My most difficult post to complete to date…The fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Part 2; my photographic record and impressions of the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans

After an overly long delay, here goes; “better late than never.”..The fulfillment of a lifelong dream, Part 2.

So having left Porsche’s soon to be completed “Spirit of Le Mans exhibit, I figured it was time to scout out a location for watching the start of the race, and one where I could have a good vantage point from which to begin my photographic explorations. Fortunately, I remembered seeing an open spectator area right behind one of the food and beer concessions, complete with tables and chairs, and based upon the information from my track map, I decided this very area facing the Dunlop curve and Dunlop chicane would be ideal, and give me good afternoon lighting. (Little did I know the side benefit that this location would provide, but more on that later).

For those that follow my Instagram feed, you may have seen a post I made leading up to our departure for France. The Porsche magazine Christophorus, had arrived in the mail, and issue # 366 just happened to be dedicated to Le Mans.

IMG_2206

Inside, I discovered an article written about one of the newest racing drivers to join the Porsche factory team, Brendon Hartley, and his unique talents as a top simulator / virtual test driver. Brendon would be co-driving Porsches new LMP-1, 919 hybrid (car #20) with team mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard. Within the article was a sidebar that included a track map with key sections highlighted, and linked to a description penned by Brendon Hartley, focused on the making of an ideal  lap. Seven different track sections were described, and each accompanied by his personal approach to driving the 919 at optimum speed. It was an amazing article, and his insight into racing at Le Mans made for a great read, not to mention providing me with a list of locations to explore and observe during the race.

IMG_2715

Now back to my trackside adventures…

Since it was now 2 PM, I had just one hour to select my trackside viewing spot, and prepare for the 3 PM start of the race. Given the height of the trackside safety catch fencing, I needed a location with some elevation in order to minimize the fencing’s visual impact. Luckily, there were still some chairs and space available on the elevated concrete patio behind one of the concession stands, so I grabbed an empty chair close to the edge of the patio, and set up my camera gear. This location gave me a solid panoramic view (to my left) of the Dunlop curves…

DSC_0096

and to my right, the Dunlop chicane and bridge.

DSC_0099

With the clock ticking and less than 1/2 hour to race time, one of the pre race activities included an aerial show. After a brief PA announcement, the event’s focus shifted skyward, just in time to catch a trio of skydivers beginning their descent.Their ultimate landing / target turned out to be the start / finish line.

DSC_0126

DSC_0129

With all eye’s turned skyward…

DSC_0131

DSC_0134

With the last of the skydiving trio successfully back on the tarmac, the final countdown to the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours race began. After another brief announcement over the PA, there arose a collective cheer that could be heard coming from the grandstands situated along pit row, and suddenly race cars appeared on the track. Leading the pack was the brilliant red Audi RS6 Avant (as seen below), representing one of the multiple Safety and Race Control Cars provided by Audi, which would pace the pack for their warm up laps. These red Audis RS6s would reappear multiple times over the next 24 hours, anytime race conditions warranted the need for a safety car on track (in the event of an accident on the circuit, or weather issues). After picking up the race leader, the Audi RS6 Avant would control the pace of the field, until race control determined all current concerns had been resolved, and it was safe for the competition to resume.

DSC_0093

Following a short distance behind the Audi, was the crowds first glimpse of the competitors we had all come to see, beginning their initial warm up laps.

The first of the new Porsche GT3 RSR’s below; leading the pack was the Porsche Team Manthey (i.e. Factory team car) 911 RSR #91, competing in the GTE / Pro class…

DSC_0107

and for 2014 from the Proton Competition / Dempsey Racing team, their new for 2014 Porsche 911 RSR #77, competing in the GTE  / AM class.

DSC_0108

Below, one of the first LMP1 cars to appear; Toyota’s TS040 Hybrid, part of the two car team as campaigned by Toyota Racing.

DSC_0111 - Version 2

Another of the Porsche 911 GT3RSR’s, a joint effort between the Belgian Prospeed Competition group and the American firm Weathertech.

DSC_0110 - Version 2

Following behind Weathertech’s Porsche 911GT3 RSR, was one of the first LMP2 class race cars to appear. This particular car (#42) was entered by Caterham Racing, but managed by Greaves Motorsport. Ironically, the drivers line up for this car consisted of two american drivers  (Chris Dyson and Matt McMurry), with the third (Tom Kimber-Smith) representing Great Britain.

DSC_0114

Representing the United States, was this duo of Corvette C7Rs, fielded by the Pratt & Miller team.

DSC_0141

Following close behind was Nissan’s ZE0D RC (a solo entrant), entered by Nissan Motorsports Global.

DSC_0124 - Version 2

Another team representing Great Britain was Aston Martin Racing, competing with a pair of V8 Vantage coupes.

DSC_0215

And finally the LMP1 class team cars from Porsche rolled into view; first up was the #14, 919 Hybrid…

DSC_0112 - Version 2 followed close behind by its teammate, the #20 919 Hybrid.

DSC_0113 - Version 2

For the Tifosi assembled, the 2014 Le Mans 24 contained a total of fourteen Ferrari 458 Italia models, competing in both the GTE PRO and GTE AM classes. Below, is one of the 458 Italia’s, competing in the GTE / AM class, for the AF Corse team.

DSC_0182 And finally, one of the three Audi R18E-tron LMP1 race cars, entered by Audi Sport Team Joest.

DSC_0176

As the cars filtered past, suddenly there was an eerie silence as the last car in the race car conga line disappeared under the Dunlop bridge.

DSC_0094

Then from the direction of the start/finish line, a roar went up from the grandstands, just as the clock struck 3:00pm, signaling the start of the race. Continuing this crush of sound were the first cars to come into view; an  R18 Audi e-tron followed closely by a Toyota TS040 hybrid and Porsche 919 hybrid…

DSC_0179 - Version 2

DSC_0196

DSC_0237 - Version 2

Following closely behind these lead LMP1 cars was an assortment of GTE PRO, GTE AM and LMP2 class cars.

DSC_0160

DSC_0253 - Version 2

DSC_0246

My first hour and a half of the race was spent exploring the Dunlop curve and Chicane area of the track. And by 4:30pm, the Dunlop curve location proved to be a good choice, especially when the gray clouds that had been gathering over the track, decided to rain on this automotive parade. As the skies open up, I was able to take cover beneath the projecting roofline of a cantina located on the infield side at the Dunlop curve. Here I could  stay dry and continue to shoot the race from under cover for the next half hour as the storm passed. Fortunately, this was the only rain that would fall on the event.

DSC_0291

DSC_0257

So with the skies now clearing, I decided to make my way south towards the start / finish straight, with a stop along the way to watch the cars returning to the track at the pit out / exit. This also afforded me a unique perspective to view the cars close up and at speed, as they accelerated on their way towards the Dunlop curve.

DSC_0327 - Version 2

DSC_0356

DSC_0367 - Version 2

DSC_0343 - Version 2

DSC_0377 - Version 2

DSC_0349

DSC_0378 - Version 2

With the sun now beginning to cast longer shadows, I decided to do some more track exploring and wanted to check out the view at the Dunlop bridge. For the spectators with reserved seating in these grandstands, this area provided an ideal vantage for watching the cars race through the Dunlop curve and Dunlop chicane, and set up for passing beneath the iconic Dunlop Bridge, and then continue towards the “Esses” section on the opposite side. This location also made for some interesting photographic captures …

DSC_0384

DSC_0386

DSC_0387

As the sun continued its arc across the sky, and the light levels began to drop, I figured it was a good time to refuel and grab some food. So heading back into the village, I found a small cantina offering up a variety of sandwiches. The jambon y fromage baguette (ham and cheese) had been a good choice at lunch, so another two were consumed for dinner, washed down with a large Coca Cola to caffeine load for the long night ahead. (I had decided that since this was my first trip to Le Mans, I did not want to miss a minute of the race, and was determined to stay awake for the entire 24 hours).

So after my quick dinner, it was time to continue my exploration of the track, which was beginning to fall under a cloak of darkness. Since I was still in the proximity of the Dunlop chicane, I decided to check out the area between the Dunlop bridge and the Tertre Rouge bend. On the way, I stopped to watch the cars flying through the Esses, and capture some of the action ( these images were taken at around 10:30 pm).

DSC_0403

DSC_0391

DSC_0402

By midnight, the darkness closed in and the perspectives shifted again…

DSC_0412

DSC_0409

Exiting the Tertre Rouge bend,  the cars transition onto the longest straight located on the track; the world-famous Mulsanne straight. So I hiked out to this area of the track in the dark, and discovered an illuminated pedestrian corridor running beneath the race track, which allowed access to the viewing area located to the outside of the track. This proved to be a great location for observing the stunning performance capabilities possessed by the LMP1 class vehicles (in particular, the Audi R-18s, Porsche 919 hybrids, and the Toyota TS040s). It was equally amazing to watch the GTE PRO and AM class cars follow the same trajectories, but at a slightly reduced top speed, and with a uniquely distinct exhaust notes.  It was surreal to watch how fast these cars could track through the turn, only to disappear into the darkness down the Mulsanne straight. As the cars disappeared from view, you could still hear them accelerating and hitting their shift points, as they raced  down the Mulsanne.

With the hours passing, and in an effort to stay warm, I decided to do some more exploring of the track, so I went in search of a classic visual icon; the neon illuminated ferris wheel, located by the Maison Blanche section of the racetrack.

DSC_0424

With it now close to 3 AM ( the halfway point of the race), I felt it appropriate to check out Porsche’s infield Hospitality center.

DSC_0426

Access into the facility turned out to be by invitation only, which contained a cantina, boutique and product showroom, and a floor to ceiling video display wall, located on the back wall of the vehicle showroom, and broadcasting live coverage of the race.

As I stood on the outside looking in, I was surprised at how many people were still inside given the hour (shopping at the boutique and watching the video display). The showroom also housed an example of  Porsche’s new for 2014, 919 hybrid race car, as well as a copy of the latest 911RSR iteration, identical to the two team cars being raced in the GTE PRO class.

IMG_2400

IMG_2417

With the temperatures still cooling, it was time for me to once again refuel with something warm, and fortunately I found a cantina in the Village still open, serving up coffee and hot chocolate. Time to take a break, put me feet up and take my backpack full of camera gear off for a while, and warm up with two hot chocolates, and watch the race coverage streaming on one of the large video displays located within the village.

DSC_0436

DSC_0438

A total of 6 jumbotron video displays were situated around the track, and were a great tool to have for staying current on the action taking place on and around the track. In addition to the imagery, race standings were posted over the duration of the 24 hours.

Warmed up, refueled and still awake at 4:30 AM, I decided to return to the Esses and Tertre Rouge area of the track, to watch the sun rise over the track, and watch the early morning light illuminate the race cars  circulating around the track. Once again, the elevated berm in this area served as an ideal platform for viewing the racing action in these two zones.

A series of shots captured at the Esses, with the aid of the early morning light.

DSC_0445

DSC_0450

DSC_0451

DSC_0453

DSC_0439

With the sun on the rise, I made way down to the Tertre Rouge bend, and staked out a spot at the top of the berm, as a good vantage point from which to photograph the remainder of the race, and slotted in amongst the crowd that had begun to assemble.

Below are a random assortment of shots I captured over the course of the morning, and wrapping up at the conclusion of the race at 3 PM.

DSC_0620

DSC_0608

DSC_0622

DSC_0615

An instance where the safety car (above) was dispatched to pace the field…

DSC_0627

DSC_0660 - Version 2

DSC_0642 - Version 2

DSC_0675

DSC_0685

DSC_0693 - Version 2

DSC_0731 - Version 2

DSC_0733

DSC_0742 - Version 2

DSC_0812

(Below), the crowd that grew around me Sunday morning, on the berm at the Tertre Rouge bend…

DSC_0053_2

DSC_0037_2 - Version 2

At 2 PM, suddenly the race took a negative turn for both of Porsche’s 919 hybrids (#14 and #20), which for the previous 23 hours had collectively given both Audi and Toyota a run for their money. But now, both cars were in the garage, with the #20 car retired with motor issues, and the #14 car sidelined by gearbox and drive train issues. For the remaining hour, the two Audi’s and the sole remaining Toyota continued lapping the track, chasing the clock to 3 PM. However, unknown by their competitors, Porsche had been working on the #14 race car, in an effort to return it to the track. And with only 10 minutes remaining,the 919 returned to the track, unfortunately circulating at a less than competitive pace.

The two Audi’s R-18 e -trons and the sole remaining Toyota TS040 soldiered on, and at 3:00 PM, Audi took the checkered flag, and once again finished in 1st and 2nd place, with the Toyota TS040 placing third.

DSC_0197_2

DSC_0200_2

DSC_0128_2

DSC_0213_2

And to everyone’s surprise, the #14 Porsche 919 hybrid had returned to the track, taking its final lap and crossing the finish line.

DSC_0192_2

At the completion of the 2014 race, Porsche announced their intentions to return in 2015. And it appears that they were true to their word.

As of this posting, the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans concluded today;  Porsches three car 919 hybrid team (#17, #18, #19)  not only qualified on the pole, but also captured second and third place on the starting grid. As for the race, at the end of the 24 hours, Porsche scored a win, taking first and second place overall, with car #19 f and car # 17 respectively. Porsches third 919 hybrid (car # 18), finished in 5th place, behind the two Audi R-18s, which captured third and fourth place.

Porsche fans world wide will be celebrating this years Le Mans 24 one -two victory, as well as the manufacturers overall Le Mans 24 victory tally being increased by one to a total of 17.

And with Porsches upcoming Rennsport Reunion V , with a “Legends of Le Mans” theme, September in Monterey promises to be a continuation of the celebration of this milestone victory.

(All photos by the author)

Advertisements