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                                                                                  sportscarpros Off The Grid
                                                                                                                                                                                      Richard Dole


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Signs Of The Times

“Il est difficle de vaincre ses passions, et impossible de les satisfaire.”

- De La


Les Poupees Russes is a small lingerie boutique on the high end of

rue Wilbur Wright in centre ville Le Mans.  Friday, the day before this year’s race, the street was a human viaduct , as endurance drivers completed the Parades des Pilotes route by abandoning  their cars and walking uphill along the rue, between two tall and ancient walls,  lined with fans adoring screaming  for and receiving autographs from their heroes.

Outside the boutique stood an employee of the establishment.  She

wore a full length, sheer gown.  As the drivers approached she coaxed them over with a wink and an invitation to leave their autograph on her clothing. The majority of drivers were more than willing to participate, some more daring than others on where, and what, to sign.  None more so than Emanuele Pirro, who signed three times – the first a quick autograph, the second time he essentially pinned his autobiography on her right breast. And he finally returned for a third signing, forgoing the material altogether and simply drawing 4 rings – the Audi logo on her bottom.  As fellow Audi driver Allan McNish said after signing himself, “you are a very brave woman.”

Le Mans is not for the faint of heart.  It rewards those whose passion

is impossible to satisfy.  Team Peugeot came to Le Mans with big dreams of winning their race on their circuit in their country.  A lot of French pride was at stake, not to mention a lot of well-spent Euros that developed a car that was blindingly quick.  It all seem to come together when Stephane Sarrazin laid down a qualifying lap in the low 3:18’s, more than five seconds faster than the closest Audi. When the green flag dropped for the race, the French team quickly formed a three car train and pulled away from the field – with Allan McNish pushing hard, as he would during each of his stints – to maintain distant contact with the Peugeot trio.  France v. Germany.  Youth v. Age.  Speed v. Experience. Peugeot v. Audi.  At 15:00 on 14.06.08 it was Game On.

This year’s other big battle was the annual rematch of Aston Martin

v. Corvette.  On paper, the Yanks were favored having raced more in 2008 than the Brits.  Apparently no one told the AMR boys.
It is amazing to see how well, how British, Aston Martin pulls off Le Mans. Everything in orbit around Planet Aston exudes the highest level of quality and understatement.  From the exquisite Gulf blue colours on the cars to the Taittinger champagne served in the AMR hospitality facility, everything is done first class.  This attention to detail does not distract the team from arriving at Le Mans with racecars that are fast and meticulously prepared to compete.   This company (especially given their relatively small size) is the benchmark for every team and car manufacturer to come to Le Mans and maximize their efforts both on and off the track.
Perhaps both the GT-1 and LMP-1 classes were decided prior to the cars arriving on French soil.  After a year in the closet, Aston Martin brushed off the dust, fired up the engine and set up the cars that delivered faster speed and superior tire management than their American rivals.
The Audi trio of Capello, McNish and Kristensen drove a perfect race.  This was only possible by Audi AG providing them with a better designed car,no steam cleaning radiators in the middle of the night. A far more experienced crew (9 minutes less in the pits) and a set up that worked in both the dry and the wet (47 seconds faster in 3 wet laps in the wee hours of the moist morning) than the newer Peugeot 908.
The difference between victory and defeat in both of these classes was a handful of minutes.   The postmortem on the Peugeot will be easier to perform than on the Corvette.  But can any level of examination provide clues to intangibles?  Passion? Desire?  Competitiveness? How do you measure these?
Perhaps the 2008 edition of Le Mans will mark the end of the GT-1 era.  Will anyone be left to race in this class in the years to come or will the class simply dissolve?
And was 2008 the best chance for Peugeot to ever defeat Audi? In defeat Peugeot learned a lot of valuable lessons and will shore up their shortcomings.  Expect Audi to return to Le Sarthe with a new car, redesigned to win from the front instead of battling from behind.  And other large manufacturers will be ready to go as well.
When the checkered flag fell on Sunday, Audi once again left it mark on the French.  Quite similar to ink-stained drawing left two days earlier on the derriere of a Le Mans maiden.  Bold. Memorable.  And hard to remove.

Team Players

If you have never been to the 24 Hours of Le Mans it is challenging to

explain just how difficult the race is on everyone involved.  Long days and very short nights on the norm, and having a solid team to work with and share the load or lend a helping hand is invaluable.

This holds true in the photography world as well.  A race circuit that

covers over 8 miles and run over 24 hours requires a co-ordinated effort.  A bit of photographic socialism in the heart of France.  The teams of Lefebure and Hall, Brooks and Lister, Peter and Gayle Brock; the collective efforts of photos agencies – DPPI, Getty, AP and LAT; and individuals who go the extra mile – specifically Jim Sykes (who, by the way, produced podium shots that every Dane would want on his wall) and Dave Lister – all insure that our collective photographic clients receive the material they need.
 It is a wonderful community.  Congrats and merci to one and all.

Richard Dole
June 2008