MMR Blog

Sandy on Assignment:
An American at Le Mans

Posted on July 3, 2013 Comments (5)

Sandy Cotterman, Motorsports Enthusiast

Celebrating the race and its memories.

Celebrating the race and its memories.

Pushing their way onto victory!

Pushing their way onto victory!

Roll every American endurance race event into one and then some... voila, you have the 24 heurs du Mans. The Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 are only training grounds for what to expect at Le Mans! No other racing event in the world matches the frenetic atmosphere and strong nationalism for the drivers, pilots as the French call them, and the team cars they drive.

LMP2 second place winner… a crowd pleaser.

LMP2 second place winner… a crowd pleaser.

The Porsches let everyone know they were back.

The Porsches let everyone know they were back.

I was ecstatic to see so many American drivers and sponsored cars. The official guide boasted 19 American drivers and eight sponsored cars, in addition to foreign sponsored American cars—like one of the Corvettes. I definitely had my favorites and sought out the drivers to let them know. To my delight, I discovered it meant a lot to them.

Patrick Long is one of the first drivers I started following.

Patrick Long is one of the first drivers I started following.

Even during pit stops, the paparazzi where hovering over the Dempsey car.

Even during pit stops, the paparazzi where hovering over the Dempsey car.

On the grid, ready for the start. MMR’s favorite. Car No. 93.

On the grid, ready for the start. MMR’s favorite. Car No. 93.

Tommy Kendall meets Sandy on Assignment for MMR.

Tommy Kendall meets Sandy on Assignment for MMR.

Our MMR favorite Tommy Kendall, driving the No. 93 SRT Viper, was honored by MMR’s interest. Driving the Ferrari GT Pro car No. 71, Olivier Berretta, whom I had met in Monaco, was the first driver I saw and hugged, within minutes of arriving at the track on Wednesday. Two of our youngest American drivers, brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, both Corvette drivers, No. 73 and No. 50, were excited to hear a voice from the States. Number 57 had an early crash during practice and, just like Humpty Dumpty, was put back together for Sunday’s race before retiring early. Owner/driver Tracy Krone appeared touched that a fan had noticed his American sponsored Ferrari 458. Patrick Long was his gracious self, asking me if I was having fun! One of my favorite moments was when Patrick Dempsey gave me a huge hug when I shouted out support for our only all-American team. If only I had a photo! What I do have are more photos of the Dempsey/Del Piero Proton sponsored 911 Porsche, car No. 77, than I have baby pictures of my daughter!

Campers show signs of celebration.

Campers show signs of celebration.

Being a two-year veteran of this event, I am anxious to share what I know. The first year can be a logistics nightmare especially with language challenges. Even buying tickets takes some savoir-faire. My first year, I was extremely fortunate to have been taken under the wings of veteran Le Mans goers Tom and John Brady from my Jaguar Club of New England. Having attended for probably 24 years now, the Brady brothers are experts when it comes to camping logistics… of which I still know nothing. With tens of thousands of gentleman campers, knowing the ropes is essential. The Brits are camped out everywhere and they say percentage wise, there are more Danes at Le Mans than still in Denmark for the weekend. Since Tom Kristensen’s brother owns a travel agency, it’s no wonder the count is high and Tom can be found mingling with the campers. Sightseeing among the campsites is a must!

So here is what I do know. Arrive early. My first year, I slid into town Friday evening which only gave me a taste of race day. This year, I arrived on Wednesday which helped me get oriented with Le Stade and the transit system and it was enough time to enjoy three days of free practice, qualifying, and Ferrari Challenge sessions. If you’re flying into Charles De Gaulle, connections on the TGV to Le Mans are convenient and the ride is just under an hour, with Gares Tram stop right there at the train station. The round-trip TGV fare, just under $100, is reasonable in the scheme of things. Purchasing a ten-ride Tram pass for 12 euros saves you a hassle throughout the week. There is enough signage to tell you to ride the Tram to Antares to reach the 24. If you’re camping, you have your own set of logistics!

The Taylor brothers were both driving the American made Corvettes.

My recommendation, if you have the time, is to arrive Sunday for the administrative checks and scrutineering which takes place at the Place de la Republique in the heart of Le Mans beginning at 1:30p.m… something on my list for next year. Each car has been pre-assigned a time for these tech checks so you can watch for your favorites. I loved following TK’s (Tommy Kendall) daily journal; Sunday sounded pretty cool. Sunday is also one of the only times to explore the historic city center.

The crowds on race day at the start-finish line.

The crowds on race day at the start-finish line.

Before going any further, do what I didn’t do until I was on the plane home. Read the Official Program cover to cover. The Program is what gives you detailed timetables of events and locations along with more personalized commentary on the pilots and cars. What I did take the time to do was practically memorized the Entry List booklet and Practical Guide, both invaluable for maneuvering around the track and learning the cars and drivers. Also, consider buying one of the race radios to hear the race. Again, I did not, thinking there would be enough English. It was limited and muddled. I’m eager to try the radio next year. Also, bring a pair of binoculars, noise blocking headphones and hiking shoes. You’ll be walking for miles, most likely in puddles.

Knowing camping wasn’t an option, I scoured the Internet for B&B’s a year prior to the event. Like everyone else who returns year after year, I’m now on the list! So if Le Mans is in your sights for 2014, start your search now! Tickets for the event are put out for sale in November on the official ACO (Automobile Club de L’Ouest) website. I discovered that anyone could purchase an ACO membership, which gives significant discounts to tickets and the privilege to enjoy the two lounge areas, for lack of a better word. Conveniently located to the grandstands and Dunlop bridge, these centers are a great haven to escape the noise and catch an occasional replay on television and also pick up the hour-by-hour printed time sheets or snacks and a beer. I considered this nominal annual membership the best bargain at Le Mans!

You never know who you will see on Pitwalk.

You never know who you will see on Pitwalk.

Ticket choices will depend upon your budget. A general admission ticket is required by all, but grandstand seating is optional. I highly recommend it, especially covered stands since it always rains at the 24! Even though I wandered around, having a grandstand ticket allowed me access to a seat… and this access is heavily monitored so no sneaking in. I opted for a first time pitwalk pass, which for me was golden. It afforded me the opportunity to walk the paddock, see the drivers, and avoid the crowds. Also, once cars started retiring during the race, it was interesting to watch them transported and laid to rest in the fenced-in paddock area. It’s your call, since the pitwalk is pretty pricey. Again, it’s all relative.

The train got me into Le Mans around noon on Wednesday, my Day One, in time to watch some race practices. You can wander the stands and sit anywhere you like these first couple of days, so enjoy! If you want souvenirs or tee shirts, this is the day to get them, while inventory is high. An official pin is a must… a tip I was given by the guys.

The very first person I met, walking through the entry gates, was Kevin Cantwell, who put so much meaning into my Le Mans adventure. Kevin, a native Britt has been coming to Le Mans for the past 13 years, not only to enjoy the races, but also to coordinate over 350 scouts and 50 leaders representing the Scouts et Guides de France. Guests of the ACO for the past 62 years, it was the Scouts who were first on the scene during the terrible crash in 1955 and will never be forgotten. In return for their campsite just inside the entrance, all meals, and race entry tickets, the Scouts are the behind the scenes workers distributing hourly time sheets to ACO sites, picking up trash Saturday night in the grandstands and assisting handicapped fans to special viewing areas. Several British scouts join the French for this three-day weekend of Christian fellowship and camaraderie. Thousands of race fans walk by their campsite every year, but, I doubt many realize the bond that exists between the ACO and the Scouts. It was touching to learn it myself.

On Thursday, I managed to tear away from the racing and visit Le Musee des 24 Heures, the newly renovated museum within the circuit. It’s a hidden gem with so much history, it’s hard to begin to describe. I loved seeing the Silk Cut Jaguar driven by Andy Wallace. It had been a thrill talking with Andy about that race a couple of years ago when he was at Sebring. To see the car was pretty special. As part of the 90-year celebration, there was another special exhibit in the Village showcasing Le Mans winning cars. Saturday, before the start of the 24, the vintage race cars did a few laps around the track!

There are many opportunities to see the cars and the drivers up close during the week.

There are many opportunities to see the cars and the drivers up close during the week.

Friday at Le Mans is a unique parade day in the Center of Le Mans. Again, I was very lucky to find myself in the front row at the start. Tommy’s journal and my photos tell it all.

Another unique opportunity to get up close to the cars is Saturday mid-morning. Don’t ask me how but I found myself again on the front line watching the cars being pushed onto the grid. Had I been any closer, my toes would have been run over!

The clock keeps ticking as the cars line up after a delay.

The clock keeps ticking as the cars line up after a delay.

Everyone has his or her own way of watching the race. For me, I followed my American drivers plus Olivier. Cars 93, 77, and 71 captured most of my attention. I ran for hourly time sheets to confirm what I was seeing on the big classification monitor. At the end of the day, there was every type of statistic recorded. I had discovered what I’d call a find from where to watch the dusk and night racing... the glass front restaurant to the right of the pits. Just like in Monaco, I was perched about 60 feet above the track with a phenomenal view of pit exits and safety car starts. Le Panoramic takes reservations and again, a splurge well worth the expense. Before start time on Saturday, you have several days to discover where you would like to stand and watch some of the race. Scope it out early.

A rare sight… the final resting place for all the cars.

A rare sight… the final resting place for all the cars.

I know all of us in attendance will remember the moment we learned of Allan Simonsen’s death. The flag of Denmark hung at half-mast and the final podium celebrations were missing some of the special traditions. There were no gold confetti showers. The magnums of Champagne stood in their places, still corked. All signs of restrained celebrations and respect for this tragedy.

Le Mans is the best-kept secret from Americans… and it shouldn’t be. I ran into Don Panoz and he agreed. Where are the American fans? With a little planning you too can live another adventure on your motorsports bucket list. I can’t be the only one waving a 5-foot American flag in the grandstands. Come join me next year!


Nigel Snowden – Pacem

Posted on June 14, 2013 Comments (1)

Steve McQueen

Our lead image is probably the most recognized image of a racing driver in the world. It is the picture of Porsche driver Michael Delaney indicating to his Ferrari nemesis that, like the longbow man on the winning side centuries ago, his two fingers remain intact. Odd that this image, known universally as the two finger salute so representative of racing, is of a fictional race driver in a fictional race.

The image is, of course, of Steve McQueen, talented actor and driver, and the movie is Le Mans. We share the image today because the man who took it, Nigel Snowden, recently died.

As often happens, the real story behind the fiction is more interesting than what was created.

Nigel Snowden was a successful F1 photographer in the early sixties through the eighties and supplied images for top motorsports books and magazines of the time. This image, was not only his shot, it was his idea.

Steve McQueen’s film production company, Solar Productions, raced in a Porsche 908, equipped with cameras front and rear, in the 1970 Le Mans race to gather footage for their upcoming film. The car was driven by Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. (Jonathan’s shorts stories of the day are here in MMR Short Stories.) Driving and working the cameras whenever good opportunities presented themselves, they finished eighth overall. Since Snowden was part of the race day pit action which Solar wanted to replicate, they offered to pay him to do the same thing for their movie. He was delighted. At the end of the movie when Michael Delaney wanted to offer the single digit salute, it was Nigel Snowden who suggested that this might be viewed as vulgar by Europeans and suggested the alternative.

Juan Fangio visits

Nigel Snowden at work

Camera Crew

Steve McQueen and friend say hello

Movie star cars at rest

You can see the images which Snowden shot on that film in Michael Keyser’s excellent book, Behind LeMans, the Film in Photographs.

Nigel Snowden


He’s Fast, He’s Funny & He’s Almost Fifty!

Posted on May 23, 2013 Comments (4)
SRT Car

#93 in the program, #1 in our hearts.

On May 8th we wrote the following to Tommy (TK) Kendall, the 46 year old American driver who will be part of the SRT Viper Team at Le Mans:

Hi Tommy, 

MMRsite.com is a Goods and Services Directory and a weekly MMR Newsletter which has 4000 subscribers. We are mostly men and women of a certain age and we follow current sports car, F1, and Moto GP racing. 

Your participation at Le Mans this year, with your permission, will provide us with someone for whom to cheer. We chose you because you are accomplished, articulate, funny and just slightly closer in age to us than many of the other serious drivers both on your team and in the race. We want to root for you! 

While we don’t view this, or much else, with reverence; we are respectful… generally.

I hope you will take this in the fun spirit in which it is intended.

Peter
MMR

TK replied!

Hi Peter!

I meant to respond quickly with a quick, "#*@& off" in keeping with the spirit of your introduction, but with my tardy reply the chances of that being taken wrong have multiplied!!!

Thanks for bestowing the honor of your support upon me! I am most grateful!!

Enjoying the newsletter too!

Now, leave me alone!!

Best,
TK

Great! So now we have someone to root for at Le Mans. Someone who is fast, funny and #*@&ing cranky! Maybe Milk of Magnesia would help. He can’t be out there racing against those Froggies for hours with an upset tummy and an attitude. What do you think? How can we help our pal and the SRT team?

From Beth Paretta – SRT Director of Marketing and Operations:

Please keep the disruptions to our thoroughbred to a minimum. We have someone brushing his mane as we speak.

:-)
Beth

TK:

Gotta run brushing session is complete, but I have a Grey Poupon facial followed by a Perrier bath to get acclimated.

MMR:

We used to brush… hair and teeth… Don’t forget to bring your own American Depends. You can’t get the same sizes in France.

TK:

Duly noted! :-)
TK

 Tommy Kendall

Tommy "TK" Kendall


24 Hours of Le Mans: June 22-23, 2013

Posted on May 9, 2013 Comments (0)

Test Day: June 9, 2013
Qualifying: June 13 & 14, 2013

The second round of the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) took place on the extremely fast Spa-Francorchamp circuit in Belgium on May 4th. This six hour race was a warm-up for Le Mans and although Audi won Prototype and Ferrari won GT Pro, the races were hotly contested by the Toyota Prototype and the Aston Martins in GT. Aston Martin had actually beaten Ferrari in the first race of the season at Silverstone. At Spa, Ferrari won in both the Pro and the Am (see below) race groupings.

Le Mans is arguably the single most important race in the world. Indy 500 may have a bigger gate and possibly even a larger viewing audience but winning or losing Le Mans impacts the sales of more car, tire, oil, and all the other accessory manufacturers than any other race. Ford knew how important it was in the sixties and it hasn’t changed. For the teams, Le Mans pays twice as many points as any other race in their WEC series. Winning is huge.

This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans promises to be fascinatingly competitive in all classes. Half the field will be made up of LMP (Le Mans Prototype) cars in two classes. In LMP1, Audi and Toyota will contest for overall. One Swiss developed Green GT using a hydrogen fuel cell to run electric motors in Prototype body styles is the designated “experimental” car. Audi have won six of the last seven races but Toyota are touted to make them earn it this year. In LMP2, the battle will be equally fierce with the Oreca-Nissans currently leading the Oak Racing Morgan-Nissans.

The cars that capture our interest are contesting the Le Mans GTE Pro class. There the factory teams of Corvette Racing, Aston Martin Racing and SRT (Viper) Motorsports will compete against semi-factory teams from Porsche and Ferrari. All with drivers rated as professionals. An equally large group classified as “Amateurs” will compete in similar cars.

Within the Pro group of GT Cars, based on past performance and the amount of time they have had to develop their teams and their cars, the Ferraris and Corvettes are battling the returned and refreshed Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. And the AMs appear to have the measure of the Ferraris. But Le Mans is always different. This year the Chrysler SRT Vipers are contesting the American Le Mans Series and they have been invited to play with the big boys at the Sarthe.

Because of their development time, they are unquestionably the underdogs but the Viper name is not new to the Le Mans podium and many people will be watching to see how they do.

Tommy Kendall

One of the major reasons we want to see them do well is because they have invited Tommy Kendall to drive for them. Long one of my favorite motorsports personalities and drivers I was pleased when they asked him to test and was somehow not that surprised that he was the quickest of his group.

Tommy Kendall is 46 years old. That alone should make him our hero.

You can follow SRT online.

Join SRT® at the 24 Hours of Le Mans; two exclusive packages available.