Journal: Cars & Camping At Le Mans: Because Hotels Are For Sissies

Cars & Camping At Le Mans: Because Hotels Are For Sissies

By Alex Sobran
June 27, 2017

Photography by Alex Sobran

Retrospectives on the 24 Hours will probably wax on about Toyota or the grueling duel in LMGTE Pro, but since I’ve already written about the actual race last week, I thought it’d be more fun to look at another side of the event, albeit still with plenty of cars, just a bit more lighthearted; the TS050 was tragedy, but the Trump-stickered Elise was comedy. Here’s a little snapshot of what it’s like to go camping at the greatest race in the world.

I didn’t have time—what a concept, not having time at a race as long as this one—to walk through as many of the many, many campgrounds that fill the belly of the circuit and its perimeter too (but I did spend more than enough minutes getting stuck looking for the single throughway point in one of the more “Twilight Zone”-like enclosures full of fencing), but even just experiencing a few of these special places of interesting and diverse cars and the often very friendly and diverse people who own them is enough to get a taste of it all. And the flavor is fuel and barbecue. And beer—because nothing hydrates on a cloudless scorcher of a summer day in France like two to ten brewsters.

Not to be dismissive of the race itself—never—but the whipped cream topping on this Saturday-Sundae event that gives it just that little bit of extra sweetness comes from the intangibles; not the horsepower nor lap times, but the spirit that descends from the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the fans that rises to meet it. What makes this race so supreme is the whole package, the fact that this tableau exists: I can watch an Irish guy with a van full of speakers pumping out German house music as he grills a French crepe across the way from some American (me) trying (operative word) to take a nap in a rented Spanish car while I can hear in the distance a Chinese driver taking an LMP2 car built in Britain to a podium finish. It’s just the greatest thing, and I can’t help but smile again and almost as wide writing this now as when I was there fruitlessly attempting sleep in the middle of that mess.

The campgrounds at Le Mans are like no other for this reason. They are laid-back affairs in the utmost, and nobody takes themselves too seriously here. Food is passed around, cans and bottles are stacked in bouts of tipsy engineering, and cheeky obscenities are scrawled in dusty windows of mates’ cars (there were predominantly Brits in the lots, at least the ones I saw), and above all people are just blissfully happy, even if they’re more or less completely caked in grime and sweat and squinting into the sun with a migraine brought on by the noise the heat and the primary consumption of meats and booze. There are many barbecues going, but not a vegetable is to be seen. It’s a happy headache if such a thing exists though, because it’s the result of a complete hedonistic indulgence in racing and the enjoyment of the company of friends who also believe that even if you can afford a modern supercar it’s sometimes better to sleep in a musty hot tent than a Hilton.

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Denial SmithPeter SchiavoneMatt HayesAlex SobranChasH Recent comment authors
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Denial Smith
Denial Smith

Great cars, although not all as practical for camping. My friend likes to take wood tent stove with him because he doesn’t like freezing, so he comes to FJ Cruiser to accommodate all this

Peter Schiavone
Peter Schiavone

I have been many times. Once by train, and camping on an opened up sleeping bag. Once in a brand new golf 5, which was my company car. Once in a Passat wagon company car. Once in my 1972 911T. Once in my golf 5 gtd. And last time in my 1973 vw camper van.

Matt Hayes
Matt Hayes

I’m thrilled to see this. As an American that took my first trip to the race this year, and camped in Beausejour (albeit in a rented RV…but with no water, power, or AC), this really captured a lot of what I saw. I was doing a lot of comparing Le Mans to the Rolex 24, and have to say one of the biggest differences was the party atmosphere in the campgrounds. What a great experience!


If the author thinks hotels are for sissies he never stayed at the Auberge du Hunaudiers, directly on the Mulsanne straight; or his sleeping bag has bed bugs. Or stayed at the Hotel du Bavarie in down town LeMans. Rooms were free of bed bugs, but there was a single toilet at the end of the hall and no shower or bath tub. One could shower at the track for a few francs, cold water only.

Tony Pringle
Tony Pringle

Recognise a lot of the cars that were on Houx. I’ve been going every year since ’95.
Always worth a wander round the campsites, and yeah, we bag all our rubbish 🙂

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

Wonderful piece of writing and pictures , thank you !!
The real side of Le Man’s shown properly.
One thing I noticed is the absolute lack of trash or litter. Seems our European brethern have a much nicer attitude toward picking up after themselves than the lot I see here on this side of the pond.