The pros and cons of going to Le Mans

They won it.
Aston Martin Racing won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their class. And I was there when it happened.

It goes without saying that I am very happy about that. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a very hard race to complete, let alone win. She has been referred to as a cruel mistress and not a year goes by without motorsport fans experiencing at least some sympathy for competitors who see their race ended due to misfortune. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. But…is it worth going? I thought about that before I booked, but even more so when I was there. I found out that every reason I could think of to go was also a reason not to. Let me explain.


The GTE Pro class winner: Aston Martin Racing’s #97.
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The Race of all Races

Or, as I like to call her, the Mother of all Races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans started way back in 1923. This year was the 85th time the race was held. It’s a 24 hour endurance race with 60 cars on the grid. In short: it’s a big race.
There are some races that belong on the motorsport fan’s bucket list and this is definitely one of them. You probably should go at least once in your life.

So what are the pros of going? Well, there is obviously nothing that can replace the atmosphere at a race track. When you’re at home watching a race or perhaps with a group of friends, it’s still nothing like the real deal. The track is iconic, which in itself can be another reason to go. And it has a museum which is filled with race cars and other special cars (like a Citroën 2CV which went around the world in the 1950s!). If you’re there you also get a chance to attend the drivers’ parade on Friday evening. If you go early enough, you can also go to the signing session on the Tuesday before the race.

Makes you wonder if there is a con to this? Yes, there is. Strangely enough, if you go to the trace track you see less of the race than you would at home. At home you have television coverage (in most countries, at least) and so many different camera angles. At the track you see the action where you are and nowhere else. Considering Circuit de la Sarthe is almost 8.5 miles (just over 13.5 km) long, there is an awful lot you won’t see, even if you have a massive screen nearby.


A very recent addition to the museum is the race car driven by (among others) Frédéric Sausset – a quadruple amputee – last year. Inspiring to say the least…
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Weather

It’s June and it’s in France. Quite a lot of people think that is the perfect combination, but if, like me, you struggle with temperatures over 20 degrees you may want to have a think.
This past weekend I experienced temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees. Thankfully there was a breeze, but when that wind drops at a time it’s over 30 I find it hard to breathe. At the same time I saw a large group of people happily sitting outside without any shade chatting and laughing. It really is a personal preference.

Another thing to take into consideration is the food in France. In my experience they are not very keen on vegetarian food. Being a vegetarian myself I can tell you I did struggle finding appropriate warm food. On the other hand I had expected that. So we ended up shopping on Friday morning as supermarkets can provide pretty much anything you want.

If you suffer from asthma or hay fever have a very good think about this. I found the whole experience to be very dusty. The car was unrecognisable after a few hours. I was wearing shoes, socks and full length jeans the entire time and had dust up to my knees on my legs. It goes everywhere. On the Sunday there was a lot of dried grass flying around as well. Probably not the friendliest of places if you have any respiratory condition.

People who have been before have told me they have been to Le Mans during horrible weather. And, again, with the track being so big, you can easily have warm weather on one side and rain on the other. Basically it’s best to be prepared for anything.


Labre Competition’s Corvette was this year’s art car.
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Travel

Depending on where you live you’d have to consider how you want to get to Le Mans. I opted for driving from South Yorkshire, taking the ferry from Dover to Calais and drive on to Le Mans. My friend and I did travel down in two days. We had accommodation for the Wednesday night near Dover so we wouldn’t have to rush on Thursday morning to get the ferry. The drive from Calais was about 4.5 hours over toll roads (another consideration!). However, we did do the entire trip back in one day.

Of course you can also fly in, fly-drive, take a bus, go by train or a combination of any of these. I spoke to a lady who had come from Dallas. She obviously had to fly in, but I’m not sure how she got to Paris airport. The option you pick will also be influenced by your budget. Driving in your own car, like I did, is not the cheapest option (from the UK at least), but I really enjoy driving so will gladly spend the time and the money for that experience alone.

Getting there is one thing. How about the daily commute? Where is your accommodation and how will you get from there to the track? You could spend a long time every day getting from your hotel to the track.
This year I opted for glamping. A tent was already set up for us when we arrived, including air beds, bed linen, a small table and two chairs. Ideal, but obviously a little bit more expensive than a camping plot for you and your tent/camper. Another bonus to this is that our camp was near the Porsche curves. We had access to one viewing area which was only available to whoever booked with this particular company. On the other side of the track there was another viewing area, but this was less restricted. I went to both and enjoyed the views from each.


The Porsche Curves are very well known and make for great viewing.
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A new level of cool

Above I mentioned a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding to go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans or not. There is one more.
Even people who don’t care about motorsport are in awe when you tell them about this. In the eyes of pretty much everyone else out there you are cool. The very fact that you are willing to travel a long distance and brave the elements just to see a race baffles them, but they also admire you for it. If that matters to you, you now have another reason to go.

For me it was quite simple: wherever Aston Martins race I will try to go. I love WEC most of all, so Le Mans was a must for me. Despite the fact I didn’t see that overtake on the Corvette, I was there when my team won the Mother of all Races. And that is an unforgettable experience.

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