Story and photo by Vickie Miller
Yes, I consider myself very fortunate to attend the 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which is run at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The race week started with my Sunday morning arrival where I used the day to learn the city, take the tram to the circuit and meet up with friends who took me for ride around 80% of the track. With much of the track open as it consists of active city streets, we were able to zoom down Mulsanne Straight with a respectable qualifying speed.
The Le Mans race is governed by the Automobile Club de lâ€™Quest, ACO, which is the largest automotive group in France. The classes racing includes Le Mans Prototype (LM P1 and LM P2) With LM P1 being considered larger and more powerful, attracting the major manufacturers, also LM GTE Pro and LM GTE Am. The weekend also held a historic car race event which was just sort of amazing!
My first 24 Heures Du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) event I attended was on Monday June 8, which was the second day of administrative checking and scrutineering in the Place de la RÃ©publique which is located in Le Mans town center. There are several â€œstagingâ€ points where fans have an opportunity to meet the drivers.
First is where all drivers must attend to check in, while the team race car is inspected. Then the drivers go onto a short interview session held on a constructed stage across from a grandstand area where fans can see and listen to driver responses. The drivers continue to the open area and joined with the cars for team photographs. Once the photos are complete, the drivers then make their way through the fan lined path to exit and return to the track. The cars are brought in and returned to the track via flatbed trucks, which I thought I was cool to watch.
During the week, I had an opportunity to chat with many drivers TUDOR race fans might recognize. Jeff Segal competed in his first Le Mans in the #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia in the LM GTE Am class with fellow American teammates Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell. 2015 would be the first time the team is part of the world famous endurance race. This same team and drivers were victorious at the 2014 Daytona Rolex 24 race.
Here is a short video of Le Mans driver Jeff Segal describing his experience of the administrative check-in and scrutineering event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aOxt2KyX-s
Tuesday was a day spent heavily on the team working on the car, driver meetings, strategy to be discussed, and talking about the weather. Tuesday fans are allowed on the pit walk to view the cars in the garages and stay for an afternoon driver autograph session.
Tuesday morning, I was able to catch up with # 34 Oak Racing Ligier JS P2 HPD driver Chris Cumming, whom I had interviewed in Detroit where he was the driver of the #11 RSR Racing ORECA FLM09 Chevrolet in the TUDOR Championship PC class. Chrisâ€™ teammate, Kevin Estre added a few comments too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPSoGjqRX3w
Another first timer to Le Mans is Marc Miller, driver of the #53 Riley Motorsports-TI Auto SRT Viper GTS-R in the LM GTE Am class. Also driving on this team were Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating. Here is a short video where Marc answers fans questions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD9cyA5bvCY
Wednesday and Thursday are very long and similar days on the timetable, with Wednesday being the first time (since the test weekend) the cars are on track. For me personally, nothing prepared me for the feeling of being there to hear the engines roar and to see the majestic race machines zoom out onto the historic circuit for the first laps of the 2015 Le Mans! The morning is spent getting the final car preparations completed, heading into a free practice from 4pm to 8pm with qualifying sessions from 10pm to midnightâ€¦.yes, midnight.
Friday morning my friends and I spent the morning walking around â€œold townâ€ and enjoying lunch in the shadow of Le Mans Catholic Cathedral (CathÃ©drale St-Julien du Mans) which is the start and end point of the afternoon driverâ€™s parade. Somehow when enjoying a wonderful meal, coffee, and friendsâ€™ conversation you donâ€™t notice the pouring rain! We found a great place in line and waited the two hours for the parade to start. The Le Mans website describes the event as, â€œThe carnival-like parade includes dancers, musicians and super cars and many drivers finish on foot to sign yet more autographs and pose for yet more photos.â€ Which I found very true.
Here are two short videos from drivers describing the parade. First is from driver of the #9 Audi Sport Team Joest R18E Tron Quattro, Filipe Albuquerque described the parade this way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MICq2GKFOjE
And first timer Marc Miller, chats after having just completed his first Le Mans driver parade!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWlFZF_-sT0
The weeks leading up to the race weekend, much was mentioned regarding the â€œWomenâ€™s Pavilionâ€. I did not make it to the pavilion for three reasons. One: I really did not want to be part of the attendance numbers, two: time just ran out, and three: I could not figure out where it was located. Normally before attending any track or circuit for the first time, I like to research the layout of the paddock, pit, parking lot, vendor area, etc.
While I did this same â€œhomeworkâ€ for Le Mans, I was not prepared for the vast area the Le Mans experience covered and quickly lost my sense of direction. Also, you lose track of time. You want to do so much and by the end of the race you realizeâ€¦.I had not made it to the museum!!! The timetable mentioned several concerts during the week, which I also could not find time to attend.
One major point which was lost on me several times during the days leading up to the race weekend was the effort to move barriers to close or open the active city streets. When the qualifying sessions were over at midnight, I got ready to depart the track for the next day, while workers were busy moving barrier to reopen roads. Itâ€™s amazing the number of times the closing/opening of the active road occurred.
When I attended the FIA WEC race at Silverstone earlier this year, I paid attention to a team I had heard about but never really focused on, Strakka Racing. When the team announced a â€œmeet the driversâ€ event, I decided to attend and learn more about the car, team and drivers. The event resulted in an excellent experience and the team has a new fan. I chatted with driver Danny Watts for quite a while and here is a message from Danny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvW6aDcL8ZM
Before the Corvette Racing, â€œmeet the driversâ€ event, I received a few questions from race fans. Here are the questions and the driverâ€™s response:
1) Question from Michael Goodwin: Do the drivers have any superstitious acts they perform while preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans? Ryan Briscoe provided this answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRZ8C06cOLk
2) Question from Derf Winsor: How do the drivers deal with the time change adjustment? Tommy Milner provided this answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPp76VhLMjw
3) Question from Michael Goodwin: Do the drivers stick to an American diet or do they go French? Jordan Taylor provided this answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7MQ2JoQCe0
I also attended the Porsche Racing, â€œmeet the driversâ€ event where I had a chance to chat with my long-time favorite, Jorg Bergmeister. I also met and talked with Patrick Pilet and here is how Patrick prepares for Le Mans:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bloAzIlM9-I
The most interesting answer was provided by Porsche driver Neel Jani when asked â€œWho would you most want to spend an afternoon with and why?â€
And the most heart-warming response to the same question came from Porsche Racing driver, Brendon Hartley. I have seen Brendon for years in the TUDOR paddock most recently with Starworks Motorsport, and I was very surprised he recognized me too. Since most of the reporters were in line waiting for a guy named Mark, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time with Brendon which I thoroughly enjoyed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=df2VD1v9q_8
Oh, yea, and to end out my Porsche Racing, â€œmeet the driversâ€ event, I did get a chance to nervously ask Mark Webber a quick question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPEdYkKAW7Y
I felt a bit sorry for Mark since each reporter who sat down and put a recorder in his face asked him the same â€œflavorâ€ of questions all centered on the Audis. I would like to think he enjoyed answering my question.
Along with his responsibilities of a return trip to Le Mans, I chatted with Bill Riley, owner of Riley Motorsports who also runs the #33 SRT Viper GT3-R in TUDOR series. Just in case you havenâ€™t met Bill, let me introduce him to you!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu0GGImlBGw
Question: How many people/staff/crew does it take to come to Le Mans? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJoqLsnsM2c
Question: Who is on your team that you rely on to put Le Mans together? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUTADevxyto
Another member of the Le Mans first timers club was driver of the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia, Michael Avenatti. Prior to our chat at Le Mans, I had only briefly met Michael once before at Daytona but at Le Mans, he greeted me with a welcoming smile. I heard of Michael around the race track, but I am also aware of his big charitable donation side.
Please a minute to listen Michael introduces himself, speaks of his team, and learn a bit about the track:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv-6Fjecmsc
Here Michael shares his thoughts on the scrutineering event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHlYh5KCqXg
And what better way to end my race video library with a final race report from Jeff Segal:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd2tWjWpJxI
My top ten list on how to prepare for Le Mans:
1. Bring your own food
2. Learn to enjoy beverages warm and without ice
3. Bring Euros, many of the small vendor tents did not have the type of credit card scanner which worked for USA cards, and for the toll road between Paris and Le Mans
4. Throw away your GPS since closed roads for the track are not considered
5. Learn French
6. Learn to love to talk about the weather
7. Seats are considered â€œgeneral admissionâ€ through Thursday. So if there is grandstand your want to watch the practice or take pictures do it early. On race day, your seat is your seat and no moving around.
8. If you want the drivers to notice you during the driverâ€™s parade or scrutineering, bring a large banner or flag to attract the driver. With all the noise and music, your screaming will go unnoticed.
9. Be flexible
10. Embrace disorganization!
For many of the drivers I interview or chatted with, their day ended early and for some of the drivers the day ended on the podium.
Two of the cars I followed had failure gear box issues, which I mentioned in my FIA WEC recap from Spa.http://motorweeklive.com/just-the-way-i-see-it-fia-wec-at-spa/
Oak Racing after race report mentions, â€œ#34 Ligier JS P2-Honda-Dunlop, Christopher Cumming, Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre, sadly didnâ€™t make it to the end of the race due to a gearbox failure in the 23rd hour of the race.â€ And the Riley Technologies car with driver Marc Miller, posted on Twitter: Viper Exchange â€@ViperExchange #53 Retired 1:45 p.m., gearbox @jbleekemolen led and fastest GTE-Am lap, 3:55.896, @keatingcarguy race-high P2, @marcmillershow race-high P5
Hope you enjoyed the videos in my article and please let me know your comments. My article photo is taken at the top of the famous ferris wheel. As you can tell, the videos were done with my iPhone real time with racing noises! Aldo contact me if you have any questions regarding Le Mans, travel to the track, the train from Paris, parking at the track, camping, or anything. I will be glad to share my experience, knowledge, and ideas. Thank you for reading!
Please be sure to follow my adventures on Twitter: @viclovesracing
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, FIA WEC, ELMS, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing
All the YouTube videos contained in this article are property of Vickie Miller. You must request permission before using or copying.