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The Le Mans 24 Hours through the eyes of a first-timer

Autosport social media manager Laura Leslie jumped at the chance for her maiden trip to the Le Mans 24 Hours and it delivered in spectacular style. She recounts her experience and why she wants to comeback for more

Race start

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

If someone offers you the chance to go to the Le Mans 24 Hours, never say no. If you do, then you are missing out on one of the most incredible weekends you’ll ever have in your life.

On Thursday afternoon I was presented with a very last-minute opportunity to go to the centenary Le Mans to cover the event for Autosport’s social media channels. Within a couple of hours, the flights were booked, hotels sorted and accreditation secured. That evening I was busy doing my best Bilbo Baggins impression across Scotland and on my way to France.

The first thing which struck me when I arrived in Le Mans was the sheer number of motorsport-related posters, advertisements, signs and tributes scattered around the town. This place oozes a love of motorsport and truly embraces the 24 Hours as something to celebrate and be proud of. The buzz was real and completely authentic to anything else I’ve ever experienced heading to a motorsports event.

The palpable excitement only increases as you approach the track itself and the sea of people decked out in motorsport merchandise begins to multiply. This is an event people have waited not just all year for, but for some, all their lives. Ferrari was back in the top class with a factory programme for the first time in 50 years - on pole nonetheless - and there was a genuine sense the battle for the win was going to be one of the hardest fought in some years.

On Friday evening it became obvious to me that this isn’t just a 24-hour race, it’s a 168-hour festival. The evenings are filled with the sounds of supercars blasting past, people chatting about race cars and fireworks. The smells of fuel and rubber everywhere. The campsite car parks are filled with the most glorious machines including a beautiful 1963 Ferrari 250 GTE which had been re-bodied into a 250 TR back in the 1980s. It’s a car lover’s heaven.

By the time I was ready to walk into the track on Saturday, I was positively hyper. This was it, the big one. The most anticipated motorsports event in years and I was here. More than that, I was being paid to be here and I knew I had to enjoy every second.

The starting grid is flooded with fans, media and team personnel

The starting grid is flooded with fans, media and team personnel

Photo by: Laura Leslie

Two hours before the race began, the stands and spectator banks were filled to the brim with people of all ages. The fan village was full of families enjoying the displays put on by the manufacturers taking part in the race - children and adults both walking around with shared awe at the sights and sounds around them. It felt welcoming in a way that I’ve never experienced at an F1 race. Le Mans is for everyone, from everywhere.

Like in F1, there’s a pre-race grid walk. Unlike in F1, this grid walk isn’t just for celebrities and the media, it’s for fans too. Thousands mingled on the main straight within touching distance of the cars which were about to do battle. Drivers signed autographs, took photos and clearly enjoyed every second of the atmosphere as much as the fans did. It was a breathtaking and overwhelming experience - particularly for me as a first-time attendee.

The atmosphere in the media centre was just as electric for the start of the race. This was history and we were playing a part in telling the story of it - something which is arguably only sinking in now, days after the race.

I’m going to cherish the experience I’ve been lucky enough to have. I just watched Ferrari win Le Mans, for the first time in 58 years, in person

The chaotic first few hours of the race meant the excitement and energy remained sky-high. Gasps across the media centre as the #311 Cadillac binned it on the opening lap, heads shaking in sheer disbelief both in the stands and in the garages. Then the rain came and all hell broke loose.

By early evening I’d made my way to the Dunlop Curve to experience Le Mans the way it should be done. The cars danced around the track and each other in a ballet that was both beautiful and emotional to watch. The setting sun adds an arty and atmospheric tone. By the time I got back to the media centre, the track was covered in darkness.

Absolutely nothing can prepare you for the joy that is watching cars thunder down the Mulsanne Straight at night. It’s breathtaking. The Garage 56 NASCAR entry in particular was something to behold as you could literally feel the Camaro scream by you every lap.

Eventually, I had to give in to tiredness and return to my cabin for some sleep. The noise of the cars rumbling around kept me company on my walk back and the fireworks bathed the beautiful surroundings in bursts of colour. It’s quite something to be soothed to sleep by the sounds of a V8 NASCAR engine and then woken up to the chants and cheers of fans celebrating the latest overtake for the lead.

The Garage 56 NASCAR entry was a hit with fans for its size, sound and speed

The Garage 56 NASCAR entry was a hit with fans for its size, sound and speed

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Returning to the track the following morning, I could feel the rising excitement at the prospect of the leading Ferrari pulling off a famous win. A sea of red began to envelop the stands across from the media centre and as the #51 car crossed the line to take victory, those stands erupted into a deafening roar of celebration.

At this time I made my way downstairs to where the winning car took part in a victory parade down the pitlane - inches away from me. Thousands of fans, team members and media personnel swarmed below the podium as the Italian national anthem belted out.

PLUS: How Ferrari scored a historic victory at Le Mans

Only then did the exhaustion begin to set in. The magnitude of what we had witnessed and been a part of for the past day was settling through our bodies like we’d just finished a marathon. Even though all I wanted to do was sleep, I also knew that this was an event I have to return to in the future. I want to do the things I didn’t get time for - visiting the museum, watching from the Porsche Curves, taking in golden hour at the Mulsanne and much more.

For now though, I’m going to cherish the experience I’ve been lucky enough to have. I just watched Ferrari win Le Mans, for the first time in 58 years, in person. Maybe I’ll see some of you there next year…

Can next year's Le Mans live up to the spectacle of last weekend?

Can next year's Le Mans live up to the spectacle of last weekend?

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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