It’s the same for the English fans who annually re-enact D-Day, filling the English Channel ferries and the Chunnel to capacity. After landing on French soil, they make the drive to Le Mans from ports such as Calais and Le Havre. This race is so popular in the United Kingdom that one journalist famously quipped, “This is a British race, it just happens in France.”
Anyone who arrives late on Friday afternoon needs to beware if driving around the service roads. Fans (many slightly over-served) form human gauntlets, shouting for burnouts and shenanigans from all of the motoring exotica, two and four-wheeled, that is circulating the service roads.
Anyone who does not play along is likely to get a dousing from some very elaborate water guns, especially if they are a newcomer who foolishly is showing off his or her ride with the top down or windows open.
“Mad Friday’s” main attraction is the driver parade through the city of Le Mans, yet another tradition. For many fans it is the highlight of the year. It is the final chance to get up close and personal with their heroes before these modern day gladiators take on sports car racing’s toughest challenge.
Each car’s trio of drivers is mounted in the back seat of a convertible and slowly driven through the narrow streets lined five deep with fans who reach out and touch and even sometimes run out to smooch their favorites.
Leo Hindery, who won the GT2 category in 2005 as a driver of a certain age teamed with Marc Lieb and Mike Rockenfeller, told me after the ’05 parade, “That is the only time in my life I have felt like a rock star.”
So if a trip to Le Mans is on your bucket list, make sure you are here by Friday, (only the stuffy corporate suits arrive on Saturday). It could be the most fun you have ever had at a racetrack.
You can follow me on Twitter @JRollerLM24 and hear all the action from the 81st running of Le Mans on radiolemans.com.