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2017 Le Mans 24 Hours: 5 memorable moments

2017-06-28 12:45

THIS IS LE MANS: The 50-odd teams line up on the grid before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Image: Wheels24 / Janine Van der Post

Janine Van der Post

'The heavenly sound of thundering engines, celebrating with the winning team... there's a certain magic about Le Mans,' writes Janine Van Der Post. 

Le Mans, France - The theme at Circuit Le Sarthe in 2017 was Mythique. What on earth could possibly be mystical about a race you might ask? In short, everything!

I'm not even sure where to start but the atmosphere can leave the hairs along your arms standing. There's so much to see and do. 

There are stores and stands galore, it's akin to an outdoor motorshow seeing cars you'll rarely (if ever) see on the streets in South Africa. Spotting a Ford GT or an Alpine A110, is a petrolhead's delight.

There's a carnival and entertainment section and a huge ferris wheel that lights up just behind the legendary Porsche Curves corner.

The iconic corners of Tertre Rouge, Indianapolis, and the tricky hairpin Mulsanne, along with the Eses. Yep, I was there to experience it all.

And, there are stars galore at the track, being a guest of Porsche, meant I could mingle with celebs as if it was the norm. 

Here are the 5 top moments at Le Mans that will be sketched into my memories for eternity. I can't wait to tell the story to the next generation when they're old enough to understand.

This is Le Mans. 

1 #Gridwalk

I had to wait about 30mins in 38degree weather before entering, frying like a piece of meat on a sizzling pan. But, once the gates to the grid opened on the track, and as overwhelming as it was, it was intoxicating just being there. Amongst all the sweaty petrolheads, trying to grab a pic or two with teams and their cars, I had to stop myself for a moment; I was in Le Mans, France, on the grid of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. I had to pinch myself. Just an hour away from the start of one of the most thrilling motorsport events in the world.  

And then there's the ordinary folk, like this guy, who is part of a huge picture, and he's just happy to do his job:


2 The French national anthem

Next had to be making the trek up to the grandstand, seeing all 50-odd cars and teams lining-up at the start of the race track to sing La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France.

3 Meeting Bell, Webber and McDreamy

I'm not one to get all star-struck, and to be honest, I didn't lose my mind when Patrick Dempsey (aka McDreamy) walked into the hospitality area - little did I know he was going to be there all weekend! So of course, a photograph was requested. But, when I saw former Red Bull F1 star Mark Webber dash up the stairs, my petrolheart skipped a little beat for a moment. And, who would of thought I'd be making jokes with 5-times Le Mans winner Derek Bell??? 

They're honestly just normal human beings, and so down to earth, who love cars and motorsport as much as the next person, if not more! There were the likes of former F1 driver and 6-times Le Mans winner, Jacky Ickx too, but I just couldn't get myself to muster up the courage to speak to that legend. Everyone was hogging his attention anyway, and so was it just as tough to get a moment to speak to cool dude Porsche tuner Magnus Walker with the Rapunzel-length dreads and shaggy beard. He's such a rockstar. 

4  Celebrating in the winning camp

But probably the most special was just being able to experience the race with the winning team, in their own camp. Seeing Neil Janni come in for a hot meal during the 24-hour stint, watching Timo Bernhard's family run after his tiny toddler while they cheered him on the big screen with the rest of us. Seeing that same driver embrace his wife and family after taking the No2 car from their 56th position to the finish line. Just being in the same room as the Porsche staff and watching the Win. Crying tears of joy with Timo on screen for his great efforts. Drinking champaign when the entire team came from the track. Watching the trophy being brought into the camp, and then, seeing the Toyota head honchos come have a celebratory drink with the winning team. Goosebumps...

5 Being in France...

I think being at the track in Le Mans, took away from the fact that I was in France. Getting stuck in a 5hour traffic jam in Paris reminded me of an average day travelling in SA. Not to mention the scary tram ride back to the hotel - I thought I was back on MetroRail at home...  Eating croissants and chocolate pastries as one does when in France, along with creamy cheeses and delicious ham - more than necessary, is a dream come true.

Another eye-opener is the sheer amount of Renault, Peugeot and Citroen cars around. Trying to explain to French waiters what a milkshake is and, seeing the quaint town of Le Mans come to life, with every shop punting the event from their store fronts, is amazing. Waiting in sweltering heat with thousands of people for the rather disappointing parade, and then giving up on it because of the sheer size of the crowd. Hearing sporty cars roar down the roads at all hours of the night and day, the ones who drove over from neighbouring countries.

It was a little slice of petrol heaven, that's for sure.

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