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