So, did you all enjoy Le Mans 2016?
Glory, tragedy, despair, happiness, relief, exhaustion. As always, this race had them all, and it took all of the 24 hours to tell the story.
To come just 3 mins and 20 seconds away from their first win, after previously coming second, four times, Toyota must have dreamed they finally had it in the bag, only for it to turn into a nightmare. And one team’s nightmare becomes another team surprise, with Porsche completing another lap and with it take the chequered flag of victory.
The pleasure afterwards was to see the humility shown by Porsche, Audi and generally the rest of the pitlane towards Toyota and share in their disappointment. It is good to know in our increasingly commercial world of sport sponsorship, that good old fashioned respect still exists, and can still teach us all much about being the best by competing and beating the best without the need to take cheap shots all the time.
For my part, I was able to arrange to marshal at both the test weekend and the race week, and again established a great rapport with the teams, drivers, mechanics and supporters. And see how well they and the travelling entourage cope with life on the road, as some personnel spent up to 6 weeks away from home in support of this one race. The glamorous side of motorsport? I wouldn’t want it.
And, talking of glamour, when you see the photos and TV pictures of mechanics and team personnel in deckchairs and think “ah, shame”, what you don’t see is the rest of the team out of sight, huddled up in corners against a wall, or a tyre stack, or laying alongside the tyre warming tents, doing their best to grab 15 minutes sleep, while still wearing their overalls, gloves, helmets and headsets, and waiting for the chief mechanic to scream in their ear when the car is about to make an emergency visit to the pits!
For these heroes, it’s not a 24 hour race, but at least a 36 hour endurance, as they are at the track early on the Saturday morning so that the car is ready for morning warm up, and only stop once all the supports systems are finally shut down after the race is finished, parc fermé has ended, and their car has been returned to the garage on Sunday evening.
I do want to make a separate mention of Frederic Sausset, and his achievement during the event. It was some 2 years ago that it was first announced that he wanted to enter the event, following a traumatic amputation of all 4 limbs after a terrible infection, and being disabled myself wondered how this would play out. I got to meet Frederic himself at Le Mans 2015, and while I could see the man, still wasn’t sure how he would become the long distance race driver. But with a variety of races in the VdeV championship, then working within this year’s ELMS series, he was able to convince the organisers that not only could he compete, but to also do so safely, to himself as well as to others on track. The special car conversions, the team personnel around him, the sacrifices he’s made to live his dream, …… and they meant so much afterwards when he was able to get up onto the rostrum and take the applause of the massed ranks of the crowd. Congratulations, and thank you Frederic for showing once again dreams can come true with vision, respect and integrity. I am honoured to know him as a friend, and treasure the signed team card I was given, alongside the team cap I now have in my collection.
So, race over, time to relax and start planning Le Mans 2017?
Not a bit of it for the teams, as there is still the small matter of 6 more rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship to work towards, starting with the last European race, in Germany, on 24th July, before all the flyaway races in Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East. I, like you, will be watching all of these from the sofa, but now knowing whose out the back of the garages, warming the tyres, cleaning the wheels, etc. Bring it on!