Thrills and tragedy at motorsport’s greatest spectacle
Le Mans 24 hour race still has the strongest lure for racing fans
The Aston Martin Racing Vantage during qualifying. Photograph: Getty Images
The winners trophy
Mechanics work on Toyota TS 030-Hybrid number 8 and number 7 cars . Photograph: Reuters
The Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro just ahead of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid cars.
Cars pass the main grandstand straight during as night descends.
Karun Chandhok of India and Murphy Prototypes drives in for a pitstop. Photograph: Getty Images
Next morning mechanics work on Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro. Photograph: Reuters
The Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro wins the race for a record ninth time. Photograph: Reuters
Allan McNish, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich and Tom Kristensen of Denmark on the podium following the Audi Sport Team victory.
Danish racing driver Allan Simonsen who died while taking part in the 81st 24 Hours of Le Mans
Each year thousands of petrolheads travel from all corners of the globe to descend on the French village of Le Mans, for what is arguably the world’s greatest motorsport event.
The race weekend kicks off in earnest on the Friday evening with the driver’s parade, through the narrow streets of Le Mans. The town is lined by thousands of fans all cheering and hoping to catch one of the treasured race caps being thrown by the passing drivers. With 245,000 spectators attending this years Le Mans 24 Hours the atmosphere around the Circuit de la Sarthe was electric both day and night.
Le Mans is far more than an endurance race seeing manufacturers and privateers do battle on track, there’s a vast amphitheatre surrounding the circuit and paddock that forms an integral part of the ‘Le Mans experience’. From merchandise stalls and bars to kart racing there’s something for everyone to keep them entertained when taking a break from the relentless pace on track.
The vast majority of European fans drive to the race, many with race-livered decals adorning their cars. Take a stroll around one of the numerous campsites and the sportscar fan can gaze at the lines of supercars. Although each proudly wears their team colours with pride all the fans have a mutual respect for each other through their universal love for motor racing.
As the sun sets over the 13.6km circuit the Ferris wheel at the funfair lights up and music echoes from the live concert arena for the hardened spectators, who’ve no plans to take to their tents anytime soon. On track, dazzling lights emerge out of darkness echoed with the howls and barks from V8 Astons, Corvettes, Ferraris and a swarm of LMP prototype cars.
The blisteringly-fast Audi R18 e-tron’s express a unique hiss from their V6 diesel hybrid power trains. Spectators line the Porsche Curves to witness the mind-blowing cornering speeds. Another favourite viewing spot is at the end of the Mulsanne straight where fans gaze in awe as the car’s brake discs glow bright red under intense braking from speeds topping 300 km/h (200 mph).
This year’s race was a race of strategy due to the constant changing weather conditions that saw numerous downpours causing multiple spins and lengthy safety car periods. The team’s mechanics weren’t afforded any breaks continuously changing from dry slick tyres to grooved wets in a battle to gain grip and track advantage. This was echoed after the race by Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport) “For 24 hours straight, our drivers had to cope with changeable weather and adjust to new conditions over and over in a very short period of time.”
Although Audi were the overall race winners ahead of Toyota, Irish eyes were smiling in Co Cork, with Irishman Matt Griffin continuing his impressive performances, finishing in a credible 3rd place in the GTE Am category driving a Ferrari 458 Italia for the AF Corse team. The Irish-run LMP2 outfit of Murphy Prototypes had an early setback when the car had electrically trouble just minutes into the race. Having dropped back to 32nd overall they battled hard to complete the 24 hours finishing 13th overall and seventh in class.
Tragically during last weekend’s race Danish driver Allan Simonsen (34) lost his life when his number 95 Aston Martin Vantage crashed on the fourth lap of the race. This great loss to Allan Simonsen’s family and the whole motorsport community was expressed by Loíc Duval one of the drivers on the winning Audi Sport Team, “Le Mans is a great race that evokes so many emotions and is so tiring. Now I’ve really got to restrain myself to keep from shedding tears. It was a difficult race in which we unfortunately lost someone.”
This year’s race marked the 90th anniversary of the pinnacle of endurance racing. It wasn’t just Le Mans that was marking an historic occasion as Dunlop celebrated their 125th birthday. They’ve a strong Irish connection too with John Boyd Dunlop opening the world’s first pneumatic tyre factory in Dublin’s Stephens Street in 1888.
If you’ve got petrol flowing through your veins with a passion for motorsport, then the Le Mans 24 Hours is an event that merits your attendance.