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Notebook From Le Mans – Final Thoughts

As a day has passed since the EnduranceAndGt team sneaked on a ferry before chaos ensued in Calais, I thought I would record some thoughts on the race, and race week, when I could put them in perspective whilst they were still fresh in my mind. Detailed reports on four classes, and race results, will follow shortly. Anyway…

The Experience:

Anybody who has attended a 24 Hours of Le Mans has lived through an experience that few global sporting occasions can match. The Indy 500 possibly matches it. The Monaco Grand Prix as well but in a different way. But the immense challenge of racing a car round the Circuit de la Sarthe for 24 hours in weather that is guaranteed to present extremes is, well, in my opinion, in a class of its own.

This year, however, the experience was off the scale. A number of factors, which included the weather, the build-up in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the expectations of history being made, all conspired to produce something which will live in the minds of all those who were there for a long time. Let’s look at some of those factors in more detail.

Photo: Roger jenkins
Photo: Roger jenkins

The Weather:

The weather this year was biblical in the extremes it threw at all concerned. I have never known a Le Mans where it was either raining, had just rained or was about to rain for the entire week leading up to the race, which curtailed the final qualifying session and which caused the race to start under a safety car.

This was rain in a different league. This was rain which was torrential, which hit in bursts that threatened to produce floods and which had people talking about rain-hit race scenarios – red flags, extended safety cars and the risk of huge accidents.

And it was not just the teams which suffered. Race officials, marshalls and spectators alike were all finding it hard going.

Rain regularly hits Le Mans and it is one of the factors that makes it such a challenge and such a spectacle. The rain this year was miserable and affected drivers getting sensible amounts of dry running before the race.

The Drama:

The story of the final five minutes of the 2016 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has already been told a thousand times. Indeed it will be told again at EnduranceAndGT.co.uk. However the heartbreak of Toyota and the victory of Porsche was a storyline that, if you tried to sell it as a screenplay, you would be told it was implausible and that no audience would ever believe it. But we were there. We witnessed it, along with 264,000 others.

It was incredible. It was heart-breaking. It made you want to weep for the immense effort that Toyota had put in to get its cars to first and third with five minutes to go.

But there was more drama, elsewhere in the field. There was the penalty given to the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE with ten minutes to go which, if taken, would have cost it a well-deserved second place in LM GTE Pro.

And there was the #84 SRT41 By Oak Racing, driven by Frederic Sausset, Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet. That was beyond dramatic. That was astounding.

The Balance of Performance Saga:

As a rule, I do not like Balance of Performance (BoP). I believe that technical regulations and the freedom to interpret those regulations and apply ingenuity, risk and hard work to develop the fastest car is what motorsport is all about. However, I understand why BoP exists and why it is necessary. I get it.

The saga that continued to unfold at Le Mans, though, was unseemly and disconcerting. Had the Blue Oval been deliberately hiding its true performance all year until it could unleash it in qualifying? I would hope not as that lessens the sporting foundations of Le Mans but clearly the ACO and FIA did not agree as BoP adjustments were being made in the gap between qualifying and the race. The debate about BoP will continue to rage long past this Le Mans about what actually happened and what must be done to avoid similar situations happening in the future.

Radio Le Mans:

I am sure other broadcasters match the quality and depth of the Radio Le Mans coverage. I hope they do because, if they don’t, that country’s audience has been missing out on huge part of what make Le Mans special.

The coverage this year, though, from the RLM team was exceptional.

The combination of passion, expert understanding of the sport of endurance racing, an engineering expertise unequalled in motorsport and Paul Truswell’s analytical brilliance made for enthralling listening. Without John, Eve, Graham, Johnny, Bruce, Jim, Paul, Nick and the whole of the extended RLM family, the race experience would have been lessened for thousands upon thousands of fans.

Well done, Radio Le Mans.

Photo: Roger Jenkins
Photo: Roger Jenkins

The Hosts:

The ACO has always done a spectacular job in staging the world’s greatest motor race. The organisation and development of such a huge occasion has always staggered me.

However this time, I want to say a special thank you to all the staff who worked around the event. The car park attendants, the security staff on the gates, the staff manning the ticket barriers, the staff selling programmes and radios, beer and sandwiches. They were all, in my humble opinion, smiling, friendly, gentle, welcoming, hospitable and a great credit to their country and to the event.

Thank you to all of you.

Le Mans 2016 is over. The season continues, however, and discussion and analysis about the world’s greatest motor race will continue for a long time to come.

2017 cannot come soon enough.

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