Le Mans 24 Hours: A fan’s perspective of the ultimate car event

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The world’s oldest active sports car race and most prestigious motorsport event has been held each year since 1923 in the historic French town of Le Mans. However, famed for being a 24 hour motor race aimed to test the efficiency and endurance of both man and machine, the event itself has lots to offer even the casual road car fan.

Pulling into Le Mans town centre on Friday afternoon, the Cathedrale St Julien hangs peacefully over a hustle of noise and excitement.

The annual driver parade is a must-see for petrolheads with a range of the latest sports cars following 1920s classic Bentleys with the drivers of the weekend’s race perched on top.

Free hats and T-shirts are thrown into the adoring crowd in an introduction to the arena likened to that of Rome’s Colosseum.

The gladiators here may be different beasts but death is still a lingering shadow on their shoulder if something goes horribly wrong come Saturday.

Heading to the circuit on Friday night, a festival atmosphere is seen for miles around. 

Being a public road until Saturday morning, car owners are quick to take advantage and venture onto the track. 

Almost the entire route is available to drive in your road car including the classic loop no longer used by today’s modern challengers.

Car donuts and speed runs are common down the famous three-mile Mulsanne Straight as the distant smell of barbecues fill the nostrils with the Friday night concert booming overhead.

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Paddling pools have been blown up all over the campsite with racegoers cooling off well into the early hours as fireworks can be heard long into the night.

With the race not traditionally starting until 3pm on Saturday afternoon, there is plenty of time to explore the other hidden gems.

Each manufacturer competing in the event has a selection of hospitality areas where fans can get close to production models from the likes of Toyota and Corvette.

As the tricolour flies and the main theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey is played through the loudspeaker, the race finally flies.

The faster Le Mans prototypes take a quick lead with the race versions of road-going GT models scrabbling for position just behind.

No trip to Le Mans is complete without a visit to the Museum which is sprinkled with a selection of cars previously driven in the race.

The most inspiring being that of Frederic Sausset, the quadruple amputee French driver who completed the race with no arms or legs in 2016.

Nighttime is when the magic burns brighter than ever as the fairground lights up and the carnival atmosphere truly begins.

The cars on the circuit are no longer visible. Instead spots of light delicately blinking take its place, dancing for attention at over 150mph.

Come the chequered flag on Sunday, the gates are lifted and fans can move onto the track just beneath the podium.

As the crowd roars, a flicker of golden champagne falls like a sprinkler onto the searing tarmac below.

The sufece is littered with rubber marbles which are still warm to the touch having flown off tyres just 20 minutes previously.

Costs are kept low for the event with general admission tickets usually just below £100 for the weekend.

Tiredness does eventually set in and you can still hear the ghostly sound of screaming engines in your hotel come Sunday evening, but Le Mans is an event like no other.

Fans are not allowed into this weekend’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will return even more passionately in 2021.

Luke Chillingsworth visited the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2018.

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