Welcome to Le Mans 2018!
It’s warm, there’s a light breeze, the birds are tweeting and in the distance you hear a buzzing noise. It gets louder and louder, over the crest two blinding LED head lights burn into your retinas and then, the sound of a screaming engine deafens everything around you!
The machine gun like backfiring from the exhausts, rapid downshifts, glowing brake discs from heavy braking, cherry red exhausts, the sound of the engine tone desperately looking for grip on the exit and then the acceleration!
Pure, aggressive, unfiltered, ear piercing acceleration!
Nothing but foot to the floor acceleration, smashing through the gears, the air seems to be alive as the echoes and screams of a naturally aspirated 9000rpm 911 RSR GTE engine deafens everything as it makes its way down to the next sector.
Your smile is uncontrollable, the hairs on your neck stand up on end and then you realise you’ve got 24hrs to go!
Welcome, to the Le Mans 2018!
The journey to Le Mans is an event itself. Being accepted only 15 days before the event via ACO letter, scrambling to book a ferry, getting all your documents together, cramming all your camping gear and equipment into a car and making the overnight journey to Le Mans is a story just in itself.
Mulsanne corner was a great spot for marshalling. [Andy Melling]
Arriving in the early summer’s morning to a well prepared Le Mans; you’ll be finding the nearest French patisserie for strong coffee and still warm freshly baked cakes.
After that it’s the mad scramble to sign on with 1500 other marshals attending the event and of course, it’s all done in French. Everyone is fresh faced, smiling, catching up with old and new friends as well as picking up your supplied 2018 Le Mans overalls and documents.
It’s then the drive down the Mulsanne straight to your post, to greet your post chief and the rest of your team. It’s all hugs, kisses, smiles, and handshakes; as you attempt to speak the best French you know and their better English back to you.
One thing that really does stand out it the way teams feel. There is a real sense of community throughout, as well as the local residents, their businesses and families. Close, long standing relationships have been bonded from the Le Mans 24hrs with marshals and the locals.
The Le Mans was of blue flagging. [Andy Melling]
One moment that was very touching is when we all paid respect to a marshal from our post that had passed away last year. Standing together before the race with a framed picture to remember him, we clapped to show our respects. They then scattered his ashes at the Mulsanne corner so that he’d always be with them in races to come.
A fine tribute and a few tears shed.
The event itself is pretty busy with support races and demonstration laps throughout, however on the Friday we all stand down for the full day, or as many British spectators have dubbed it “Mad Friday” This is a great chance to check out the paddock, the pit lane and all the other activities going on at Le Sarthe. There’s plenty to see in the pit lane with teams preparing their cars for the 24hrs as well as the Road to Le Mans (support race) which is also open to all spectators to view.
Outside the circuit there are parties, car shows, and one campsite even had an adult sized paddling pool with people relaxing, beer cans in hand, while watching the highlights of last night’s 24hrs qualifying on Eurosport!
A catch up with friends and other touring marshals from the UK. [Andy Melling]
The evening is spent on post with your team, chatting about a whole manner of things, brushing up on your French, subjected to a questionable traditional alcoholic French drink and anything else you want to share. Being made so welcome by long standing veterans of the 24hrs, local residents and their families is one side of Le Mans people don’t see. If you invest your time into your post, if you commit to the 24hrs and the people, you will certainly be welcomed in and start to add your own little bit to the Le Mans family tree.
We’ve all seen it live on TV, or perhaps been spectators at the event, but you cannot beat standing track side as cars hurtle towards you at 180mph+, feeling the air pressure from the cars blow you around and bits of tyre rubber bounce off your head. Running out while the track is live to screw in new bollards or help lift a car out of the gravel at 3am while a Code 80/Slow Zone is in place.
But at the end of it, I refer you back to my opening statement. Nothing in the world at present can beat the sound of 30+ GTE cars racing around Le Sarthe.
It won’t be long till I see the sights of GTs again. [Andy Melling]
Once the chequered flag drops and the engines fall silent, it’s the long drive home thinking about everything that happened and what you’ve experienced.
I can’t wait for WEC at Silverstone in August, because they will all be back, and I’ll be eagerly waiting for my “hit” of the 9000rpm screams from the 911 RSR!