24 Heures du Mans - From a Road Atlanta Perspective

Megan ErnstLe Mans Blog

Thursday, June 9, 2011

As a first timer at the 24 Heures du Mans, I had a laundry list of places I wanted to visit and things to experience.

To begin, it was good I was not the one driving to the track because as soon as I got a glimpse of the facility, I couldn’t turn my head away.  The pit structure stood five stories high with so many grandstands I couldn’t keep track of how many I saw and in the distance was the historical ferris wheel that I had seen so many times before in pictures.  It was the best feeling to finally be here, in person!

My first stop: Registration.  This large sphere shaped building with a very tall rounded ceiling was set up with several desks to help patrons’ receive their tickets.  It sure is nice they know how to speak some English, because otherwise I would have been there awhile!

Sliding on my Le Mans lanyard and hard card, it was time to actually enter the facility.  Cars were lined up all around to get into the famous racing circuit.  They actually scan in each person and vehicle as you enter and leave the track, which makes the wait longer to get in but results in accurate attendance numbers.

Since I am the media geek of the Road Atlanta group, I have to talk about the media center.  I was absolutely blown away by the amount of dedicated media and the space to accommodate such a crowd.  The system as a whole was very organized and easy to figure out.  And the view!  The view over looking pit row and down the front straight is priceless.  Every time you look up there are thousands of fans across track staring right back at you.  What a sight!

The Le Mans track is made up of partially track and public roads.  Riding on the public roads before the race is so exciting.  You can see firsthand what the drivers have to do at maximum speeds up to 200 mph!  And along the track… there are homes!  People can actually sit in their front yards and watch the race!  Now, that is a seat you can’t get at too many tracks!

Pit walk at Le Mans lasts all day on Friday.  No cars even test on track that day… but the crews are busy working on the race cars and have an audience all day as spectators walk around pit lane to cheer on the teams.  Such a neat concept and a great fan experience!  There were thousands of fans all day long walking along the pits.  The crowd never slowed down.

Talk about a town that is truly devoted to road racing and the 24 Heures of Le Mans.  The famous 24 Heures of Le Mans Parade is such a nostalgic part of the event that even the drivers love attending!  Thousands of fans line the streets of downtown Le Mans, which is absolutely beautiful, and are cheering on their favorite teams and drivers.

One detail I forgot to mention, Le Mans is based right next to a small airport.  Similar to Sebring Raceway, except you can watch planes take off and land all day long.  Very cool!

Race Day!  I waited 3 very long days for this race and I sure was ready Saturday at 3pm!  Before the 24 Heures du Mans begins there are two races (Ferrari Challenge and Le Mans Legends).  One very unique activity the track does is put fan entertainment on the front straight in between races.  Everything from dancing to acrobatics to t-shirt launchers.  Very cool fan favorite!

During opening ceremonies fans can get on the starting grid, just like Petit Le Mans, and get pictures with their favorite teams.  But this crowd is intense!  Fans flood the stairs, the seats, the sidewalks, the front straight, and everywhere else they can!  The ceremony consists of national anthems of several different countries, drivers’ running start to their cars (just for show though), the re-con lap and then finally, the start of the race!  What an awesome show before the race begins!

All 24 hours of the race were great to watch.  Very defensive driving, great passes and some awful crashes that everyone walked away safely from.  It was the perfect mix.  Staying up 24 hours is quite the task too… although, lots of red bull and cookies helped!

All-in-all, this was a once in a lifetime trip and was everything and more than what I imagined.  Can’t wait to plan my next adventure there!

Megan Ernst
Road Atlanta