Le Mans special: Part 2

July 30 2019
Le Mans special: Part 2

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

RIGHT, things you should know about Le Mans if you are considering going in 2020:

1) Throw away all previous experiences you may have had at British racing circuits. Le Mans is incredibly well organised, laid out and presented. This is no old WW2 airfield hastily converted into a track and left to fester for 70 years. Yes Silverstone, I’m looking right at you. There aren’t even any queues to get into the place, which is on the edge of the fair-sized town that lends its name to the race. The facilities are clean and on the whole excellent.

2) It is a well-priced weekend. My ticket for Friday to Monday was €75. Camping was the same again, staying as we did inside the track and about 15 minutes’ walk to the action. Food and drink aren’t even that expensive, although the quality isn’t what you might expect from the French. Make sure you like Kronenberg or, better still, bring your own.

3) You need earplugs. Yes, the cars are loud but the other punters are louder, especially the Scandinavians and the Dutch. If you want any sleep, you’ll need to block them out somehow.

4) If, like me, you are a white British male aged between 35 and 70, you will blend right in. I reckon 50% of the crowd are Brits, followed by the French and Dutch/Belgian/German contingent. You know that rather homogenous crowd who guffaw behind the presenters on Top Gear and The Grand Tour? Same crowd at Le Mans – take ‘em or leave ‘em.

But what about the racing? Well, that’s the draw, and of course it’s ace. The track is so big (an 8 mile circuit) and your access to watch it so unfettered that you should never get bored. Pre-race testing starts early on the Saturday, and I immediately became entranced with the GT class. Yes, the LMP (LeMans Prototype) cars are faster and far more exotic but they bear no relation whatsoever to road cars. The GT cars, on the other hand, are like steroidal examples of cars you and I, given the money, can go and buy – BMW M8s, Chevy Corvettes, Ferrari 488s, 911s, Aston Martin Vantages and Ford GTs. Le Mans heroes with real pedigree, in other words. Toyota brought home a second victory in a row for the LMP class, but British driver James Calado won the GT class in a 488. If you can stomach the early start, go and stand on the pit wall at 4am and watch the crews changing an exhausted gearbox or drive shaft mid-race. In the relative dark, the mechanicals glow bright orange from the heat – incredible.

The French have the luxury of attending as day trippers, which I envy. They also don’t have to race for a ferry or Eurotunnel train on the way home. And it was on the return journey that I came unstuck. I noticed that the Lexus, pictured, was using more fuel than it should be from Folkestone onto the M25 and then the M4 but my exhausted brain put it to one side. Just get home. And then at 10pm, just past Chieveley Services (typical) it did what it has never done before and broke down. I dumped it and got the AA to take a look the next day – after over 2 hours of effort patrolman Todd out of Swindon (who is my new best friend) diagnosed a faulty motor in the throttle body. He also fixed it, albeit temporarily. How long would it last, I asked? He guessed anywhere between a week and a year. After standing by a motorway for two hours the previous night, this was disconcertingly vague. And because the GS300 is now officially an obsolete car that is no longer made, Lexus have in their grasping wisdom monopolised throttle body part supply and wanted £1k for something that must have cost all of £20 to produce.

There was no way I was going spend that much on a part for a car worth about £1,500. But then again, and rather ironically, I had no idea what to replace the Lexus with...

Next month: Stick or Twist?