For a Motorsport photographer, the experience at de La Sarthe cannot be missed.
Le Mans week is something different from all the rest.
There’s not much to add: myth, tradition and innovation all together make the french circuit atmosphere like magic.
This year, personally, was an important one: my 10th Le Mans edition.
The memory runs quickly to a thousand moments lived on the Sarthe circuit.
Professional goals, the joy for Pirro and Capello’s success, the fear for my colleagues involved in McNish crash in 2011 (fortunately all unharmed), the tremendous Somensen grief, and not fully understood instantly, the diesel era, and the ibrido one, Peugeot, Audi, AF’s Ferrari, Toyota dramatic retirement in 2016, a moment that I lived at the pit wall with the team while waiting for the chequered flag.
One of the last edition slogan was “Le Mans c’est l’Endurance“and maybe today we can say, in many ways,“Le Mans c’est le motorsport romantique».
The week end of Le Mans lasts, actually, one week.
We start on Sunday, and on Monday we got the usual verifications and the Pesage rite in the heart of the city. This year I came directly from the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix, so, unfourtunately I’ve been hable to get there only on Tuesday morning.
Once you get the pass, the bureaucratic process provides a briefing with the FIA responsible for photographers. In the briefing they show us general security regulations and indicate us the new red areas (banned).
At the end of the meeting, they check the clothing required for access into the pitlane: ingifuga suit and a helmet.
Tuesday goes on with an autograph session, meanwhile in the morning the traditional group photos were taken with all the drivers and rookies.
One of the most fun sides of the french trip is the strong team spirit that is created among nearly all Italian journalists and photographers: we often have dinner all together, and that’s what happened even this year, on Tuesday night, in a downtown local.
On Wednesday we get to the circuit in the morning, even if the activity on track is scheduled to happen in the afternoon, so you got time to have a complete lunch in the Hospitality (Porsche in my case) before the very long turn of free practice from 16 to 20, followed by Qualifying from 22 to 24.
Me and some of my collegues opted together, for the first session, to follow the action from the straight before the Indianapolis, Arnage turn and then at Michelin variant. The heat was a little suffocating and considering the long hike made, the first session was very tiring.
Considering the coming back in the car (we were not so close to the press room), and the time spent downloading the material, our dinner consists of a quick snack with food we got the day before at the supermarket.
The evening session, from 22 to 24, was otherwise dedicated to turn Ford and Dunlop bridge: difficult shots in poor lighting conditions but very effective.
After midnight it’s finally time to go to bed.
In the Thursday program are scheduled activities similar to the ones we had the day before: from 19 to 21 we go through qualifiyng to the mythical Porsche turns to move, then, at the Indianapolis, on the opposite side compared to yesterday.
Another quick dinner and then ready again for the last qualifying session in the PitLane so that we’re ready for the traditional Pole Position celebration shot, to immortalize the brilliant performance with the speed record: there’s so many people in the Toyota’s n.7 box, but we manage to take our photos.
This day comes to an end too, with all the staff exhausted by the heat and the amount of work done.
On Friday morning there are some press conferences but the day is dedicated to the Drivers Parade that winds thought the city streets of Le Mans.
This year the alert is at its highest for the fear of terrorist attacks (a lot of fans are attending the event) so the route has been reduced. At 17 we met at the parking that works as a Paddock for the start of the runway made of drivers, vintage cars, supercars, itinerant shows and gadgets.
The day goes by smoothly. At 21, the “Italians Group” reunites to have a steak all together. During the dinner we remember our past experiences of the 24h and Motorsport in general.
Saturday is the “big day”.
Even if the start of the race is scheduled at 15:00, we came early at the circuit to follow the warm up, that goes on until 12:30, when the long start procedure takes place. It involves aligning the cars in a fish-type grid, like they usually did in the 60s.
I decide to stay in front of the start straight: the heat is really intense and that doesn’t help pictures sharpness. At 15:00, (after the Nathional Anthemes and the Patrouille de France performance) the race finally begins.
After some shots taken on the straight, we go towards Dunlop bridge shooting until Tertre Rouge. We stops in different parts to take different shots.
We got back to the press room only in the late afternoon. I decide to spend another few hours in the boxs, so that I can take some pictures of the Porsche n.2 (the one tha’ts going to win the race) during the repair intervention.
The night is coming and we get ready to take pictures at the sunset, between the Karting and the Ford turns. It’s one of the most suggestive moments to take pictures for sure, and we try to immortalize it with as much intensity as we can.
Once the sun goes down, it’s time to take some pictures in front of panoramic wheel: they’re so hard to take technically, but they’re gonna be great.
It’s deep night at Le Mans by now; we just got back in the press room when the Toyota nightmare starts: the ream will retire two of their cars that were leading the race.
There’s no break at La Sarthe: after a coffée I took in the Michelin aera, a quick snack, some work on my computer, the sunrise comes and it’s time to move to take other pictures with this light. There are few spots from where we can take the iconic picture with the car surrounded by a yellow/orange sky, so we had to get there a hour before.
It’s cold, but the sun comes out, blessing us with some special pictures.
It’s 6:50 circa and we come back to the press room: it’s time to have a quick breakfast and sleep for two or three hours. Our b&b is a few meters away from the main entrance of the circuit, so it’s nearly 9 when we can finally takes some sleep
It’s 12 o’ clock and our colleagues tell us that even the Porsche n.1 retired for mechanichal troubles. The victory is an affair between the Lmp2 and the Porsche n° 2. At 14:00 I come back to the pitlane, in the Porsche pit wall to take some shots of the final laps.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid cuts the finish line and after the lap of honour it runs “counterbalance” the pitlane and loads the two Kiwis Bamber and Hartley to get to the ring under the podium. These are very concise stages in the midst of celebrtions and a tide of people, but in this case too, I can make some pictures that are evocative.
My “Le Mans 2017” is coming to an end: I can hardly reach the photographers ring under the podium, where my colleague Paolo Briatico reaches me with the long optics, impossible to handle in the confusion of a few minutes before. The podiums celebrations are long, and we can feel the heat, considering that the ones that like me are coming from the pit lane are dressed in the heavy ignifuga suit.
It’s time to come back to the press room: I send the pictures, close my equipment, and say goodbye to the cordial press room staff and it’s finally time to go.
Le Mans à l’année prochaine: this year too it has been a very tiring but unique emotion.
Gino Allegritti was born in Rome in 1980. Always passionate about cars, he works on track since 2004. Since 2005 he collaborates with Photo4 following F1 (with permanent pass), Le Mans, Gt, italian championships. He published in Annuario Ferrari 2008, Autosprint (and the cover of the 5/2009 issue), “Il Tempo”, “Il Messaggero”, “Il Corriere dello Sport”, “La Gazzetta dello Sport”, “Corriere Motori”, “ZR zona Rossa”, “Roadbook”, “SportAutoMoto”. He’s a publicist.
Traduzione a cura di Marika Laselva