// The following is a guest post by Sabrina Beaudoin, a french journalist and administrator of http://www.tout-f1.com/. Thank you Sabrina for sharing your work with the American audience!
// Le Mans
Every year there are more than 50 competitors coming from different parts of the globe, whom have diverse backgrounds in their sporting careers and are brought together for a face to face challenge through the famous 24 hours of Le Mans. For the 80th edition, Le Mans circuit is ever more welcoming and attractive. This challenge is not just a simple run as it counts for the FIA championship. The 24 hours of Le Mans is also something that we all share and connect with. Despite the brand, prototype, team sponsorship or pilot that one supports, all fans gather in a reunion where spirits are lifted by the adrenaline. Again, this year brought over 200,000 people to cheer on this festivity.
Coming from 4 corners of the world, avid fans enjoy this moment as well as the social and unified team spirit brought by this event. Without such enthusiasm, Le Mans would not be the same…and would not open its doors for almost 2 full weeks to welcome such a crowd. We start with a qualifier day that allows certain people to get ready for the Mans day, others only participate at this session and stand aside the more experienced crowd…embracing and learning. The following week is a measure of skills and performance. To help boost local attendance, the promoter of the race encouraged the town to participate. Certain activities will always be unique to the town, such as the famous parade of pilots that enable the public to experience a closer connection with them.
// Competitive Until The end
Without Peugeot, the 80th edition seemed off to a wrong start (not to mention the Pascarolo case). Before even starting, Audi was bound to win the race, especially going against Toyota whom brought hybrids into this race for the very first time. Even with strong assumptions about the outcome of the race, unexpected and very surprising events bring any assumptions back to the grave. The art of driving is very complex and technical. For this ordeal, teams are composed of three pilots whom relay each other throughout the 24 hours. The race is long and the technical ability and skills of the pilots are not the only factor to take into consideration. It is important to manage stress, fatigue, and to adapt to tardiness or a head in schedule performed by ones teammate.The reliance and synchronization with ones team is specifically where most surprises happen. This year, Dumas, driving an Audi R18 Ultra, was the first to make a mistake but he was not the only one.
Throughout the race, the mechanics can jump in and work on the cars when reparation is needed. This process can take up to a few minutes, but the pilots are ready to get back on the race in a vehicle that assures continued performance and safety. Forfeits often happen too early. It is impressive to watch the mechanics repair the cars in so little time.
Towards the end of the morning, Audi committed a few hiccups. Two out of the four hit the wall. Both men, McNish and Gene, struggled to bring the car back to part…10 minutes later, more or less, both vehicles were able to get back on the track in almost no time. It could be comparable to a video game, as long as your lifeline bars are still full, you may continue playing. Other times, resources are full but deplete suddenly. This was the case with Davidson’s Toyota TS 030 Hybrid that collided with another car and landed in a stack of tires.
// Infatuation is omnipresent
Whether it you stand in the tribunes, the stand or the paddock, the tension is real. Even in the pressroom, journalists expressed their ascending emotions, most especially felt during Davidson’s accident. Endurance, particularly The 24 Hours of Le Mans, is a solidarity-based competition. In the tribunes, the public is present and eager while combatting the darkness, the rain, and the cold, all for the love of motorsport. The atmosphere is very laid back and friendly. RV’s and tents surround the circuit and it’s a party from dawn to dusk. At night, no one sleeps…The 24 Hours of Le Mans is an experience one must live and enjoy with both eyes open.
For the public, the race is also a challenge, as they must stand for 24 hours to not miss a beat of the race and watch the pilots’ relay. This is not an easy task. It becomes even harder when the weather does not co-operate. However, the passion and drive of avid fans surpasses any obstacles. In the paddock or the village, the party continues while Treluyer is leading the race. Food, beverages, music are available at all times…the only obligation is to not close the eyes… Sometimes, some are incapable of resisting exhaustion…in town, or on the circuit, the public sleeps where they can…a minority does.
// From Dusk To Dawn
There is nothing more magical than seeing the shadow and roaring of the cars drive in through the distance. Still on track, going 190m/h, lights on, they must remain focused. At dawn, no errors allowed. Once the first ray of sunlight appears, the pilots must be ready. If The 24 Hours of Le Mans is legendary, it is because the race takes place in both a day and a night setting. The pilots must again adjust their technique to accommodate the change in weather and lighting. Pilots must be fully armed, aware and skilled. It is a human experience that is both extremely mental and physical. Many pilots agree that the mental state is a lot more important than the driving. Even though this is a relay, nerves must be made of steel, as pilots must maintain constant performance and focus throughout an entire day. All these reasons make The 24 Hours of Le Mans a very unique competition.