Octane Photos – Badger’s image purveyors of choice – are far from an F1-only setup. They’re on all forms of motorsport, and here snappers Craig and Leanne gives us their guide to the endurance classic that is the Le Mans 24 Hours, which runs its 2011 event this coming weekend.

The Le Mans race weekend of the 11/12th June has already started! Setup is underway, with scrutineering taking place early in the week in Le Mans town centre (entry is free) and qualifying run from Thursday afternoon through to the night (giving the teams a chance to set up their lighting rigs for cover-of-darkness racing).

The pitlane opens to the public on Friday, giving fans a chance to get within drooling distance of their favourite machines. Time for sharp elbows and pretending to be not British: push, shove, ouch, “pardon”, push, jab, “عذرا”, grunt, “przepraszam” etc.

One of the great Le Mans traditions takes place that same evening: the drivers’ parade through the town centre. Every competitor sits in the back of a classic car and is paraded in front of thousands of fans at a proximity that would make an F1 driver call their agent. They traditionally throw coloured bead necklaces into the crowd, although these days the “gifts” also include signed promo cards. The crowd love it, whilst the bars and restaurants do a lively trade in beer most of the day from newly set up outdoor beer carts.

On race day the action kicks off at lunchtime (you will need the extra rest), with the support race. 2010 saw 80s Group C cars (either Dunlop messed up big time or there was more track debris than expected, as more than a few got pitched into the walls and gravel) whilst 2011 sees the return of pre-1966 Le Mans cars (originals, not replicas). The line has been drawn there to prohibit the GT40 running – even 1965 GT40’s are out! Ho hum….

Race time! It’s 15.30, Ladies (yep – not an all-male club) and Gentlemen: start your engines! The days of running to your car and climbing in before starting to race disappeared in the very early seventies. Drivers weren’t closing doors or even doing up seatbelts until they got a break on the 200mph Mulsane Straight, now broken up by two chicanes to stop the cars going supersonic; well, probably.

Like most GT and Endurance races it is now a rolling start; out of the main straight they are into a sweeping left which then drops the field into a long chicane leading up the hill under the iconic Dunlop Bridge. Tetre Rouge then follows, before entry into the famous Mulsane Straight.

As mentioned, this is now punctuated by two chicanes to keep top speeds down. I believe that the max speed hit was about 215mph in the early 70s, when there was no safety cell or HANS, and the drivers’ feet were ahead of the front axle line. As one 1960s competitor said: “when you are running down the Mulsane you can’t help but think, if there is a problem now, which tree will I hit?” Armco and catch netting are now in evidence all round the circuit; they will have been put in place last week as the majority of the circuit is made from public roads).

If you think a busy race weekend is watching the F1 and the Indy 500 think again! After the 15.00 start, sunset hits about six and a half hours later and the endurance element kicks in here! As well as the racing, Le Mans is famous for its nightlife – a multitude of bars keep everyone well lubricated with Kronenboug (other lubricants are available) and the funfair starts doing serious trade: bumper cars, a ferris wheel, death burgers – in fact all the fun of the fair.

Oh, and as well as the beer, burgers and funfair the racing carries on..


Dawn over the French countryside...

Dawn creeps in at about 06:00 with the die-hard fans unwrapping themselves from sleeping bags/tents/caravans/beer can mountain, and starting to look up the phrase book for the French for bacon sandwich, or more likely wondering if the bars are open yet.

Okay you’ve survived the track food and the night – it’s 9 in the morning and you are starting to feel human again. But here are 8 ½ hours still to go – you’ve just past 2/3 distance!  If you have tuned into Le Mans Radio you will know who is where and still running, and if not it’s time to start to figure who is still on track and which teams are nursing crippled cars (personally, we like to see cars finish the race held together with tank tape). Finally, when the victor crosses the line there will be a track invasion that makes Monza/Spa look like a Sunday mothers’ meeting.

Still want to come along? I don’t blame you! Select Motor Racing still have a few slots left on their two, three and four night tours – give ‘em a call. We’ll buy you a beer!