2016 was the first time we’d attended the Le Mans Classic and it was a whole new experience for us – usually when SCG arrive at Le Mans we rock up with an army of people, motorhomes, vans full of kit, marquees, kitchens, media and comms equipment …. the list goes on! For the Classic we went pretty much back-to-basics; two people, an Aston Martin (OK, perhaps the car’s not so basic) and a tent. The ‘back-to-basics’ approach continued with our photographic kit as well as I had drowned my 5d and lenses (don’t ask) in the torrential rain at the Le Mans 24h a few weeks earlier and they were not yet back from repair, so all of our photos over the weekend were taken with my daughter’s old Canon 400D, a kit lens and an iPhone 6 – I kid you not!
This basics approach was also both a blessing and not, as it turned out in the end. It was liberating not to have to worry about setting up what is in effect, a small village for a week, with thousands of euros of kit to be watched over. However, with the weather being what can only be described as ‘amazing’ with blue skies and boiling days (the temperatures in the paddock rising into the 40’s at the middle of the day) sleeping in a tent in such weather was not quite so ‘liberating’ (“I miss the air-conditioned RV”). In the end though it’s all just part of the fun. The ‘smart casual’ dress code meant that I’d packed slacks, shirts and a blazer but the only ‘blazer’ seen anywhere near me all weekend was the sun – luckily I’d also packed smart shorts and all the shirts were short sleeved, for once in my life being quite well prepared!
We arrived early morning on Friday 8th after a long drive up from Bordeaux, popped the Aston into the extremely busy ‘Karcher Wash Station’ opposite Beausejour then headed up to Epinettes to meet up with our camping buddies for the weekend. We quickly got the tent up and had a quick cup of tea (where would the world be without the invention of tea?). Time was ticking on and we had a track session slot booked for 10:45 so it was soon time to head off in convoy to the Aston Martin Club parking inside the paddock.
Once inside the circuit confines what can best be described as ‘organised chaos’ appeared to be underway. The organisation team juggling getting nearly 10 thousand cars into the correct areas of each of the 100+ Club’s parking sections on the Bugatti track. Chaparraling those with track passes into the paddock and then eventually onto the mythical 13km circuit at the correct allocated time and all the while ensuring that all the weekend’s competitors were in the correct paddock for their series – the organisation that went into this was nothing short of amazing.
Within 10 minutes of arriving at the Aston Martin Club area our group were collected by a gentleman on a moped with a whistle (ostensibly to clear pedestrians from the route we were taking – a simple and effective method) and herded into the paddock and straight onto the track. At this point, no matter how many hundreds of times I’ve driven the Mulsanne, Indy and Arnage I admit to being a little apprehensive as we approached entry to the main circuit for the very first time via the exit from Ford Chicane …… and then, in a blink of an eye we were accelerating between the grandstands up the start straight at the Circuit de la Sarthe, yes, driving the full Le Mans track in an Aston Martin – another item on the bucket list ticked off!
After two full laps of the circuit it was time to come in and drop the car off at the AMOC for the day and head off to the paddocks for a proper nose about. Once again, we were impressed by the crowd management underway (with the Gendarmes and Police also joining in the fun of the weekend and helping out) as the cars came through the paddocks and people moved easily to the side allowing them to pass without incident to spectators or vehicles – one has to ask in how many countries and at how many events such a spectacle can still be seen.
We spent the remainder of the day walking through the various paddocks, chatting with proud owners, drivers and mechanics of everything from the pristine to the battle scarred but one key thing that stood out is how important it was to everyone to ensure that their cars continued to be used for the purpose that they had been built for, to race, and not to languish un-driven as a museum piece and the car’s ‘soul’ to slowly fade away.
Saturday and Sunday passed in much the same vein, enjoying what was some of France’s best summer weather, grabbing picnic lunches either at the AMOC marquee or trackside, sheltering from the sun under a tree, or in a bar, re-living the glory days and watching the Le Mans-style running race starts from the (wonderfully air-conditioned) the Media Centre and the grandstands, browsing the thousands of cars around the Bugatti circuit all while listening to the roar of classic cars from the 1920s to the 1970s in the background.
The atmosphere for the entire weekend had been relaxed, casual and laid back but at 14:00 Sunday afternoon it was time for us to turn around and head back south towards Bordeaux where a cold beer beside the pool awaited us after what had quite possibly been the perfect weekend for any discerning car enthusiast!
So what about the results of the photos over the weekend? Well, it was an interesting experiment into what results can be had from using cheap, readily available equipment and they are OK; the photos are certainly not brilliant, far from it in fact and nor would they be. Many of the shots here are pushing the optics and speed of a cheap non-stabilised lens to and beyond their reasonable limits, however, they are usable (just). You can see all of the race photos in our gallery.
So the message here is really, as a spectator don’t be taken in by all the hype and fooled into believing you need to spend many thousands of £,$ or € on your kit. Invest in some prosumer lenses to start you on your journey away from the kit-lens’ that came with your camera body, sure but learn how to maximise the functionality of that body by getting out of ‘auto’ mode – we think you’ll be amazed at the results you will get. Don’t forget also, if you love your shots, share them with us via twitter using the hashtag #FanPix and we may feature them on our website – happy shooting!
Full results of the fantastic racing over the entire weekend can be found on the official site here.