Last Saturday was a historical moment for the 24 Hours of Le Mans which celebrated its 80th year holding the race on the famous 13.6 kilometers Circuit de La Sarthe, Le Mans, France.
Number 1 Audi R18 E-tron Quattro crossed the finish line first after completing 378 laps on the next day. Despite of its lack of media coverage here in Indonesia, people who subscribe to TV cable services were able to watch it live for full twenty-four hours without a break. Is 24-hour live coverage the main point of more excitement than F1 races? I wouldn’t say so. There are still more plenty of good reasons why it is. Formula 1 is still a great motor sport with its sheer excellence of engineering and jetset lifestyles — which is easily seen at the Monaco Grand Prix. Yet, in its own way, Le Mans 24 Hours gives you more.
This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans outnumbered F1 in competing cars. While F1 in 2012 season only has 24 cars, Le Mans had 56 — on the same circuit. Those 56 racing cars are sorted into four different classes: LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am. “P” in LMP1 and LMP2 means the cars are classified as two-seat prototypes, with open or closed cockpits. LMP1 is the manufacturer teams: Audi and Toyota (which had started its first Le Mans program since 1999), and the LMP2 is for privately entered cars.
GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) participants were Corvettes, Ferraris, Porsches, and Aston Martins. The discrepancies of Pro and Am are roughly the same as P1 and P2. It even permitted a radical car — Nissan DeltaWing — which did not belong to any classes to enter the race. Its design was so dramatic and unlike any other racing cars you have encountered before. It took the “Garage 56” and was numbered “0”. More different types of cars, more to watch.
Another reason is its 24-hours long race, night and day endurance race, with so many cars makes it produces more unpredictable incidents and emotional dramas than the maximum two-hours F1 race. Crashes between the faster LMP1s and the slower GTEs have been happening in quite a lot of time in Le Mans. We have to admit, crashing incidents are the things that drag people to view. Plus, with the bulkier LMP1 car structures but still can achieve the same highest top speed as F1, 320 kph, sometimes the crash is a bit nastier when it happens. Exhibit the Number 7 Toyota TS030 LMP1 when it was shunt by slower number 81 GTE Am Ferrari 458. The Toyota flipped backwards and upside down at 300 kph, then collide into the tyre wall very hard. The driver, Anthony Davidson, had broken vertebrae but he turned out alright. You also could spot how wrecked the body work was after the crash.
Still, even though the overall winner without a doubt must be coming from the LMP1 class, but winning sometimes is not easy. It might involve some dramas. Tiredness of the drivers in each cars boosts higher human-error in closing stages. Two of Audi’s four cars smashed into the barriers in the remaining three hours. It could be deemed as the unnecessary accident, but the shock was stirred up the emotion of the viewers and notably, the pit crews. Fortunately both were mended and continued to race. Even though it ruined the clear sweep (it was 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th), Audi still managed four cars to snatch the checkered flag and scattered gold confetti in the air on the finishing line unlike their main contender Toyota, which failed both cars. The teams, not only the drivers, but also pit crews, had been struggling keeping their eyes open all the time during the race, ready to do the job whenever they are needed. It is something to be honored and proud of. Sometimes the TV screen shows up a picture of pit crews fallen asleep besides a pile of tyres. F1 only takes two-hour race with less emotional dramas and unnecessary celebrations on each race. Spraying Mumm Champagnes on dull races is shame, Bernie Ecclestone.
The sound adds to the list of why 24 Hours of Le Mans is more interesting than the F1. Sure, F1 engine shows its charisma by shouting and screaming at 19,000 rpm rather than the growling lower rpm diesel Audi engine with lower BHPs as well. Does it stop Le Mans’s charisma? No. Watching an F1 flashes by, people will mainly notice its engine’s tenor scream rather than the Audis lower baritone revs. Le Mans offers you the sound of the speed. Not the “speed of sound,” but it is the sound of the speed. It is the air turbulence noises when something travels at high speed. The noise is emotionally overwhelming. Here is an explanation why the sound of the speed rates higher than the sound of an engine. I have mentioned above that both F1 and Le Mans could reach 320 kph but both are different in showing it off. F1 seems so cocky and steals attention because it screams, yet Le Mans diesel engine is seen as humble, silent, and importantly, honest. The diesel engine sings the song of speed with the air turbulence in a perfect harmony.
It turns us to point number four, the technology and improvements. Le Mans is heaven for prototypes and innovations, unlike the F1 with stricter rules. Le Mans 2012 let the radical DeltaWing took part of the race for the sake of Le Mans’s future. With low-drag-coefficient-Batmobile-shape, the DeltaWing was seen as the future development of the competing cars with less tyre wear and more economical fuel usage. It looked very cool. While on the engine sector, Le Mans permits broader range of engines from petrol, diesel, petrol-hybrid and diesel-hybrid. All of the engines are deemed to be as efficient as possible but still manage to do 300 kph on the Mulsanne Straight. As it happened, the first four-wheel-drive diesel-electric-racing Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro took Le Mans’s 2012 checkered flag. There is no any other racing car with such technology on board could survive the 24-hour battle.
Last but not least, the circuit. Circuit de La Sarthe is vast and beautiful. It is much more beautiful than today’s small, dull, and too-safe F1 circuits. Conceived as the longest circuit in the world, Circuit de La Sarthe used to offer prototype cars to blast up to 400 kph on its six kilometers long Mulsanne Straight, which then in 1990 was deemed too dangerous and two chicanes were added to cut the top speed down. Nevertheless, La Sarthe still has some frightening high-speed corners such as the Esses, the quick-250kph-right turn to Indianapolis Curve, and the Porsche Curves. It is not a permanent race circuit, some local roads have been used in the track’s configuration. Surrounded by big green trees and theme park, the circuit is even more gorgeous at night with the lights from the buildings, the famous Dunlop Bridge, cars’ super-bright flashing LEDs, and the bright shiny huge ferris wheel at the last corner of the circuit, the Ford Chicanes.
Clearly, 24 Hours of Le Mans impresses and outshines F1 in just a day. It offers larger number of cars, teary and shocking dramas in a race, mature sound, higher and broader leap of innovations show down, and the unrivaled exquisiteness of the circuit.