Romancing Le Mans

It is a beautiful, sun-kissed day in mid-June; save for languid lovers in the woods, there are few people about and the French countryside is quiet. A hint of garlic hangs in the still air. Somewhere nearby a bird sings in the trees. Suddenly, a young rabbit breaks cover and arrives at a junction of grass and hard surface.

Uncertain, the bunny reaches out a tentative paw but suddenly pulls back just as a howl fills the air and an Audi R18 e-tron Quattro flashes by in a fury of heat, noise and electricity. Our cotton-tailed creature has almost learned the first lesson of motor racing the hard way – never try to cross the Mulsanne Straight on practice day.For most of the year Le Mans is a pleasant and historic town in France boasting many attractive features, but over a manic weekend in the Summer it becomes a place of pilgrimage for frenzied petrolheads from around the globe as the nearby Circuit de la Sarthe presents arguably the greatest motor race… in the world. 24 Heures du Mans: The race that forms the high point of the World Endurance Championship.

Going to Le Mans for the first time is tremendously exciting but can be a bit daunting. At the very least the significant other at your side will need to be easily as enthusiastic as you because the likelihood is that you will be at the mercy of hardcore campsites that are a little light on sockets for heated rollers. There is even a rumour that divorce lawyers have been known to set up advice centres.

The sheer noise, the all-night parties, the fairground rides and the dubious food means that any sleep, as night falls to the sound of long-distance sports cars, will be fitful at best. Don’t even think about hotels or rented accommodation with hot and cold running services. Even if you found guest rooms within shouting distance of the track they will be priced accordingly, like airlines during school holidays. Getting there is more fun under your own steam by car or motorcycle but less seasoned travellers can choose to go on package deal. Overall, it’s a bit of a marathon weekend.

So why go? Well, the sport is about man and machine in perfect harmony: drivers scaling their automotive Everest, because they can. For the spectator the sport combines all the showmanship of the great entertainers and the colour and spectacle of the gladiatorial arena. Motor racing has become a forum for advertisers to present their brands and wares as a colourful background to the main event. It’s about the dynamic presentation of cars and the different personalities of the pilots who risk their lives for our entertainment.

Le Mans has become a Mecca for like-minded people of both genders where all differences can be forgotten in the pursuit of having a bloody good time and, yes, even falling in love. There is nothing as good as the bond that develops between two people with a shared interest. You can find romance anywhere; on the train, in the supermarket and at Le Mans even if the object of your affections is a car. In short, it’s nearly time for the 2015 World Endurance Championship. It all kicks off at Silverstone on the 12th April.
Geoff Maxted