The 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrated its 90th anniversary this year.
Over its long, illustrious history, the race has acquired a mythical status that extends beyond the boundaries of endurance motorsport. A cursory glance at the records reveals a myriad of facts, figures and anecdotes that have contributed to an extraordinary legend. It would take a lifetime as long as that of the race to truly comprehend the extent and detail of the stories that surround this icon of motorsport.
What started in 1923 as a provincial road race designed to test and improve the cars of the period has risen to the very pinnacle of motorsport. There is something about the 24 Hours of Le Mans that sets it apart. Tom Kristensen, the record nine-time winner of the race and Rolex Testimonee, defines it thus: “This is the race to overcome, this is the race to win, this is the greatest challenge. This race is the race.”
The 90th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will remain in the annals for a long time. A total of 245,000 spectators attended this year, and 1,405 journalists from 42 different countries and 652 different media outlets noted the 16th victory of the Audi team.
This year, Audi of America selected three U.S. media outlets to experience how they entertain their VIPs at Le Mans, and I was one of the very lucky recipients. My journey in la Sarthe region started in Paris when I was picked up by my private friendly “Audi chauffeur” and his A8 that was assigned to me for the rest of the week.
After a 90-minute drive to the small village of GrandLucé, it was time to discover the castle where Audi of America decided to host their special 2013 guests. The 14-bedroom Château du GrandLucé has a rich history dating back to the 18th century. It was recently acquired by American designer Timothy Corrigan. (See complete feature on page X.) On Thursday, Audi organized a very special dinner in the main château dining room where guests enjoyed a four-course meal with some of the fanciest French wines picked by sommelier Régis Hardouin. My room overlooked the castle’s gardens and was next to Scott Keogh’s suite. Scott is the successful, visionary president and CEO of Audi of America whose mission is to take his company to the number one position in the premium luxury car segment in the U.S. within two years.
This year’s race was really well attended and the Audi/Toyota battle was really promising. Only one percent of the 200,000+ fans have a chance to spend the event in the corporate suites overlooking the track or in the multiple specially-built hospitalities where manufacturers involved in the race welcome their special guests.
Audi offers multiple hospitality locations to their VIP guests to watch the race. The Audi Racing Arena is the guests’ favorite. It boasts a unique location directly alongside the racetrack. From there, you can enjoy a view of the chicane in front of the start and finish. The intense sound and breathtaking sight of the race cars with their glowing brake discs make up the fascination of racing. The racing arena offers a wide range of culinary highlights, including the transalpine cuisine created by the chefs of the “Audi Chef Experience.” In addition to gourmet treats, Audi also offers the option to recharge your own batteries with massages and treatments and they even have a top hair stylist on hand in case guests need a last minute haircut.
In addition to all of these overwhelming places to watch and enjoy the race, Audi makes the experience even more exceptional. They built their own racetrack on the Le Mans airport runway and offer the Audi Driving Experience where you can ride in the Audi R8 V10 with a professional driver at the wheel. They also charter a squad of helicopters so you can watch the race from an exceptional viewpoint that takes your breath away.
It was a cold and blustery Saturday afternoon as the 24 Hours of Le Mans start neared. GRAND-AM founder Jim France took his place in the starter’s stand and lowered the French flag to start the race. For the second time in succession, Audi won the Le Mans 24 Hours with their hybrid R18 e-tron quattro race car, thus continuing its unique success story at the world’s most important endurance race. Victory was clinched by Loïc Duval (F), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB). As expected, the twelfth triumph for the four rings at Le Mans was one of the most difficult and hardest-fought ones.
My 2013 Le Mans race ended on a high note when I was able to experience the podium ceremony with the Audi Sport team members. It was an exceptional moment that will stay in my memory forever, or at least until next year, when Audi is set to take on Porsche on June 14-15, 2014. Before that, the stars of Le Mans, including the Audi team, will make a stop at Circuit of The Americas in Austin for the American round of the 2013 FIA WEC on September 22.