Editor’s Note: Motul, the French performance oil company with which the entire LMP2 class cars run on, hosted a group of us so we could see, first hand, everything the 24 Hours of Le Mans has to offer.
“I’ve been coming to this race for fifteen years and I’ve never actually seen the cars out on track. I just man the grill and watch the cooler every year.” – Some guy, at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For some, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a necessary motorsport pilgrimage. For the teams and drivers competing in one of the world’s toughest endurance races, it’s an honor just to line up on the grid, let alone realize the dream of pursuing victory at the legendary race. And yet, still, for a majority of the crowd in attendance, it’s a wonderful excuse to go on an international camping trip, watch live music, drink beer with friends and simply party for a few days straight. The topic of cars doesn’t even have to come up in conversation, despite the constant drone of the high-horsepower racers buzzing down the closed public roads of Le Sarthe, France.
Part of Circuit de Le Sarthe is run on roads that are open to the public the rest of the year, and just like any other race track, there are grandstands, team hospitality suites. If you want to watch the race there’s more than enough ways and places to do it. But say you don’t care about cars at all — you wouldn’t be alone. In the lead-up to the race weekend, there are parades in downtown Le Mans and bars and restaurants are filled with race fans and tourist alike. If you want to enjoy a lively French town, sip on a cold beer and eat fine cuisine, Le Sarthe is just as equipped and just as ready for that too.
At the 24 Hours of Daytona, most of the stands were empty throughout the race. But then, during the race, little other entertainment was offered outside of the actual racing. The stands at the 24 Hours of Le Mans were full late into the night; wandering out to the Porsche Curves section of the track, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the nowhere, I was still passing droves of spectators. I mean, it does help that Porsche sets up a biergarten out there every year, which stays open throughout the entire race, from 3 p.m. on Saturday to 3 p.m. on Sunday. But in between the far reaches of the race track itself and the front straight, you’ll find a Ferris wheel, carnival games, campgrounds and a pop-up club built by Guinness.
After spending a full 24 hours awake, walking back and forth across Circuit de Le Sarthe, pinballing between watching the race, wandering into beer halls and stopping at espresso machines and currywurst stands, I still didn’t get to “see it all.” I’m already thinking about going back next year and bringing along a few friends. They sure as hell don’t like racing and probably won’t even watch the race but I can guarantee they’ll have the time of their lives somewhere in the middle of it all.