Monday, January 27, 2014

Musée des 24 Heures du Mans

Written by Adam
We drove into Le Mans, France on a sunny weekend afternoon.  Our first impressions of the town were quite vivid.  On the outskirts of town, Le Mans, France looks to be a prototypical contemporary business park.  The edgy buildings architecturally imply a modern high-tech focus, a sort of playground for French technicians of some sort.  

As you drive deeper into the town, the banal suburbs of anywhere come to mind.  Neighborhoods stretch like veins of normalcy into extensive retail shopping areas, criss-crossed with expressways that terminate in equally spaced traffic circles.  Across the river, there is the genuine and authentic old town of Le Mans - most certainly quite French in character and feel.    

Yet, the most famous reason that the town even registers in world conciousness is the famous automobile endurance race that tests both man and machine:  The 24 Hours of Le Mans.  There was but one tiny sign mentioning the circuit among a scattering of other directional suggestions and local business promotions, yet when we drove directly in the suggested direction there was no further guidance provided, and we found no hint of the racing circuit itself.  Yet we drove on and on, exactly like the professional racers do for 24 hours on race day.

It sure was tempting - if the idea was not so ridiculous.  Karen thought that since we were in town, perhaps we could drive our camper van, Otto, around the high speed circuit.  Since Otto most closely resembles an ambulance, there was probably a microscopic precedent for having a vehicle with no real racing pedigree merge onto the race track and hurtle towards the first turn on a voyage to racing immortality.  Mercedes Benz. Citroen. Renault. Ford. Ferrari. Porsche. Audi. Jaguar. Alfa Romeo.  The list goes on and on - all trying to win the endurance race and thus eternally distinguish their marque.  Volkswagen Vanagon?  Theoretically a vehicle like this could possibly win the contest, most likely if all the other cars entered dropped out of the race due to crashes and disabling mechanical issues.

But, wiser choices prevailed, and Otto was informally disqualified from becoming part of racing lore in a rush of pure common sense exhibited by his driver - me.  Once free from the burden of risking all to become a part of racing lore, we somehow managed to stumble upon a road sign inviting us to experience the Le Musee des 24 Heurs du Mans Racing Museum.  We arrived without the flourish and glory of a checkered flag and the cheering crowds.  In other words, it was a perfectly appropriate arrival for a vehicle of Otto’s boxy pedigree.  We parked him just outside the museum entrance, quite close to a visiting Porsche 911.  If you listened very carefully, you could almost hear the ghost of Ferry Porsche laughing as we locked all the doors and made our way inside.

The spectator entrance to the famous French racing circuit.
The now-outlawed running start across the racetrack, where a brief footrace by the participating drivers preceded the actual start of the endurance race.  
A vintage Ferrari is among many other vehicles on display in the racing museum.
No other shade of red in the world compares to the one adorning this Ferrari.
It should be ridiculous...but a French passenger car was modified to race at Le Mans.  It was reported to be very fast for its era, and thus was fondly remembered.  
A French car actually won the race in 1976, with Porsche being "knocked out".
The 2012 Le Mans winner was this diesel-powered Audi - the e-tron quattro hybrid.


Gus & Cam said...

Great story, Adam, and so well written. Once Porsche is in your blood, it's hard indeed to consider anything else. So, are you slowly rebuilding your 912? Wish I would have kept my '65 356 sc cabriolet...
Are you still up for a sojourn into CO mid June? That would be fabulous. Looking forward to catching up in person, Gus & Cam

Observers of Life said...

Oh, how do I break the news to you...I sold the 912 to a professional restoration mechanic who lost his pristine Bahama Yellow 912 to his ex-wife in a divorce settlement! So, he's starting over in more ways than one. In other world news, I failed to mention that I also refused to drive our Vanagon Campervan on the Nürburgring, mainly because I could not decide on what part of the circuit was the most exciting to drive off the road. Also, I have an interest in saving a few trees as well as myself!