Friday, June 23, 2006

24 Hueres Du Mans

When I think of France, i think of champagne, wine, fries, toast, dressing, napoleon, that creepy robot dude from Europtrip, and a slew of other rather uninteresting things. Now however, i can expand that list to include good racing.

France isn't generally known for racing. When gearheads meet and talk shoop, the talk generally turns to SpA, Hokenheim, Indy, Monaco, Daytona....those are the big well known and well followed races/tracks. But this year, for the 74th time France hosted one of the slightly lesser known but incredibly fun races, namely the 24 Heures Du Mans.

Think back to what you were doing at this time yesterday. Now imagine that you and 2 friends spent the time between then and now driving nearly non stop at breakneck speeds around an 8.5 mile course. That, in essence, is LeMans. (sounds like Les Mawn when the french say it. sounds like lemanz when i say it). The requirements on the cars, drivers, teams (and fans) is pretty intense. By the time the 12th hour rolls around fully half the field is usually out for engine trouble (or failure), crashing, or any number of other problems that can arise during such an excersize. This held true this year as only 27 of 50 teams finished.

Anyway, i took about 250 pics over the course of the week, the night pics being by far the most challenging. Sometime around midnight on Saturday i jumped on one of the continuosly running buses with my camera and a backpack full of beer to take the 5 mile journey to the other end of the track. Nothing like a few beers to make new friends.

Although i had a grandstand pass (directly across from one of ferrari's pits!) and i was camping on the porsche curve (with a bunch of crazy brits!) i really wanted to see "indy corner" and also the "Mulsanne kink" at the end of the Mulsanne straight. Indy corner is famous because its one of the fastest and most challenging portions of the track, and the Mulsanne straight is famous because its just that...a big straight. Mulsanne is the fastest portion of the track while the "kink" at the end forces cars to break from over 250mph to around 65mph to make the turn safely.

I arrived at indy corner first and found that i was not the only one with the desire to check out this corner...It was packed! But i was still able to work my way down pretty close to the track. After a few hrs there i got back on the bus and headed to the infamous Mulsanne kink around 3AM. Mulsanne was incredible at night...the sound of the cars, the glowing turbo's of the Porsches, the red hot brakes of all the cars, the 3 foot flames from the exhaust when they get off the throttle.....intense is the word that comes to mind but does not do the experience justice.

Night pics are tough and most of the ones i took didnt come out that well, but i got a few. Following Mulsanne i headed back to my grandstand seat to watch some of the action in the pits at 4AM. Although it might seem crazy to be up at this hour keep in mind that sleep is nearly impossible due to the noise. Besides, some of the best action is at night! Nothing like a 250mph race car and a groggy driver to make for some interesting racing. Sorry, but its the truth!

Over the course of 24hr race i slept maybe 3 or 4 in total. Luckily the weather held up the entire weekend as i was unprepared for anything other than warm and sunny. The Audi diesels (yes diesels) won the race placing first and third. The first place car bested the next closest car (Pescaralo) by 4 laps. More importantly, in the increasingly popular GT1 class one of the factory backed Corvette's bested the Aston Martins and even some of the supposedly faster "Lemans Prototypes" coming in 4th overall.

Lemans is known as the biggest race in the UK thats not actually held in the UK. There are so many brits that you would think you are at Silverstone. Despite this enormous contingency and the huge presence of the Aston Martin's in the race, nearly everyone i talked to agreed that the three Corvettes were the best sounding cars there. For anyone who cars it was sort of a cross between the thunder of a Nextel Cup car and the whine of an F1 car...but louder than both.

I had quite a few firsts this past weekend. First time on a night train, first time camping in europe, first time building a beer mountain, first time at lemans, first time surviving on nothing but beer and sandwiches...well actually that last one wasn't a first, thats pretty much my life. More importantly would i recomend it? Absolutely. Am i goin back next year? hell yeah!

3 Days of hardwork, and this was the result.

I camped with some brits over the weekend. They called themselves a racing team...but i have no idea what they raced, except eachother to the bottom of a beer bottle.

At the start as the cars are lined up. An Aston, a C6R and a Saleen S7.

A Ferrari headlight.

At the Porsche Curves.

Although their uniforms were from BP (British Petroleum), i have a sneaking suspicion they werent here to sell oil.

A GT40. A REAL GT40.

One of the Lemans Prototypes.

Audi Diesel.

The Pits at night. Still bustling with activity.

The corvette pits.

I've got a lot more pics...but i'm out of time now. Ciao for now!