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.

*This was true when I wrote this, but evil technical situations prevented the posting of this blog until now.

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.

Friday morning, we drove a very sweet Audi A5 200-plus kilometers from Paris. I love driving just about any stick shift, but the way the silky-smooth power delivery of the A5’s 3.0-liter turbo-diesel teams with its six-speed manual gearbox is truly sublime. This combination is unlikely to make it to U.S. dealers, but we can hope, can’t we?