also surprisingly popular - later I learned that free ice cream was being given away with every Mansell cap purchased; it was a roastingly hot day but I managed to resist that particular temptation...


Little being given away by the Schnitzer crew running BMW's "Art Car"

The drivers, we are told, are all in bed for most of Friday, emerging in the late afternoon for the driver's parade in the city centre, which I missed this year. Instead we took advantage of the track closure to take the car down the Mulsanne Straight, which was open to local traffic. Naturally the local Gendarmerie was very much out in force, so potential for emulating Stephane Sarrazin or Tom Kristensen was limited. Outside the Hunaudieres restaurant a...er, well-lubricated crowd had gathered to watch the passing cars and generally muck about. With a TVR Cerbera in front and a vintage Porsche 911 behind we did feel a touch self-conscious in our comfort-rather-than-speed Ford Galaxy seven-seater! Naturally the spectators paid us no attention at all!

Saturday morning saw high humidity and intermittent rain, which caused havoc in the Porsche Carrera Cup race. The local Porsche racers' antics had brought a fair amount of gravel onto the track, so when the fabulous Group C machines took to the circuit immediately afterwards there was, sadly, a spate of punctures. Bob Berridge delighted the crowd with a fighting recovery drive in his Sauber Mercedes after a trip into the gravel at the opening chicane, while Jaguars and a well-driven Spice-Chevrolet fought it out at the front. In the end it was (I think?) Justin Law's XJR-9 that took the honours.

We were then into the formal procedures before the race start, rather a drawn-out affair with the cars, this year, lined up rather pointlessly in herringbone as in days of old, and the starting drivers on the other side of the track ready to run across, jump in...and spend about 20 minutes being strapped in before the cars even got underway for the parade lap!


Nigel Mansell, who may have had a hearty breakfast, prepares for the traditional Le Mans start nonsense


The huge crowd on the start line tingle with anticipation as the Safety Car peels in and the race gets underway

I won't bother with a race report, since (1) there are plenty of those on the internet elsewhere, and (2) anyone watching on TV probably had a better idea of what was happening than I did. So I'll contain myself to my experiences.

I watched the early laps in the main grandstand, where the crowd applauded politely as big screen showed the ORECA Peugeot repelling the attacks of the leading Audi. The initial Safety Car deployment for Mansell's accident was interesting. Le Mans operates three Safety Cars at various points on the course due to the length of the lap, and somehow one of these managed to come out behind the four leading Peugeots but in front of the Audis, granting the French manufacturer's cars a minute's advantage. What are the chances? Hmm...

Unfortunately as I moved from place to place around the track this year I seemed to be always in the right place at the wrong time for the action. Having been at Tertre Rouge at dawn last time, it was magical to be there at sunset this year, the cars looking terrific in the warm orange light from behind the trees.


The cars assemble for another Safety Car period as sunset approaches at Tertre Rouge

I studiously avoided the Dunlop Chicane from 9pm having been forewarned of a UB40 concert at the stage on the outside of the corner; coincidentally or not there was a noticeable exodus from the circuit at this time. While my friends watched the England football match down in the Village (heresy!) I was free to roam and took the shuttle bus down to the Porsche Curves enclosure, where there is less floodlighting and you can really enjoy the speed of the cars approaching the corner, headlights piercing the darkness.


A prototype approaches the second left-hand part of the Porsche Curves at 120mph+

I had intended to take the bus down to the Arnage and Mulsanne corners but, feeling somewhat tired and a little disoriented couldn't quite work out where to catch it from, or whether it was in fact running at all. So I returned to the main grandstand as night turned to day, the time when the race so often turns - and this year was no exception. Each fresh Peugeot malady was greeted by a yelp of horror from the legendary circuit commentator Bruno, and much Gallic shrugging and shaking of heads in the small crowd opposite the pits. The usually vocal Danish contingent kept their excitement admirably under control, though I suspect this was more due to Tom Kristensen's earlier delays than any respect for their hosts' feelings!

Reunited with the group, we watched Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson try vainly to resurrect Le Lion's challenge, with Davidson's extrovert driving providing a topic of intense debate. Loic Duval then took on the battle for French honour when the three works Peugeots were all finally ruled out, a moment of some emotion even for this jaded onlooker, when ORECA's Hugues de Chaunac consoled a distraught Peugeot boss Olivier Quesnel on the pitwall. Duval drove brilliantly, recording blistering lap times while taking fewer risks than some of his colleagues, but when the turbo went at Mulsanne Corner immediately after a pitstop an ignominious race for Peugeot was truly completed.

The final laps saw more drama as leading petrol LMP1 runners dropped out, while those unfortunate teams already consigned to also-ran status prepared their cars in the pits to go out for the final lap.


The final lap, and the formation arrival of the three victorious Audis is moments away


Track invasion (extremely inelegant leap/fall over a four foot high pitwall not recorded)


Deutschland uber Alles as Audi's drivers delight in an unexpected and comprehensive triumph

There's something very special about standing on the start/finish line, under the Rolex clock, just minutes after the race has finished. It's always surprising to me how quickly it's all over, too - the crowds dissipate and the camp sites empty almost as soon as Daniel Poissenot has put his chequered flag away. Having stayed up all night there was no prospect of me embarking on the drive home, so after a lunch of steak-in-a-crusty-baguette with mustard and crispy frites (full of local flavour!) I was off to bed in very short order!

I would urge everyone to go, because being there is a fantastic experience and much richer, and more involving, than following it on TV. But I know that endurance isn't everyone's cup of tea. As far as bang for your buck is concerned, though, little comes close (certainly not F1), and we're already making plans to go back for 2011, when - who knows - Aston Martin may be in with a genuine chance. Maybe.
 

Brogan

🦶 Leg end
Staff Member
Absolutely superb G, it sounds like you had a great time.

You'll be pleased to know there were more than a few of us enviously talking about you in chat over the weekend.

I agree that it should be something that you do at least once, (I perhaps should have made the effort before this August ;) ) and I think there may be a few from here who do go sooner or later.

Can I clarify, did you actually stay awake all night? I assumed most people would grab a few hours at least in the small hours.

I trust you enjoyed your traditional chips with ketchup and mayonnaise? :D

Oh and :punish:'s for forgetting your camera....
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Oh yes, I stayed awake all the way through. It is a test of endurance, you know! Actually after about 4:00am it gets easier, before that is the worst. Most people do get a bit of sleep though, but then I always have thought sanity is overrated. I just can't bear the thought of missing something.

The mayonnaise seemed to be less in evidence this year for some reason. Quite a few of the burger-van type stalls had come across from the UK, which is wrong on many, many levels. I did manage to sort myself out with some though. :)
 

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
G, you've made me even more determined to get over there now. Sounds like you need to take your writing skills and do a "G's Guide to watching Le Mans" because I think you won't fully appreciate every thing on offer there unless you've had the advice of someone whose been before.

Great piece of writing. :thumbsup:
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Thanks c_a_t, I'm sure you'd love it. Lots of Lotuses everywhere too, of course.
 

Speshal

World Champion
Valued Member
A cracking report Mr G :D :cheer: and yes, it's definitely on the cards for a visit :) Maybe a CTA bus next year :?:

Audi 1 - cameraman 0

 

Matthew Little

Points Scorer
cider_and_toast said:
G, you've made me even more determined to get over there now. Sounds like you need to take your writing skills and do a "G's Guide to watching Le Mans" because I think you won't fully appreciate every thing on offer there unless you've had the advice of someone whose been before.

Great piece of writing. :thumbsup:
Agreed. I've been to Daytona for the Rolex 24, Sebring for the 12 Hours and Road Atlanta for the Petit LeMans, but I'm definitely going to have to try to make one trip to LeMans sometime in my lifetime. Excellent writing, Galahad. :thumbsup: :)
 

cosicave

Banned
What a superb read.

Well done Galahad.

Nothing short of excellent. Very entertaining and some genuinely atmospheric pictures in spite of forgetting your camera. (You fool you!)

Absolutely one of the best pieces of motoring journalism I've seen from a non-professional and a darn sight better than many a well-established professional.
 

higgins87

Rookie
Excellent article Galahad! I was watching a lot of it on TV and even though it can look fantastic (especially in HD :D ) you don't get the same atmosphere. Would love to go one day, don't know whether I could be so hardcore to not even sleep!!

Thanks for the great insight to being at a Le Mans weekend :thumbsup:
 

higgins87

Rookie
Cheers Galahad :) looking forward to checking everything out on here.

Out of curiosity how much to weekend tickets for Le Mans cost? Need to figure out whether to budget in that or the British GP for the near future. Can only really afford to do one per year so have to figure out which to do first!
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
The general admission ticket this year was £70. That covers all the practice and qualifying sessions, and the pitlane walkabout on Friday. Grandstand seats are quite a bit extra but not really worthwhile - you can sit on the steps under the main grandstand with a general admission ticket and there are plenty of good vantage points on the spectator banks elsewhere - plus you're not tied to one location.

In our campsite (Bleu Nord) a numbered 7m x 5m pitch was £74 (per pitch, not per person) and we got two adjoining pitches for the five of us. Locations further away from the pits are cheaper - I think you could camp in Beausejour for under £60 - but it is a long circuit and so do bear in mind the distances involved.
 

higgins87

Rookie
Thanks :thumbsup: That's much cheaper than I thought it would be, even including the camp site cost! Though one does have to factor in travel costs too, but still that's excellent value. Now to convince the gf for next year... ;)
 

cosicave

Banned
To The Higgins:

In terms of value for money, The British Grand Prix comes nowhere close to Le Mans. Seriously: absolutely nowhere.
 

higgins87

Rookie
Hey The Cosi

It certainly does seem that way, I prefer F1 to watch but I reckon that going to the 24HDM would be such a special experience. Hopefully next year I'll have the time to go!
 

cosicave

Banned
higgins87 said:
Hey …cosi (forgive my edit, but whilst you are The Higgins, I am just cosicave).
It certainly does seem that way, I prefer F1 to watch but I reckon that going to the 24HDM would be such a special experience. Hopefully next year I'll have the time to go!
Le Mans is a special experience, regardless of which side of the fence one sits. It is an absolute 'must' for anyone really interested in motor-sport, and who is also lucky enough to live in Europe.

My recommendation would be that you get there before the crowds arrive. Get there a week in advance. (I don't think there is any extra charge for this but no doubt others will correct me if necessary). - This will allow you to really get into the atmosphere of the whole thing. Better still, if you plan to drive: take a two week trip and explore Northern France for a week first, preferably with a tent.

Be prepared - (to enjoy yourself).
 

higgins87

Rookie
cosicave said:
higgins87 said:
Hey …cosi (forgive my edit, but whilst you are The Higgins, I am just cosicave).
It certainly does seem that way, I prefer F1 to watch but I reckon that going to the 24HDM would be such a special experience. Hopefully next year I'll have the time to go!
Le Mans is a special experience, regardless of which side of the fence one sits. It is an absolute 'must' for anyone really interested in motor-sport, and who is also lucky enough to live in Europe.

My recommendation would be that you get there before the crowds arrive. Get there a week in advance. (I don't think there is any extra charge for this but no doubt others will correct me if necessary). - This will allow you to really get into the atmosphere of the whole thing. Better still, if you plan to drive: take a two week trip and explore Northern France for a week first, preferably with a tent.

Be prepared - (to enjoy yourself).
If I were to do it I would almost certainly drive so would probably try to take a week off (assuming of course I have a job by that point LOL ). Not so bothered about doing the exploration of Northern France tbh, remember going there on a school trip and on holiday with the parents and not really enjoying either. Though of course it may be different now! But knowing me all I'd be doing is obsessing over Le Mans and the gf would get v annoyed v quickly ;) .
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
higgins87 said:
If I were to do it I would almost certainly drive so would probably try to take a week off (assuming of course I have a job by that point LOL ). Not so bothered about doing the exploration of Northern France tbh, remember going there on a school trip and on holiday with the parents and not really enjoying either. Though of course it may be different now! But knowing me all I'd be doing is obsessing over Le Mans and the gf would get v annoyed v quickly ;) .
Take her to Paris for the previous weekend, then she won't mind going down to LM on the Tuesday.

Problem solved! :thankyou:
 

Matthew Little

Points Scorer
higgins87 said:
Excellent article Galahad! I was watching a lot of it on TV and even though it can look fantastic (especially in HD :D ) you don't get the same atmosphere. Would love to go one day, don't know whether I could be so hardcore to not even sleep!!

Thanks for the great insight to being at a Le Mans weekend :thumbsup:
Like I said in an earlier post, Galahad's article was excellent(though as I also said in another thread, I wouldn't mind seeing a Daytona Prototype roar down the Mulsanne Straight........ :D .......). I did an overnighter for the LeMans 24 weekend, following it on both Speed Channel and on Radio LeMans(although I'm still of the opinion that John Hindhaugh is a pompous :censored: ......) and managed to stay up the entire race..............but I would definitely love to go watch the LeMans 24 once in my lifetime just so I can say I've been to each of the big 4 endurance races(Daytona, Sebring, LeMans and Road Atlanta).

Oh, before I forget..............welcome to the forums, Higgins! :)
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Matthew Little said:
(though as I also said in another thread, I wouldn't mind seeing a Daytona Prototype roar down the Mulsanne Straight........ :D .......).
If I wanted to see a line of fridges sliding down a driveway I'd look on YouTube, my friend. LOL
 
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