Over the weekend, we got to experience first hand the race weekend that is on many automotive enthusiast's bucket lists. Having now been there, having seen the sights and smelled the scents, we can see why so many people flock to northern France every June to watch some cars drive around the countryside. It was on our bucket list, too, and it still is. You can go to Le Mans, but we aren't sure it is something that you can experience just once and consider yourself done with it. It gets inside you like a virus, and won't let you stay away for too long. We know that we'll be making the pilgrimage to Le Mans, France as often as we can. Once you've gone, it's like you've dropped a piece of yourself there, and you feel drawn to go back and look for it. That cliche of a "spiritual experience" isn't too far from the truth, as you can really feel the history of the place as soon as you enter the 'hallowed' grounds.
Here Are 10 Things We Learned From Our Trip To THE Track
1. For Such A Large Track, They Can Really Pack In The People.
This year, Le Mans sold tickets to more people than they had since 1989. Part of that, I think, can be attributed to Porsche's Mission 2014 reunion tour at La Sarthe, but mostly due to the fact that there were seven cars from three manufacturers that had a legitimate shot at the overall victory. 262,000 people joined us in witnessing the race this year, and the stands, infield, camping areas, etc. were simply packed. With more manufacturers joining the fray in the coming years, we could be looking at the golden age of sports car racing.
2. The Food Is Simply Fantastic.
Say what you will about the French, but don't accuse them of lacking in the culinary department. We ate some of the best foods of our lives while visiting Le Mans, and even the trackside food offerings are better. Where else can you get a Grand Marnier crepe while top-level sports car racing prototypes whistle by mere meters away? If you find yourself at the track, be sure to try a plate of the salted caramel Grand Marnier crepes sold in the vendor's section. There isn't anything better for a Sunday morning breakfast after a long night of race spectating.
3. More Than Anything, Reliability Is Key To Winning The Race.
At one point, late in the race, it seemed like nobody wanted to win the bloody thing. An Audi and a Toyota crashed out of contention, the leading Toyota had an electrical fire, the two remaining Audis had turbocharger failures, and both Porsches had a number of failures between them (heat management issues, ERS-derived braking issues, front suspension issues, gearbox issues, and fuel pressure issues). In the end, this race was about which car would fail the least. If Porsche can nail down a few of those problems, they'll have a really racy car on their hands in the coming years.
4. Cooper MacNeil And Jeroen Bleekemolen Are Impressive Drivers.
Due to unforseen circumstances, Cooper and Jeroen were down a teammate when race time came around, and they were the only car to run a two-driver pairing for the 24 hour race, and completed the entire 24 hours. Jeroen worked just under 14 hours of the 24, and Cooper managed the other 10 and something. Because their missing teammate was their amateur driver, they were bumped up into the Pro class, in an out-of-date chassis that was just built from the tub up about a day prior to the start. 5th in class was a mighty drive from the pairing, and they outlasted a lot of the competition. (Not only that, but Bleekemolen doesn't have much time to rest, as he'll be back in action at the Nurburgring 24 hours this coming weekend.)
5. Mark Webber Fever Was Everywhere.
Whether it was the overwhelming sound of Australian accents everywhere, or the enthusiastic French pronunciation (Marc Way-bear) over the loudspeakers, it was abundantly clear that a lot of the spectators were Webbo supporters. He's certainly an affable character, and his until-recent underdog status at Red Bull did nothing to hamper the world's view of Mister Aussie-Grit. He's a true athlete (he was witnessed biking the Le Mans circuit on Friday morning a number of times), and a gentleman. he's good with the fans, and his jawline is sharp enough to cut.
6. Porsche's LMP1 Program F1 Roots Are Showing.
Probably the only thing negative that I have to say about Porsche's LMP1 program was their exclusive attitude. While other teams allowed fans to get up close and personal with the cars during pit-walks, Porsche LMP had their area cordoned off for several meters from the cars, and often had people standing out front of the garage so that people couldn't take photographs. This is a very non-sports car attitude, and quite indicative that these folks have an F1 background. In fact, when the #20 came into the garage just before retirement, those same team members were standing at the front of the garage, not allowing TV cameras or talking heads anywhere near the car.
7. It Is Hard To Beat The Ferrari Fleet In GTE-Pro.
Across GTE-Pro and GTE-Am, there were a total of 11 Ferrari 458s entered (six of them run by AF Corse). It was bound to happen by sheer force of number, but one of the AF Corse cars took the victory in GTE-Pro. The #91 and #92 Porsches both ran into issues over the 24 hours, but Le Mans is starting to become an endurance sprint race, where if you stumble even a little, you'll be unceremoniously overtaken and dispatched in quick order.
8. Taking Down The Dane Train Proved Impossible In GTE-Am.
Aston's factory backed GTE-Am cars were unkillable over the course of the race, and I'm not certain that they didn't have a few bags of sand in the run up to the race start. Once the flag dropped, those Vantages were hard to reign in for the Porsche privateers. Three Danish drivers, David Heinemeier-Hansson, Kristian Poulsen, and Nicki Thiim drove the #95 Aston (nicknamed "the Dane Train") to victory. This, coincidentally, is the same car number that crashed early in last year's race, tragically killing Allan Simonsen.
9. That Place Is So Big!
La Sarthe is a massive circuit. The track is nearly eight and a half miles in length, and the faster cars are circulating it in under three and a half minutes. We were lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to tour the track via helicopter, and the sheer size of the place is absolutely mind boggling. La ligne droite des Hunaudieres is so long, you cannot see from one end to the other, and the trip around the track was much longer than I expected.
10. Porsche will be ready for 2015.
We'll have to write 2014 off as a learning year. Porsche will be back next year, and the 919 Hybrid will be 100% ready to take on La Sarthe. This year, the LMP1 regulations are all new, and the cars were all a bit finicky over a 24 hour period. Next year, Porsche will step up to the plate, but so will the competition.
Other Porsche Blog Posts You Will Enjoy
Porsche Shows True Sportsmanship and Respect By Congratulating Audi On Their Le Mans Win
Pictures From Our Trip To The 24 Hours Of Le Mans
Porsche At The 24 Hours Of Le Mans Race Recap
A Porsche Fan’s Guide To The 24 Hours Of Le Mans