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Sunday Night On The Le Mans Camp Sites

This arrived in my inbox from a long-time dsc reader with the request that it be anonymised.

There’s something different about the camp sites tonight.

Something in the air.

We noticed it first on the walk in from Antares. A long line of traffic from the kart track all the way to the tram terminus, stationary, engines off. But no blaring horns, no anger, no frustration just resignation that the road is closed and no one is going anywhere for a while.

To show dissent would seem wrong this evening, like swearing in church. Swearing during a wake.

On the road where it passes beneath Porsche curves there is still the occasional burn-out. But they are not met with the usual cheers, jeers and air horns.

Each one is greeted by a return to the strange stillness that sets this evening apart from the previous ten post-race parties I have known at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Perhaps the boy-racers themselves suddenly realise they have broken some unwritten rule and slink off embarrassed with engine notes respectfully dulled.

There are fireworks, but fewer than usual, just one display from the direction of the airfield and a single answering maroon from Beausejour. The sky is not lit up by streams of rockets, the air is not split apart by continual ground-bombs. Not this evening.

A single Chinese lantern floats across from the South West. In any other year, it would have up to a dozen companions.

Now it seems like a lone light in the darkness. A light that shines brightly for a short while and is then all too suddenly extinguished.

A guitar is playing at Porsche curves. “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix. The minor chords, and the choice of original composer somehow poignant.

Elsewhere there is nothing.

What is missing?

Missing is the thumping bass beat, the singing, the horns and the sounds of revelry from the parties that usually last until daylight on Monday morning – the parties which are always in the Danish camp sites across the road.

Tom Kristensen has won his ninth Le Mans but tonight he is not the driver on the lips of every sports car fan.

Tonight, quietly, almost subconsciously, and with no more ceremony than a shared sense of sadness and bewilderment the Sarthe is still and quiet out of respect for Allan Simonsen.

We, the fans, think we know these drivers but we don’t really.

We know of them, but we don’t know them as people.

To those of us who get our sports car fix from the far side of the wire fences these men and women seem to be an integral part of their machines.

We see them perform impossible feats of skill and daring that the rest of us can only marvel at.

We admire them, we are overawed by their speed through Indianapolis, by how late they brake for the Dunlop Chicane and by the way they take the Porsche Curves, weaving through the traffic at a hundred miles an hour with pin point accuracy.

Occasionally we see them crash. And almost always we see them walk away, James Bond like, from the scene.

We have become so used it that we rarely consider that what they do – what the rest of us imagine we would love to do too – is dangerous.

But now we know.

Now we have been reminded.

And perhaps from now on we will admire those who put themselves on the line to entertain us just that little bit more than we used to.

But that is for the future.

Now we simply show our respect for a life lived to the full but cut tragically short.

Now Le Mans is quiet.

A Sportscar Fan.