Story and photo by Vickie Miller
I returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans (Le Mans 24) this year with a new nervous excitement as I would watch my favorite team, Michael Shank Racing (MSR), on the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time. Â Leading up to race week, the social media outlets and news television portrayed a bleak view of the looming transportation strike in France.
Flights could be canceled, trains not moving, maybe even the local Le Mans tram system was in jeopardy.Â With the EURO2016 soccer (football) event starting, a strike could be national headlines and cause major disruption.Â I am very happy to announce, I felt no impact and the strike was a distant thought.
While the TGV train station at the Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport was much busier than last year, my train arrived and departed on time with no issues. Â The bus and tram system in Le Mans appeared to be running as normal, too.
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 include Le Mans Prototype (LM P1 and LM P2) With LM P1 being considered larger and more powerful, attracting the major manufacturers (Audi, Porsche and Toyota), also LM GTE Pro and LM GTE Am.
The 84th running of Le Mans 24 would introduce the â€œInnovative Carâ€ category with one entry from SRT41 by Oak Racing, Morgan LMP2 Nissan, with drivers (and owner) FrÃ©deric Sausset, Christophe Tinseau, and Jean-Bernard Bouvet.
I have seen FrÃ©deric Sausset before in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS).Â He is inspiring to meet and interesting to watch the team driver change as he is lowered by crane into the car.Â Please read more about the amazing story of FrÃ©deric Sausset here:Â http://www.lemans.org/en/News/team-presentation-lm-p2-srt-41-by-oak-racing-84-morgan-nissan/25020
This was also a race weekend for Ferrari Challenge and inaugural event â€œThe Road to Le Mansâ€ with classes LMP3 and GT3.Â IMSA and 8Star Motorsports driver, John Falb who is racing in ELMS this year was on the podium with his team #77 Graff Racing with the Ligier Nissan LMP3 entry.
The original entry list can be found here:Â http://www.24h-lemans.com/wpphpFichiers/1/1/ressources/Pdf/2016/24-heures-du-mans/entry-list-road-to-le-mans-2016.pdf
An article on the Road to Le Mans victory can be found here:Â http://sportscar365.com/lemans/road-to-le-mans/dc-racing-claims-road-to-le-mans-victory/
The GT3 results can be found here: Â http://www.gt3lemanscup.com/en/road-to-le-mans-2016/race/1/0?race=162
Yes, the 24 hours of Le Mans is racing for 24 hours, I get that.Â But the week leading up to the race event is exciting and magical, too.Â The week starts on Sunday with the first of two days of scrutineering and administrative check-in for the drivers.Â The car is brought on a flat-bed truck from the circuit to the Place de la RÃ©publique which is in the center of the city of Le Mans.
The car is inspected for working indicators, safety equipment, transponders, etc. and weighed-in (called â€œLe Pesageâ€), while the drivers sign-in and are weighed too, and are interviewed on a stage while fans can sit in a grandstand and enjoy.
When the interviews are complete, the drivers and car are positioned in an open area in front of a viewing stand where photographers snap the team photos which I am sure you have seen.Â I am in the background in my yellow coat in many of the team shots.Â Some of the drivers will turn around for fans to capture their front view!
The cars and drivers follow through the Place de la RÃ©publique scrutineering event with the biggest crowds arriving when Porsche or Audi are near on the schedule. Â This year the event was over shadowed by the rain, and at times pouring and driving rain.Â Note of interest, the sun came out for all the Porsche teams.
Towards the end of day two would bring my first time to see MSR and my favorite drivers, Oswaldo Negri Jr and John Pew, joined with Laurens Vanthoor participate in the scrutinnering event.Â What a proud moment to see MSR crew alongside world renown teams and know they belong there too.Â With photos snapped and Ozz taking a selfie with the group from America, the first milestone of my own personal â€œRoad to Le Mansâ€ was complete.
The second milestone in the MSR â€œRoad to Le Mansâ€ would be the driversâ€™ parade.Â The parade route had changed this year due to security measure and the route would not go through the narrow tunnel towards the end leading to Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans.
The driversâ€™ parade is basically a parade with drivers.Â There are bands of all types with inappropriate clothed dancing women sprinkled in with historic cars.Â The drivers come by sitting on the back of a classic car and most throw out â€œtrinketsâ€ like candy, hero cards, plastic wrist bands, etc.
I am there to see the drivers, not to have kids scream in my ear to gain the attention of the driver throwing the object in hopes a candy bag will land his/her way.Â I understand the crowd would be drastically reduced in size if items were not thrown into the crowd.Â And I am good with that.
I have a solution.Â Announce and mark on the route map items will only be thrown the last 3 or 4 blocks of the parade.Â This would contain the trash and contain the people who are only there for the swag, who know none of the drivers by name.
The third milestone in the MSR â€œRoad to Le Mansâ€ would be the grid walk.Â While I was fortunate to have proper access to the grid walk with green wrist band proudly ready to be displayed.Â Many noticed the lack of height of the security guard at the gate and taller fans helped the shorter crowd go right up the middle and gain access.Â Smartly done!
Most of the cars were already parked on the grid by the time fans can enter, but a few cars are pushed through the crowd with security blowing whistles to clear the path. While I totally enjoy being on the grid walk, it would be interesting to watch this ceremony from the stands as the cars roll into their starting spot.
Finally the grid is cleared and only the drivers and crew remain with the car.Â Now I have reached the fourth milestone, the starting of the race.Â Letâ€™s be honest, all I wanted was for the # 49 car to finish. Â With the rain pouring down for the last part of the grid ceremony Laurens Vanthoor, and the rest of the field, started the race behind the safety car.Â Car #49 would start the race in the 7th row.
Once the race is considered â€œwetâ€ it remains under that condition and follows the â€œwetâ€ regulations for the remainder of the race regardless the weather.Â While the sun was shining on the front straight and fans booed the safety car as it came by, with a circuit the length of over 8 miles, there were parts remaining with standing water.
Earlier in the week, the #49 car had replaced an engine causing the team be saddled with a 5 minute penalty which could not be served under yellow.Â After the long safety car start, Lauren would work the car up to first place only to come in and serve the 5 minute stop which felt like 20 minutes!
My eyes were focused on the racing and the timing and scoring.Â With 21:48 remaining in the race, John Pew took over the wheel and completed his first laps in the 24 hours of Le Mans!Â John would be in the car for sunset which proves to be a very tricky time to drive at this circuit.
With a circuit over 8 miles in length, there is not a spotter on every turn and bend. The drivers must be constantly alert and aware of their surroundings and more than any other race, the driver is alone for much of the distance for each lap.Â Oswaldo Negri Jr took over next and maintained position gaining seconds with each lap.
To remember certain moments of the race, I took screen shots on my phone of lap times and the cars position so I can reflect on these moments for years.Â The last milestone in my â€œRoad to Le Mansâ€ saw the #49 car finish 9th of the 23 starting cars in the LMP2 category, which for the first time in this event is truly an amazing result.
The qualifying times, starting grid, and all the results by hour, can be found here:Â http://www.lemans.org/en/Page/results/101
I was standing in the MSR garage watching the end of the race when the Toyota LMP1 car stopped on track.Â At first, we all thought the car ran out of fuel, and my thoughts immediately went to a certain race in Montreal.Â After the race, Motorsport.com reported Toyota revealed the issue was turbo-related with a technical defect on a connector on the airline between the turbo charger and the intercooler, causing a loss of turbo charger control. The control settings were modified which allowed the car to complete the final lap.
With all the drama playing out on track, I just wished the television cameras would not have shown so much of the disappointment on the faces in the Toyota garage.Â Toyota needed this win and I truly felt sorry for the team.
And now time for the videos.Â Get your popcorn ready and enjoy!
John Pew opening comments on Le Mans:
Followup and part two with John Pew:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L80YQobTjbY
Ozz talks about what this race and weekend means to him:
While at Le Mans, I caught up with several drivers to get their feelings on this event:
Marc Goosens, driver of the LMP2 #48 Murphy Prototype Oreca Nissan, talks Le Mans:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whPHzF-LZTA
Filipe Albuquerque, driver of the LMP2 #43 RGR Sport Ligier Nissan, talks Le Mans:Â https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMM_U8PLrpI
Ricardo Gonzalez, driver of the LMP2 #43 RGR Sport Ligier Nissan, talks Le Mans:
Jordan Taylor, driver of the LM GTE Pro #64 Corvette Racing C7.R, talks Le Mans:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXBe2XP7sxc
Tommy Milner, driver of the LM GTE Pro #64 Corvette Racing C7.R, talks Le Mans:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1K_8Gnvq24
Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager, provides his opinion on why itâ€™s just three drivers? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi1QcYXL9WA
A key to keeping awake for the race is to have a time pre-scheduled with friends or be ready to receive unexpected messages requesting to meet up.Â My friends and I set 5am for the ferris wheel and I had â€œcoffeeâ€ times with others.
At 1am I received a message from a driver, which resulted in me bringing him into the media center and introducing him around, etc.Â By my calculations, I actually slept for 20 minutes but â€œnodded offâ€ a few times only to be jerked awake by the car noise in the Porsche garage below me.
Three items of note of disappointment: (1) the famous ferris wheel location had changed and this year was more over a vacant lot with the racing and circuit being further away.Â Last year it seemed to be â€œoverâ€ the circuit and closer to the action.
(2) When purchasing the very expensive pit walk and grid walk access, my friends realized the pit walk was closed Thursday due to the new â€œRoad to Le Mansâ€ racing and the pit area was used by this series. Â This was not mentioned anywhere on the website or order form.
Also traditionally Friday is a â€œfree dayâ€ for anyone to enjoy the pit walk.Â With people pushing their way into the grid walk with no proper access, basically a lot of money was paid for a few hours of viewing the cars in the garage on Wednesday.
(3) The driversâ€™ parade is becoming not so favorite for me. Itâ€™s a parade that just happens to have drivers.
With this being my 2nd trip, I have updated 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. Learn to embrace being pushed and shoved during the scrutineering and parade event.Â Even though you arrive hours early to get a good spot, many will push and shove you to get their place at the front.
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. You may not get what you pay for. Just because you paid for pit walk does not mean the pit walk will be open and you can attend.
8.Â 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. Just because a website or brochure indicates a start time, everything is on French time. Only the race starts on time due to television commitments, or I am sure this too would be delayed.
10. Embrace disorganization!
For all the anguish going to this race can force upon you, it is still the most exciting event in the world and you just canâ€™t explain it to anyone.Â Also seeing so many American fans, cars, and drivers in attendance was exciting.Â As with any 24 hour race, there is always a roller coaster of emotion.Â I am totally gutted for the WeatherTech Porsche team of Marc Miller, Leh Keen, and Cooper MacNeil, and very excited for Jeff Segal and team getting the win.
Of course, nothing tops watching the race with the team you have cheered for over 10 years take laps at the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, ACO, 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.