At the press conference, I found myself seated behind Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell.
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Jacky Ickx has six Le Mans victories and Derek Bell has five. These guys are considered as Porsche “royalty” and Le Mans legends. To be in the same room as them was amazing.
On Saturday morning, I arrived at the Sarthe circuit just before noon. The race would only begin at 3pm, so I had plenty of time to find a nice vantage point to watch the race start.
I had my phone and gimbal with me, but I really should have packed some earplugs as well.
For despite being about six storeys high in the grandstand, my ears began ringing as 60 racecars started their engines and took off.
For the uninitiated, there are three times as many cars in a WEC race than in a Formula 1 race, because the former has four racecar categories: LMP1, LMP2, LMGTE PRO and LMGTE AM.
Now, I wasn’t going to just sit around and wait at the Porsche media centre. There was too much of a great atmosphere outside, despite temperatures soaring past 30 degrees C.
Indeed, the area surrounding the track was party-like. Groups of friends and even families with babies in tow strolled about. There were lots of guys walking around shirtless, but no women in bikini tops (or topless, for that matter).
To get closer to the race action, I took one of the shuttle vans to the Porsche Curves. Fans, some wearing ear protectors, were camped out and eagerly watching the cars zip by.
It wasn’t long before I could recognise the different racecars by their sounds.
The Chevy Corvettes emitted low, “brooding” notes from their V8 motors, while the Aston Martin Vantages, also V8-powered, actually sounded like street-going muscle cars.
The most deafening machines on track, however, weren’t the top-tier LMP1 racers, which are petrol-electric hybrids.
That honour belonged to the Porsche 911 RSR with its revised and much louder exhaust system.
Hearing the flat-6 motor being revved to 9000rpm was an eardrum-shattering experience.
I got even closer to the action when I made my way to the Indianapolis Corner at sundown.
I was right by the fence and could literally feel the raw power of these machines as they prepared to enter the corner.
Every downshift was accompanied by a mad cacophony of cracks, blue flames being spat out of exhaust pipes, and the red glow of carbon-ceramic brakes.
By midnight, I was back at the media centre for a snack, and then a big shock – Toyota, which fielded three LMP1 cars, was struck by rotten luck yet again.
One car was being repaired in the pit, their lead car had broken down, and the third one had gotten into an accident. Porsche was in first place!
Tired from the day’s events, I returned to the hotel for a cold shower and much-needed sleep.
On Sunday morning, I awoke to find Porsche still in the lead. But that didn’t last long. At around 11am, the leading 919 Hybrid had also broken down.
The tram ride to the racetrack was nerve-wracking. The only other Porsche in the running was in 54th position and 19 laps behind the leader of the pack, an LMP2 racecar from the Jackie Chan DC Racing team.
But that didn’t stop the team with the most Le Mans wins from mounting a successful comeback.
Cheers erupted in the media centre when Porsche driver Timo Bernhard finally un-lapped himself and overtook the LMP2 racecar.
As the No.2 Porsche 919 Hybrid passed the chequered flag just after 3pm, a deafening roar swept through the grandstands.
There was joy, laughter, tears and applause at the media centre when the LMP1 drivers appeared.
I again found myself in the company of legends – I was at the same table as Derek Bell, and Jacky Ickx was chilling behind me .
But there was more drama to come. Hours later, several members of the Toyota LMP1 team arrived and were greeted by thunderous applause. They were there to congratulate Porsche on yet another victory – and to enjoy some German beer. This, I told myself, is the spirit of Le Mans.
A few weeks after this poignant victory, Porsche announced that 2017 would be its factory team’s final year in LMP1 racing.
Wow. Now that really made my experience one for the ages.
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