The 2022 LeMans 24 Hours
At last! The “some day” finally arrives
by Steve Erlichman
The LeMans 24 Hours: is it all it’s cracked up to be? In two words…. OH YEAH! I got a chance to attend the 2022 LeMans 24 Hours this year when a friend decided to go and asked me to join him. It was the the 99th anniversary running of the race and a tour had 2 spots left. This friend and I have been going to races together for over 40 years. That includes 33 Daytona 24s, 21 Petit LeMans’, too many Watkins Glen 6 Hours’ to count as well as Indy car, F1, etc. So a trip to LeMans would be the pinnacle of our racing fandom together.
We contacted Tours F1. Plug here for Steve and Angie at Tours F1. They did a superb job of arranging everything from transportation everywhere to a 4-star hotel in Tours and great hospitality at the track. Flights from Philadelphia to Paris were booked and we were all set. Excitement built steadily as the day to leave approached. American Airlines got us to France safely and on time.
After settling in we got on a train for a quick tourist trip to Paris. I had never been there, so we took in the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, walked the banks of the Seine River and had a great French meal (alfresco of course). The health app on my phone showed over 13,000 steps that day. That would be nothing compared to what was to come. We wrapped up the evening with a kamikaze Tuk-Tuk ride across town, running stop lights and racing Macron’s motorcade, all while using bike lanes to drop us off at the wrong train station.
We made it back to our hotel alive.
Off to the track!
Next morning we boarded the tour bus and crept out of Paris in apparently typical mid-day traffic. We arrived at our Tours hotel located about an hour from the circuit. It was very nice with a warm staff. We then rested up for the next day’s adventure. After a great European breakfast at the hotel, we were on the bus to the circuit. There were about 40 people in our group, most from the U.S. along with a few Canadians. A motorway drive and then some country roads and then we were on the disused part of the LeMans circuit leading to the old Maison Blanche corner. This part of the circuit is now by-passed by the permanent section leading from the Porsche Curves to the Ford Chicane.
We arrived at the hospitality tent just in time for the morning warm-up. I then walked along the circuit after the warm up, but without a view of it. It was then that I heard a vicious race car sound that in today’s turbocharged world sounded otherworldly, yet somehow familiar. I went up to the observation deck that we had use of and asked a young man what just went by. He said “a car called a Matra”. Indeed it was the ’72 winner driven by Grand Marshall Gerard Larousse. Just hearing the car’s sound brought back fond memories of the Watkins Glen 6 Hour from 1974.
Actually in the pits and on the grid
Our tour included a pits and grid walk. By the time we got there the cars were already gridded. But a walk along the most famous pit lane in the world was a real treat, even without cars. I’m not a selfie person but I had to take a couple with the start pylon in the background.
I was really at LeMans!
I even posted to Facebook, which is something I don’t do normally. When they opened the grid it became quite a mob scene, worse than at Daytona because it was much smaller. But still quite exciting. Lots of folks milling about without a clue as to where they were going or what they were doing. Just being seen were lots of celebs and racing folk. I had the feeling that I was at the center of the world, not just the racing world. All the troubles in the world could fade into the background for at least the next 24 hours.
One of my missions was to find the commemorative plaque from the 1955 accident at LeMans. Eighty-six spectators and driver Pierre Levegh died in the worst motorsport disaster in history. It turns out that said plaque is now hidden behind a new retaining wall and is no longer visible. You would think given the significance of the event that they would have relocated the plaque……
I made my way back out of the pits and stood under the podium. We then headed to our seats in the Motul grandstand, located just outside of the Ford Chicane and across from pit-in. The covered grandstand was a blessing on a sunny and hot day!
The pre-race build-up rivaled the Indy 500 but with a lot less corn. French paratroopers repelled down from a helicopter hovering just over the chicane in front of us. La Marseillaise was sung accompanied by a brass band.
The obligatory fly-over flew and then it was 3:55 PM: time for the grid to roll off for one pace lap. As the warm-up lap finished and the cars lined up for the start, the PA system played the overture from 2001 A Space Odyssey. Funny and cool at the same time. Interestingly no one stood up in the grandstand. They just applauded very politely.
At 4PM the two Toyotas took the flag and the 2022 LeMans 24 Hours was on before a packed crowd! The field disappeared around the bend towards the Dunlop bridge and I got a good sense of the incline past the pits towards the bridge. Until you see it in person you don’t realize how steeply uphill it is and followed by a tight curve.
We saw two fields come past because the prototypes were spaced from the GTE cars for the start. A couple of P2 cars came together just past the pits with one going off into the gravel at the top of the hill. This brought out the first of many Slow Zones. Slow Zones are unique to the World Endurance Championship (WEC). They create a speed limit of 80 kph through the scene of an accident or other incident. As soon as the cars pass the scene they can return to racing speed.
Cars have a button on the steering wheel just like the pit lane limiter for these zones. Violations mean the car will be penalized with a 1 minute stop/hold in its pit box. They still use full course yellows with safety cars for more serious incidents. There are 3 positioned around the circuit for the serious stuff.
Settling in for the long haul
We spent the first 3 hours of the 2022 LeMans 24 Hours in relative comfort in the grandstand. We then went back to the hospitality tent to meet up with the group going out to various corners around the circuit. A nice feature of the tour was free shuttle transport out to as many as 3 locations which would be too far to get to on foot. We chose Arnage as it’s the slowest corner on the circuit. It’s right after Indianapolis where they come charging down out of the woods from Mulsanne and into a very fast banked left hander leading to Arnage, a first gear right hander.
Here we found large earthen embankments packed with people. This was the first indication of the size and scope of the crowd. It took us a good 20 minutes to get out to the corner, having to navigate past the many fans on bicycles along the narrow country lanes. This was the first full capacity crowd since the start of Covid. There were a ton of people scattered around the circuit and surrounding countryside. They say 250-300,000 people attend the race and I believe it.
Due to all the fencing LeMans is not particularly photography friendly. Having said that I still took 1500 shots on my SLR Nikon. I also used my iPhone a lot as well for its excellent video function.
Click here for the conclusion of the race and more photos from the 2022 LeMans 24 Hours in Part 2!
Think you would like to go to the 2023 LeMans 24 Hour race? A tour is highly recommended. Start here.
You can read about lots of racing fun right here.