ROLLER: Le Mans Adventures 2013

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LE MANS, France — It’s “Mad Friday.”

A line of tents at Le Mans. (Jim Roller photo)

Not something you hear at most automobile races. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans it is a tradition that makes this event unique. At this weeklong festival of speed a rational person might think that no on-track action on Friday would make for a rest day, the calm before the 24-hour motorsports storm. Not here.

After two days of prep and two extremely intense days of practice and qualifying, the crews spend the entire day doing ground-up rebuilds, system checks, even the occasional pit-stop practice. That all happens under the watchful eyes of adoring fans. Friday is fun day for the fans.

The pit lane opens to the fans before midday and is open all afternoon. No special pass or ticket is required. Tens of thousands cram the pit lane, becoming a mass of humanity slowly shifting up and down the pits, sometimes, standing 10 deep watching crews work on the cars.

They occasionally interact with a crew member or a driver who is on hand for the annual autograph session, creating a memory to last a lifetime.

Friday is the day when the campsites come to life as the last of the diehard fans arrive. This is where most of the madness of Friday comes from. About 90 percent of the fans who come to this race fill up the many campsites that ring the eight-mile circuit.

Row after row of perfectly matched and spaced tents await the mass of fans that come by bus from Denmark to cheer on “Mister Le Mans” Tom Kristensen. The record setting eight-time winner is a national treasure in Denmark. One wonders how they ever find their own tents after too much of the Carlsberg beer that flows freely. I suppose after a while it really does not matter.

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