24 Hours of Le Mans, Part 1

The 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will kick off very shortly, and we’re on the ground (but seriously jet-lagged) at the legendary oasis of speed in the French countryside.

Audi–our gracious host this weekend–has won the overall title for the last eight years (OK, a Bentley earned the checkers in 2003, but most everybody knows that corporate cousin Audi was largely responsible for building that car). However, Peugeot is on the pole for the second straight year, and its teams seem particularly hungry to make up for last year’s near miss and become the first French maker to stand at the top of the podium since 1993.

But the on-track activities are just a sliver of the Le Mans story. Hundreds of thousands of people travel to Le Mans each year to show their patriotism for their country, their team, and sometimes their preferred intoxicant.

Come scroll with us as we share some of the things besides the battle among the turbo-diesel prototypes from Audi and Peugeot and the rest of the diverse grid:

Before arriving in Le Mans, we spent some time in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is awesome …

… but Champs Élysées traffic approaching the Arc is enough to make a Midwestern car nut like me consider snipping his driver’s license.

The scenery in Paris is absolutely breathtaking. For instance, we saw a Honda HR-V Joy Machine …

… a Pontiac Trans Sport,

… and a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon.

Dear Ford Motor Company:
When will you bring some of your hot global products to the States?

Cool cars cruising around the grounds at the track on Friday afternoon included a 1940s military jeep and a Panther Kallista (pictured), along with countless Chevrolet Corvettes, Lotus 7–inspired roadsters, Aston Martins, TVRs, Ford GTs, Porsche 911s, and lots more auto exotica.

We even spotted a very nice Ford Sierra XR4i, Europe’s version of the largely unloved Merkur XR4ti.

Like infield campers at a NASCAR superspeedway, Le Mans fans set up camp well before the feature event. Tent cities like this are commonplace. Gee, that’s gotta be sanitary …

This year, Aston Martin works cars are wearing the famous Gulf colors, which adorned the race-winning Ford GT40s of 1968 and ’69, as well as the 1975-winning Gulf Ford GR8.

The lusty Audi RS6 Avant’s front brake rotors are almost as large as the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe.

On Friday evening, downtown Le Mans closed down for the parade des pilotes, or drivers’ parade. Some vintage cars also joined the parade, including some of Audi’s beauties from its historical collection …


… and even the Mercedes-Benz Sauber C9. Oh, and dozens of Harley-Davidsons, of all things.

The drivers’ parade was held in the shadow of the gargantuan Presbytère de la Cathédrale. Fireworks continued past midnight following the parade, but it’s now time for us to rest up for the big race, too.