Le Mans, Part 3

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is about halfway over, and the activities here in France have been quite interesting, both on and off the track.

From the drop of the green flag, the diesels from Peugeot began pulling away from the biodiesel-fueled Audis and the rest of the pack. But a longer fuel window and assorted on-track difficulties have helped Audi stay within striking distance of the powerful Peugeots, despite the latter’s two/three-second advantages per 8.5-mile lap. As of the halfway point, Peugeot held the first and third positions, with Audi’s factory-backed trio holding the remainder of the top-five positions.

Particularly cool is the fact that these diesel entries are probably the quietest racing cars that I’ve ever heard. The Audis almost sound as if they’re electric-powered. It’s quite surreal to see these cars absolutely flying around the track in relative silence.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Chevrolet Corvettes, which sound awesomely brutal (not unlike the stock Z06, actually). The European crowds seem to love it, and the surprising number of Corvettes in the parking lots are evidence that involvement in this race is helping General Motors’ bottom line. halfway through, the Detroit crew’s top Vette is currently some 30 seconds behind the GT1 class-leading Aston Martin.

With slippery and;rainy;nighttime track conditions shaking things up, we should be in for a very exciting finish.

Here are our photographic highlights of the day, in the order that I took them:

If you’re superimportant, you;fly your private plane to the airport that just a stone’s throw from the track.

This is one of two full-size Chevy vans that we saw in the camping areas at Le Mans–notable because these vehicles weren’t originally sold in Europe.

Who needs campgrounds when you can pitch your tent about six feet away from an exit ramp?

Near the end of the pace lap, the front two rows of the grid–three Peugeots and one Audi–breeze by an Audi hospitality area near the pit entrance.

Even slot car versions of Le Mans prototypes are crazy fast.

It’s difficult to keep the crowd’s attention over the course of twenty-four hours; entertainment opportunities include a Ferris wheel …

and bungee jumping.