The iconic Ferris wheel is still lit up. Well, it is half past four on a Sunday morning and going on a giant wheel ride at this hour seems plain weird, but at this place, I won’t be surprised if people do.
It is the race weekend at Le Mans and people have been doing weird things here since 1923 — cars are raced here at insane speeds for 24 hours at a stretch, testing the limits of man and machine. There are people who come from all over the world to watch this 24-hour festival of speed, camping all over the place with their tents, tables and toilet paper. It has a fairground atmosphere, while the racing is anything but — it is highly competitive.
The 24 Heures du Mans, as it is famously known, is the world’s most prestigious endurance race. It is run over a purpose-built racing circuit as well as public roads that are sealed off for the event. The length of the whole track is over 13 kilometres and when you have cars going round and round for 24 hours at a stretch, they cover a distance of over 5,000 km on an average. That’s the equivalent of going from Srinagar to Kanyakumari and driving one-third of the way back. The pinnacle of motorsport may be the grand prix circus called Formula One, but here, cars that are as fast as F1 cars need to last 24 hours, not the two-odd hours of an average GP. That gives a new meaning altogether to reliability. And then there are the drivers. Three drivers share duties during the 24 hours; though they may be able to get some rest, they need to be on alert throughout the duration of the race. Yes, the word “endurance” seems pretty tame considering what this race is all about.
Needless to say, motorsport journalists are also part of this slogathon. I am in the massive press area overlooking the start-finish straight. There are journalists pounding on their keyboards, giving live reports of the event at this witching hour, their eyes bleary and hair askew, eyes darting towards the terminals now and then. Photographers wearing bright yellow jerseys and helmets walk in and out with grim purpose, monstrous cameras and even more monstrous lenses dangling on the side. A bunch of Japanese journalists has made a little picnic for themselves on the work tables, surrounding a mound of soft-drink cans and snacks. And under one of the tables, a photographer is fast asleep, oblivious to the pace in the press area.
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