Shooting 24 Hours of Le Mans…..as a fan.
As professional photographers, we adore and love our jobs. The lack of money, versus the time and energy we put into our work, should make us resent our profession. But we don’t. As artists, we can’t turn our brains off. Think of it this way. Do you think a footballer would want to go watch a football game? They might appreciate it for what it is, but you can guarantee they’d rather be on the field or pitch, than be in the stands watching. So in an unusual turn of events for me, I attended the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, not as a working professional photographer………but simply as a fan with a General Admission ticket.
That said, what an incredible event the 24 hours is. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe congregate in France for this incredible test of endurance, speed and sleep deprivation that is the pinnacle of sports car racing.
To give you a short summary of our day, I “dragged” my lovely girlfriend out into the French countryside to experience her first taste of car racing. With heavy over cast skies and a sprinkling of rain coming down, the race began at 3pm on Saturday, June 16. After watching the start and the first few laps from the combination of corners below the Dunlop bridge, we wandered back toward the pit straight to enjoy a few minutes in the suite that we had access to for the race. Enjoying a few beers, some champagne and crackers, we decided to go see about the helicopter flight I had won as part of package of going to Le Mans. Long story short, and having waited some 2 hours, but happily made some new British friends who sympathized with our frustration, we finally took off and enjoyed the views out of the helicopter’s plexiglass windows for a 10 minute ride over two laps of the circuit. There is really no way to grasp how massive this race track is except from the air.
Following the helicopter ride, we enjoyed some dinner with a few beers, then walked the long walk back to the car to get our warmer night time clothing on. But on our way to the car, we somehow stumbled into our two friends from the helicopter ride. Geoff and Piers joined us again and we all walked down toward the entry to the Porsche corners around 1050pm, and then once it was properly dark around 1130, we jumped in their car and drove to the bottom side of the circuit to enjoy the views at Arnage and then Indianapolis. With the stream of cars barking and farting exhaust gases, and with brake discs glowing bright red, we were able to just sit and enjoy for nearly an hour watching these fantastic racing machines at their very best. To end our night, we meandered our way toward the last bit of the Mulsanne straight to experience the sounds of the cars roaring through the tall French forests. By this time it was nearly 2 in the morning and almost halfway through the race. It is a magical experience to watch the cars come off the last chicane and power their way through the trees at over 200 miles per hour toward Indianapolis, where we had been standing an hour before. We decided to call it a night with that.
After a few short hours sleep in the small Citroen hatchback I had rented, we woke up to a cool crisp but cloudless day. Needing breakfast and a coffee, we headed toward the pit area, but decided that with the lovely morning light sitting over the circuit, that we should go up in the famous Le Mans ferris wheel that looks at the last set of corners and the pit straight. It was well worth the 5 Euros to enjoy that.
To finish the last few hours of the race, Kelsey and I wandered back toward the Dunlop bridge and enjoyed a steak sandwich and an ice cream and a relaxing nap in the sun just enjoying the sound of racing cars roaring by. But with an hour to go, we headed back to the main grandstand and joined a small but growing crowd outside the pitlane entrance to be ready to run onto the pitlane and join in the celebrations. Little did we know that once we rounded the pit building, we would be almost literally standing at the base of the podium sharing in the champagne and confetti celebrations for the winning #1 Audi. It was a great way to cap off an incredible 24 hours to be that close to the celebrations.
You can bet I’ll be there next year. I’m available for hire! 😀