Friday, March 25, 2016

Coffee Brake: The Greatest Show on Earth -- The LeMans Classic

Coffee Brake: Automotive group events come in many different shapes/sizes, the smallest/easiest being the local Saturday morning Cars & Coffee event, but slightly larger and more organized events happen on Friday evenings and Saturdays throughout the sunny season(s).  However, there are a few events that eclipse even the best local or regional car show -- events that should be on every gearhead's bucket list.  In the USA, these events include the Woodward Dream Cruise in Metro Detroit and the fantastic Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca, but...I have to tell you, there is somewhere better, an event that is so awesome, it only happens once every two years and folks travel from thousands of miles to attend -- it is the LeMans Classic. (This year's event is 8-9-10 July, 2016).

There are a few things that set the LeMans Classic event apart from most other car events -- first is that you are at the Circuit de la Sarthe -- the grandpappy of endurance racing circuits, where the 8.5 mile track runs though normally open roads in rural French countryside, a strange throwback to when auto races happened on public roads.

The variety of cars on track at any given time is just fantastic -- all cars must have a racing pedigree to qualify, running at LeMans helps, but you will find 50s Cadillacs mixing it up with a Porsche 550 Spyder.  Throughout the weekend, they run 6 different run groups (alternating every few hours) of about 60 cars each, so you get to see over 300 cars hauling around on track -- this is not your average vintage racing event.

The best part is when the track goes dark...they keep racing.  Sure, you could head back to an over priced hotel in town, or you can reserve a camping spot at the track, where you will probably lie awake all night listening to the sound of uncorked racing cars from another era.

If you tire of watching insanely expensive vintage racing cars being hurled around the track and prefer to check out your favorite make/model, you can head into the car corrals where clubs from all over Europe gather to share a few parking spaces -- but even that can be tiresome...

So you head out to the general admission parking where you are greeted with the strangest collection of cars you will ever find.  For a car geek, this is like the world's biggest candy store and you'll want to savor every minute of that weekend.

I had the fortunate circumstances to be in France on business on a gloomy weekend in 2008 (and took the pics for this article) -- a British colleague (and fellow motorhead) insisted that I join him -- it was sublime.

Access to the pits was very open and worth a few trips to visit.

Anyone with shoes could get access to the stands above the garage at the main straight.

The LeMans circuit is huge and you will spend considerable time just walking from one end to the other, if you choose to.

But, why move around when the cars come to you?

Know of a better car event? Comments below.


  1. Bucket list (sorry liste Bucket) for me for sure... Thanks for telling us about it.

  2. Great pix and report, I will add it to my List! George in Toronto

  3. I had the pleasure to attend the 24 Hours in 1979. It remains one of the highlights of my race watching. The ambiance was intoxicating: half race, half rock festival. When I could no longer stay awake, I pitched a pup tent on the outside of Turn 1, just near the Dunlop Bridge. Amazingly, I slept to the drone of the cars. However I was aware that I had woken up several times overnight. When I emerged from the tent shortly after dawn, I found three separate wrecks had happened right in front of my location. I guess that was what had interrupted my sleep!

    I am not sure I would be as interested in the modern 24 Hours these days, as spectacular as it probably is, but the Classic would be a real treat. I still get to France every few years, so maybe I can plan to attend. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. Ok, bucket list has been amended to include a Tour de France mountain stage/LeMans Classic double feature.


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