Braking Le Mans
When 24 hours of screeching tyres have faded away, Le Mans is still just as special
The ticket gates were all open, rubbish lay on the ground. The rubber from tyres was still warm on kerbs that only five hours earlier had been pounded upon by racing machines making their way around the eight-mile leviathan. A racetrack, particularly one such as Le Mans, is never more impressive than when everybody has just left.
Doing fifteen miles per hour is neither thrilling or heart racing at the best of times. Normally doing it at sunset makes little difference but doing it whilst driving past the grandstands at the Circuit de la Sarthe after one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours is.
The race had started under the safety car due to a torrential downpour in the hours building up to the start. After fifty-three minutes behind the safety car the field was released. What ensued up front was a wheel to wheel battle between the #1 and #2 Porsche 919s and the #5 and #6 Toyota TS050s. Though the Porsches were quicker the Toyotas were able to go one lap longer on a set of tyres. The #7 and #8 Audis meanwhile suffered reliability issues with their radical R18s.
As dawn broke on the circuit the fight for overall victory had come down to the #2 Porsche against the two Toyotas, just six seconds covering all three cars with four hours to go. Eventually, the #5 Toyota pulled out a gap to the #2 Porsche looking set to break Toyota’s twenty-five year Le Mans duck.
That was until, on the last lap, a connector between the turbo and the intercooler failed – leaving the #5 stranded on the pit straight. Over two-hundred and fifty thousand people stood silent, shocked as the #2 Porsche passed the stricken Toyota to take a victory that seconds earlier appeared to have been lost. Toyota had done everything they had needed to do only to be let down by a part costing less than one pound.
Le Mans, however, is so much more than the race, it’s what happens outside the race that makes it special. The fabled town itself, just metres from the circuit entrance, is steeped in history. It’s also where the driver parade takes place and as well as technical scrutineering for the cars taking part in the race.
The journey to Le Mans too is part of the experience, a pilgrimage made by thousands every year and this year made also by four students in a 1.2 Renault Clio. From the final fill up in Sussex to the ferry port and onto the circuit itself we were one small part of a convoy of campervans, sports-cars and trailers, there under the thunderstorms at the start and under the baking sun at the finish.
What was more was that the trip, our first to Le Mans, had been a success. We missed a few hours in the night but nonetheless were completely won over by day’s end as we drove alongside the vast empty grandstands whilst the sun set on a day that sent shockwaves through the motorsport world.
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