A WEEK AT THE LE MANS 24-HOUR
On a practical note, the Le Mans week begins on Sunday, June 10, and runs until the end of the race on Sunday June 17. Here is the race programme:
Sunday 3rd June: 2012 Le Mans Test Day, 09h00 – 13h00, 14h00 – 18h00.
Sunday 10th June: Scrutineering and admin. checks (14h30 – 19h00)
Monday 11th June: Scrutineering and admin. checks (10h00 – 18h00).
Wednesday 13th June: Free practice 16h00 – 20h00, qualifying 22h00 – midnight.
Thursday 14th June: qualifying 19h00 – 21h00 and 22h00 – midnight.
Saturday 16th June: Start of the 80th Le Mans 24 Hours at 15h00.
The Le Mans 24-Hour race is about so much more than just the cars, the drivers and teams, and the racing, it’s also about the spectators who pay good money to go through the gates to watch what is one of the most awesome racing spectacles on earth. This year sees the 80th running of this fantastic event, and once again, somewhere around a quarter of a million spectators will turn up to watch over the race weekend.
Then there are the press events and driver practice and qualifying that make up the full week’s activities ahead of the main race on Saturday. It’s a chance to meet the team personnel and drivers to discuss the race cars and the race itself – this is while everyone is still feeling very positive and gung-ho.
As the days tick by, the increase in anticipation in the paddock and amongst the journalists is noticeably higher as practice and qualifying times go up on the boards which is when you see who is on the pace, and who is not. This is when activity in the press room begins to hot up and as more journalists, photographers and camera crew arrive towards the end of the week, the pressure on desk space begins to tell. But it is all good stuff because everyone is feeling the anticipation and exhilaration ahead of Saturday.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the pits, paddock and press room on the Friday when there is no activity on the track, the spectators can wander freely up and down the pitlane peering into garages as the teams work on their cars ahead of the big day. Friday night sees the traditional drivers’ parade through the town of Le Mans which is a popular event with both drivers and local people.
Because of the lead-up to the weekend as well as the character of the 24-hour race itself, Le Mans stands alone on the motorsport calendar. Within the circuit there are shops, stalls and eating establishments, music bands and a fun fair to keep all age groups entertained. As the clock runs down though towards the main event on the Saturday, the ACO correspondingly ramps up the excitement as celebrities and dignitaries are trotted out while a visit by the Moulin Rouge girls and Miss Le Mans 24-Hours also grace the parade.
Then its onto race day and from sunrise on the Saturday, there is a buzz in the air, everywhere you walk. The press centre is now full to capacity with journalists, either with their heads down working away on laptops or in small huddles where others are discussing the upcoming contest. Out on the terraces, the crowds start to arrive and unfurl their banners and flags, settle down with a cup of coffee or, for the more hardened racegoers, who crack open a ‘frosty’ at the first opportunity.
The atmosphere…well what is ‘the atmosphere’? It’s that intangible sense of anticipation, excitement and expectation all rolled into one word, and the knowledge that the ‘twice round the clock’ conquest for glory is about to commence, and that the ensuing combat will culminate in either elation with recognition, or tears with great disappointment. Whatever the outcome at the end of 24 hours, those gladiators with their teams and support crew will know without the shadow of a doubt that they have participated in the world’s greatest motorsport challenge – the 24 Heures du Mans.
The ACO will once again conduct scrutineering for the teams in the town centre, in the Place de la République. Beyond just the sporting importance of this technical operation, this event also provides free entertainment for the spectators, especially for the local Le Mans citizens who flock to the square in large numbers to see the cars and drivers.
Although the site of the scrutineering function has moved around a lot, it is now back in its pre-war location, agreement to hold scrutineering here has only recently been reached due to several technical problems that the town planning engineers had to resolve. This included the cramped nature of the square, the loads imposed on the central flagstones, the problems linked to the security of spectators near the tramway stop, the circulation of vehicles and the public, and many more considerations. Scrutineering will kick off the Le Mans 24-Hours week proceedings starting on Sunday 10th and Monday 11th June (14h30 to 19h00 and 10h00 and 18h00 respectively).
It is with great sadness that we learned only this week of the passing of one the sport’s greatest characters, when on May 10, the news emerged that Carroll Hall Shelby had died. Born on January 11, 1923 Shelby was one of those characters who, one could imagine, would just go on forever. Carroll Shelby made his competition debut in the 1950s but it is for his development of the awesome Shelby Cobra that he will be most fondly remembered. This monstrous Ford V8-powered racer took on the might of the big manufacturers in the 1960s such as Ferrari, Aston Martin and Jaguar, and in so doing, his cars created legendary duels that have inspired books and films. Dubbed the ‘chicken farmer’ from Texas, he would show the world what could be achieved with a double dose of determination and commitment. Later, together with Ford, Shelby would work his magic on the Mustang which too bore his name. His warm disposition meant that Shelby was loved by both fans and competitors, because he was driven not by fame or fortune, but by a love of the sport. His pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit and his never-say-die attitude became his hallmark, and he will be sorely missed by many. And so it is with this huge sense of loss that the world of motor racing must face the future…one wonders where the next ‘chicken farmer’ will emerge from to once again take on the giants.