Day 5 at Le Mans 2019
After beginning the past couple of posts by describing the temperature of my morning shower, I think I’ll avoid making a trend of it. In fact, I’ll go straight into explaining why I mention California when describing the past dozen hours.
To those unfamiliar with the Monterey car week, it’s a large organisation of motoring related events where people wishing to get the full experience need to be able to drive from town to town to see what’s what. Today, there were several events all going on simultaneously within a half-an-hours’ worth of driving from the track. This made it very difficult to check everything out and to plan the day especially as it seemed time was evaporating.
First off was a trip to the track where anyone with a regular ticket could have full access to the pitlane. In fact, with no on-track action taking place on the day before the race, the pits are empty for the entire day. Except for the tens of thousands of people looking into their favourite team’s garage that is.
While the pits are open to the general public during the entire day, the teams are busy working on the cars before the big race. In fact, with just a simple peak into the garages, one can see the cars in pieces as the engines are being changed, the systems being checked and the body being polished. The teams are even kind enough to display the larger parts of the bodies outside to make for some interesting photos.
As well as the pits, a part of the track was also available to be thoroughly inspecting and trampled by everyone. From the pit exit to the Dunlop bridge, you could check the tarmac grip, the height of the kerbs and the quality of the grass. Along the track, the ACO had set up a whole heap of historical Bentley racecars to celebrate the British company’s centenary. As an avid Blancpain GT Series viewer, it was especially interesting to see the new Bentley Continental GT3 car, but it was very impressive to walk up to the last British Le Mans winning car, the Speed 8, on the same tarmac it competed.
After rushing back from this little tour of the track to my car, it was time for a rapid lunch and a trip out to a little village called Saint Saturnin. This was the host of the Classic British Welcome event. This is an event that celebrates the arrival of so many people to the area as it did in the 1930’s when the British would flock to Le Mans in their expensive sportscars. Unfortunately, I got to the event too late as I had spent too long at the circuit. In fact, according to the organisers, over 1000 cars were registered to appear but by the time I had arrived, there were no more than 150.
Thankfully, the most exciting to a petrol head was on permanent display. That would be the brand-new Morgan Plus Six because despite what Clarkson says, Morgans aren’t just piles of wood with a thatched roof. The Plus six keeps the traditional look of old Morgans but incorporates high tech features like a flappy-paddle gearbox and new materials. Another car that caught my eye was the Bugatti Chiron proudly parked outside the main hall next to an equally impressive Porsche 917 Le Mans racer from the 1960’s. You would also recognise the Porsche as a car that featured heavily in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film.
At precisely 4:30 in the afternoon, most of the cars on display left the event making their way to Le Mans city centre where the driver’s parade was about to kick off. As this was only event, I got to see last year and was very pleased, I followed the convoy of classic sportscars and modern supercars as it shouted its way through the town. There’s not much better than being overtaken by supercars firing pops and bangs out of the exhaust as they lift off.
Once the I had left the group of shouty, exotic motors in favour of a decent parking space, the town’s atmosphere was electric, and it got more so as I approached the parade route. In places the barriers were holding back a crowd five people thick. I chose to stand in the same place I stood last year, at the end of the parade where the cars then park up in the shadow of the town’s Cathedral. This really made for a magical setting especially as the Sun started to fall behind the taller buildings. During the parade, the drivers don’t just wave as they go past on their vintage cars. Some decide to jump out and give out signed photos while others fire goodies from massive cannons. Either way, it’s a great way of bringing the race and the drivers to the people.
The highlight of the parade though wasn’t seeing crazy supercar concepts hit the streets of Le Mans or even seeing the biggest stars in Motorsport in person. When the Rebellion LMP1 team took its “Because we are rebells” motto to heart and blocked a roundabout with several supercars and smoke grenades, the show got turned up to eleven.
After such an eventful and jam-packed day, the actual 24-Hour race will seem almost quiet and relaxing. I’m sure this won’t be the case but I’ll find out tomorrow when the track once again becomes busy and I try to stay awake for over a day and a half.