Roadtrip ideas usually come about after a fair amount of beverages. Usually some time in the early hours of the morning and usually surrounded by good friends. Sometime in the depths of winter, dreaming of summer days and classic racecars, a few mates and myself came up with the fantastic idea to roadtrip 8 hours from Germany, rent a huge house to sleep us all and enjoy the Le Mans Classic. Basically an epic automotive pilgrimage.
So six months later here we are. Bags packed, camera gear cleaned and a convoy of cars heading to Le Mans. Not knowing what to expect and with very little planning we rocketed down the autobahn and into the relatively boring French countryside. In true European style, the weather didn’t get the message about our epic roadtrip and instead gave us a healthy dose of rain upon arrival at the track. Not the perfect start I had dreamt of.
I have covered a lot of classic races over the past few years and the schedule, for the most part is pretty consistent from one event to the other. However what I would soon find out is the friendly organizers at Le Mans classic had a different idea in mind. I think they sat down, probably after a few beverages and said “why don’t we create a classic 24 hrs of Le Mans, let’s have racing all through the night!” So by the time we rushed to the track on Friday night (not to miss a minute of racing or practice of course) we soon realized we hadn’t missed a thing. Practice would start at dusk and run deep into the night. At this exact moment I knew we were in for a fantastic weekend of racing, little sleep and wet shoes.
With some extra time to explore before the cars hit the track, I headed to the paddock and pits to scope out the cars and get up close and personal with them. I have heard over the years that the selection of racecars at Le Mans is always amazing, but I have to admit I was not ready for what I was about to see. Like a kid in a candy store, I quickly lost control and started geeking out. Pretty much everything was there, a Porsche 917(in my favorite Salzburg livery) a Ferrari 312p, a Matra driven by Richard Mille(the watch maker), pretty much every Porsche known to man that starts with a 9 and countless others ranging from the 30’s to the late 70’s. Mind blown I knew that I needed to see a little racing, but also get some sleep to be ready for the racing that would start at 4pm on Saturday and run to 4pm Sunday, with a 30 minute break in between the sessions. So after a few glasses of French wine I hit the sack and got some shut eye.
The first race on Saturday would be the 30’s to 40’s cars. It would start with a Le Mans style start. The drivers parked their buggati’s, big Bentley’s and so on along the pit wall, then staged opposite to sprint to their tin cans as soon as the legendary Sebastian Loeb would drop the French flag. Once the flag dropped 24 hours of classic racing began! The drivers charged up the track.
As usual with most of these events, the top 15 cars are not their for a Sunday stroll. The competition is real and the racing is tight. The remaining 40 or so cars stumble around, getting in the way of the front runners causing crashes and putting on a beautiful show for the fans. That is one of the pleasures of vintage racing. It’s for everyone. You don’t need a Porsche 917, you can enter in a similar class(especially at Le Mans because the groups are organized by years) in a little old Porsche 911. This makes the variety so strong and great for the fans.
As night drew in, the rain came harder forcing safety cars and manic pit stops. I have always admired classic racing, the drivers are of a different breed, somewhat fearless one might say. Throwing around cars, with very old safety standards at break neck speeds. Now combine this idea with racing in the wet, at night and with little to no sleep. I think it’s safe to say I was happy(if not a little wet) to be behind the lens and not behind the wheel as the light faded. Watching these amazing cars entering the last corner before the mulsanne straight was a spectacular feeling. The power and speed of these old monsters is just staggering. At that point you forget about the rain and the darkness and just enjoy the sound and sights.
After crashing for a few hours at our French chateau. I headed back to the track at sunrise to capture the mighty Porsche 917 battle with the drop dead gorgeous Ferrari 312p. For a brief moment the clouds parted, the rain stopped allowing the sun through to soak the cars with some beautiful light. I love race tracks in the early morning. There is a calm feeling, is relatively quiet apart from the roar of the engines. There is also a calming mood to the drivers and pit crew, I am sure they are just happy to see the light if day after a long night of racing and in this case torrential rain.
It’s hard to sum up the feeling watching some of the best classic cars in the world fly around Le Mans at night and during the day. Pictures don’t do this event justice, because in reality there is so much going on at all times, your lens can’t take it all in. You really have to see it to believe it. It’s an Automotive pilgrimage that every gear head should strive to make in their life time. Bring on 2016, I for one will be back for sure.