It’s 4:18 AM Sunday morning and finally time to bed down for the night. Any hope of a quiet, restful sleep was dashed many hours ago since my pillow is maybe 500 meters from the still-live track.
Lying in bed, I can hear the cars being driven in anger, now more than 13 hours into this, my first-ever Le Mans experience. The distinct voices of most of the cars are still identifiable even now, back at the makeshift hotel.
That one that just went by is an Aston Martin; it’s V8 belting out a ferocious tenor pitch. The Ferraris are sopranos, screaming and hiccupping through a rapid-fire downshift before each corner. That most glorious one I just heard is the Corvette C7.R, its tune a classy baritone mixed with a good ol’ American twang.
I can also hear the guests on either side of my “room”, snoring. While I do appreciate Audi providing me a place in their “Mulsanne” Racing Hotel, it’s little more than a large warehouse space with temporary wall structures constructed of the flimsy materials used for low-cost office cubicle separation. Still, I’m eternally grateful for the tiny space – maybe 8’ x 6’ in size – to escape, if not the sounds, at least the constant visual stimulus of the great 24-hour race experience.
Plus, the surprisingly comfortable and very clean Racing Hotel is an infinitely better option than the alternative choices selected by thousands of other, much heartier attendees this weekend. Hundreds of tents are pitched in parking lots and fields surrounding the Circuit de la Sarthe. Meanwhile luckier fans stay in RVs, but the most ardent visitors are simply catching forty winks inside their cars, in old livestock stables or by simply lying on the ground wherever they grow weariest.
These most dedicated of souls here at Le Mans don’t hesitate to endure some minor discomfort for the privilege of simply being part of what is arguably the most important motor racing event of the year. Indeed, these fans – seemingly the majority of the greater than 250,000 attendees this year – consider braving the elements as part of the occasion. Surely most would agree anyway that their sacrifices are minor compared to the physical exhaustion and intense mental pressure the racing teams face for much more than just the 24 hours of the race itself.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that many of the fans are too inebriated by these wee hours to care much about mild discomfort.
By about the forth or fifth hour of the race, it began to properly sink in just how long 24 hours will feel doing one highly-focused thing like racing (or in my case, watching) Le Mans. Think about a normal full-day cycle, balancing sleep, eating, a full day at the office, an evening at home doing household chores and some leisure time watching TV all before going back to sleep for a full night’s rest.