LE MANS LIVEBLOG: THE FINAL UPDATE
Dan mulls over his first experience of Le Mans...
Excuses, excuses but the so-called 'live' blog never quite got off its feet for the second half of the 24-hour due to technical issues.
So what happened? Well, to be completely honest and on the recommendation of more experienced Le Mans folk like Stuart we actually left - whisper it - before the race finished. For my purist, in for a penny, in for a pound mentality this seemed like an odd thing to do but, given ACO boasts that there were 240,000 spectators this year, was probably not such a bad idea in the end. And I was home in time for tea!
Once the Toyotas exited stage left an Audi victory of some description - in the end the #1 car with 2011 winners Andre Lotterer, Marcel Fassler and Bernard Treluyer - was an inevitability, a shame because in the early stages it genuinely looked like we might have a fight on our hands. A double whammy, too, that the two most interesting cars managed to take each other out, the crash between the Toyota and DeltaWing robbing us of more than just a challenge to Audi's dominance.
There was racing elsewhere on the track though, not least in the GTE Pro category eventually settling to a Ferrari 458 1-2 (the AF Corse car with Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander winning) with the Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Adrian Fernandez Aston Martin in third after the long-running (and thunderous) Corvette challenge faded. LMP2 was won by the Honda-powered Starworks HPD with Brits Tom Kimber-Smith and Ryan Dalziel alongside Vincente Potolicchio.
The only thing more incredible than that was the roar that echoed across the whole of the track when the third England goal went in a couple of nights before - I was halfway between the track and the PH camp site at the time and it was the spookiest, weirdest thing I've ever heard. Incredible! I'm no football fan but even I realised that probably wasn't the Swedes scoring...
So that was my first Le Mans and how better to experience it than from within the heart of the PH fold? I can't sign off without a heartfelt get well soon to Anthony Davidson after his horrific crash though. And the hope that next year both he and the Toyotas are back, fighting fit and ready to give the Audis a run for their money all the way to the line.
So, it's turned out to be a proper Le Mans with all sorts of dramas since I last updated.
When I left you the Toyotas were looking surprisingly strong and trading blows with the Audis to the extent that one of the Audi UK press team - headset in place, brow furrowed - was telling me "you guys in the press have been talking the Toyota down but we're taking it very seriously..." It was shaping up to be a fascinating battle too, the Toyotas on the Audi pace, or near enough, but the diesel Audis able to do 12 laps on a tank to the Toyotas' 11. Amusingly last year the Audis were able to do 11.9 laps to a tank so were fuelled short to do bang on 11.
In the end it was academic, a huge shunt between Anthony Davidson in the (leading at the time) Toyota and a Ferrari back marker meaning a long, long safety car period - nearly an hour - while the Armco was repaired. And then as the flags were finally lifted and the racing was back on the other Toyota tripped over the DeltaWing.
Suitable bandwidth for posting up blog updates apparently impossible to find I tramped off up the paddock, under the track and onto the big wheel with a gang of other hacks out on the Audi ticket. What a great experience that was too, the view over the chicanes and pit straight absolutely breathtaking and the whole of the pit complex opening out from an amazing vantage point.
At the bottom were Stuart and Garlick, fresh from taking PHers on a DeltaWing garage tour, unfortunately timed to coincide almost exactly with the crash that eventually knocked it out. Shame. Double shame that this crash also eventually did for the Toyota, leaving the head of the field to Audi. Quelle surprise.
We did pile into the back of the tech teams' E-Class though and head off down endless dark lanes to the Arnage and Indianapolis complex to get a bit of the flavour of 'proper' Le Mans. Fabulous it was too, the Audis whooshing through with sinister silence and Teutonic efficiency totally at odds with the thunderous Corvettes and screaming Ferraris. The desire to see glowing brake discs and flaming exhausts satisfied it was back to base camp, from where I finally found wi-fi and have been able to update.
I'd diligently prepared a nice, rambling first timer's perspective on the build up to the race but, it seems, I wasn't the only one and uploading proved troublesome. Where's the tech team when you need them? (Snoring in tents behind stacks of empty beer bottles, last time I saw them in fact!)
So. A re-cap. Myself, Stuart and Garlick strode off from the PH camp site this morning, dodging the rain showers and making our way around the paddock and retail village to, varyingly, arrange important business meetings and get all misty eyed over toy cars. Then to Michelin to watch some rather tentative
I then struck off solo with the guys from Michelin and their amazing box overlooking the pitlane. Having spent two days pacing the outskirts of the whole Le Mans experience it was great to suddenly find myself at the heart. Handily the Audi UK team were next door, with them no less than Richard Attwood. Leaning out of a window above the Le Mans pitlane, shooting the breeze with a former winner ... yes, doesn't get much better than that!
Attwood's a great guy too and a real gent. And clearly no less enthralled by the magic of Le Mans than he was when competing, the joy of being here written all over his face. He was interesting on the differences in tempo between then and now, explaining back in the day the cars needed to be nursed if they were to finish but the modern drivers can go flat out for the full race, such is the reliability of the current cars.
Leaving the box for the melee of the pre-race pitlane I bumped into (literally) Martin Brundle and Jacky Ickx, nearly tripped over the DeltaWing and got caught up in the mother of all human traffic jams. No, this wasn't hungover clumsiness - just the madness of Le Mans!
There followed an hour of pomp and circumstance with brass bands and national anthems before suddenly things turned more serious, drivers were installed into cars and, before I knew it, the race was on. I saw the start from the Audi box over the pitlane, got completely overwhelmed by the noise and drama of the first few laps and have since more or less lost track of what's going on! I have had an interesting chat with a Michelin tyre man about their new 'hybrid' tyre though!