Held annually since 1923, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a motor race like no other that challenges the both man and machine. Possibly the most famous and prestigious motorsport event in the world, the 24 hour long endurance race takes place at the Circuit de la Sarthe – an 8.4 mile track, a short distance from the French town of Le Mans, part of which is made up of public roads that are closed for the race and the practice sessions in the preceding week.
As a self-confessed ‘petrol head’ and motorsport fan, I was lucky enough to attend this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, which offered a wealth of opportunities to indulge my two passions – cars and photography. I arrived armed with my Olympus OM-D EM-10.2, which is a small, mirrorless DSLR that’s better suited for travelling than my Nikon D800 and full-frame lenses. The lenses for the Olympus are much smaller and lighter, and the lens that spent most of the time on my camera body over the weekend was the Panasonic 45-150mm, which has a maximum 35mm equivalent focal length of 300mm, allowing me to get closer to the action.
The race weekend always kicks off with a concert on the Friday night and this year’s headlining act was one of my favourite bands – Jamiroquai.
The atmosphere, as they say, was electric and Jay Kay’s blend of acid jazz, disco and rock was a big hit with the fans, over 100,000 of which turned out for the gig.
He kept the crowd rocking for over two hours before jetting off from the nearby airstrip. Jay’s love of cars and motorsport is well documented and during a break in the set he described in colourful language how devastated he was to have commitments in Greece that prevented him from staying to watch the race.
The race itself started at 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, with over 60 cars lining up on the grid to start the race. The noise is immense as 60 race cars charge away from the starting line and head up to the first corner and as a as a spectator trackside you feel the roar of the engines almost as much as hearing it.
There have been some catastrophic accidents at Le Mans over the years with both drivers and spectators losing their lives, so stringent safety measures have been introduced to minimise the risks. The high fences do a great job of protecting the crowd but limit the places around the circuit where you can get clear, unobstructed shots of the cars in action. Each year, thousands of professional photographers apply for an official event photographer’s pass, which gives them unparalleled trackside access, but unfortunately I couldn’t count myself among them!
Nevertheless I managed to capture some images that I’m really proud of.
As the afternoon turned in to early evening, the onset of ‘golden hour’ helped to produce some dramatic images. We were also fortunate at this time to get access to one of the VIP lounges located above the garages, which offered a fantastic view of the start-finish straight and the pit lane.
The night saw several cars crash out and a number of retirements due to reliability. Former F1 champion Jenson Button, driving for Russian team SMP Racing, struggled with engine problems but managed to keep the car running until the Sunday morning.
Another F1 legend, Fernando Alonso, eventually crossed the line in the number 8 Toyota to win the LMP1 class – the fastest of the four categories. Porsche were crowned winners of the GTE Pro class, with their 991 race cars featuring retro-style liveries haring back to the 1970s when they dominated the Le Mans 24 hour race as winners over consecutive years.