Camping and Mad Friday at Le Mans

DSC_0039In a previous post I’ve already taken a look at the actual Le Mans event itself, however what goes on off the track is almost as famous as what happens on it. With tens of thousands of car nuts all in the same place for a week, you can be assured that it’s a pretty good time, particularly on the Friday.

DSC_0205Because an event on the scale of the 24hr only happens once a year there is nowhere near enough beds for the fans who come, and most of those few beds are occupied by teams and race officials at hideous expense. Unless you want to stay an hour or more from the circuit, camping is the only option. Camping at Le Mans has become as much of a tradition as the race itself, with fans driving from all over Europe and proudly pitching their tents next to their pride and joy.

DSC_0204Driving the nicest possible car and then camping beside it seems to be the British thing to do. One Porsche driver mentioned to me that he’d had a conversation with a French Ferrari owner, who’d said “I never understand you Brits. You drive your $150,000 cars here, and then get some sort of joy from sleeping in a $20 tent in the rain”.

DSC_0198Modern Aston’s, Porsche’s and Ferrari’s were commonplace, and you needed something really special to stand out. I’ve heard stories of things like several genuine GT40’s in campsites in previous years, but unfortunately I didn’t witness anything like that this year.

DSC_0009For some, camping is arguably more important than the race itself. Grand meals, halls, stereo systems, disco lighting, large cooking fires, wading pools, racing simulators, televisions and fridges were all part of the deal. I swear there were some people in our campsite who didn’t even see any racing.

DSC_0211These guys from London bring this bus every year, and camp in exactly the same spot. Late into the night the bus is the epicenter of the party, with loud music and strobe lighting emanating from it at all hours.

DSC_02465 people? Pfft, that’s just a suggestion.

DSC_0206My favorite car from our campsite was this 1972 Porsche 911 RSR replica, which the owner had driven 900 miles from Scotland with his young son for the event – straight pipes and all. The Jagermeister sticker job is specially for Le Mans, and is another tradition – stickering your car up for the trip.

DSC_0854At least 80% of the cars had some sort of signage on them, ranging from basic event logos and racing stripes…

DSC_0202… through to full liveries, like this 360 Modena which wore the colors of the Michelotto 360 GT that raced in 2003. I spoke to the owner, and he did all this just for Le Mans this year.

DSC_0897The great thing about it was that you don’t need an expensive car to join in the fun. I thought the full BTCC livery on this Mondeo was particularly cool.

DSC_0101This A4 owner had brush painted a full DTM livery.

DSC_1075But even just the names of the people riding in the car would suffice, the cruder the better.

DSC_1129Another tradition just as well known is that of Mad Friday. On the Friday of Le Mans there’s no on-track action, so it’s become a bit of a tradition that everyone sits on the side of the roads around the circuit, drinking and watching the cars drive past. In some areas the ‘spectators’ will stop the cars, and cheer for a rev or a burnout. As it turns out, my campground – Bleu Sud, was right alongside the most famous stretch of road for this in the whole area.

DSC_0822It all started off pretty innocently, and a little tame if anything.

DSC_0829To spice things up a little bit, a few people started stopping the cars and giving them some space in the slow moving traffic. If you gave it a rev or did a small chirpy, you’d get a big cheer from the crowd. If you didn’t, you’d get squirted with the water pistols.

DSC_0836The guy in this Laguna was attempting to play it cool. Hip hop pumping loud, sunglasses on, windows down. He didn’t even stop when asked, so as you would expect he received about 3 water pistols worth through his open windows.

DSC_0837He was not happy about that, so stopped his car in the middle of the road and got out to start a punch up. He was just about to take his first swing when he noticed about 15 blokes coming in from all angles to defend the water pistol-er. He moved on pretty quickly.

DSC_0917At this point it was all good fun. Even if you didn’t want to do a burnout, a bit of a rev kept the crowds happy and wasn’t too much to ask. Everybody knows what Mad Friday is like, and everybody knows this stretch of road is notorious. World famous, even. So if you ended up here unknowingly, you’ve only got yourself to blame – most of the guys in our campsite just organized it so they didn’t have to take their cars out on Mad Friday. And it was only if you blatantly ignored the crowd that you got water pistoled anyway.

DSC_0868As the crowd grew, security arrived to try and control the situation. But the funny thing is there was absolutely nothing they could do – they weren’t allowed to physically touch anyone so all they could do was watch. They tried to control it by allowing only one direction to flow through the crowd at a time.

DSC_0167This only made it better for everyone, as the cars now had the entire road to play with!

DSC_0895The crowd were starting to get more vicious in their demands for a good burnout, and were delivering much more water to those who wouldn’t. After about half an hour the security team realised there was nothing they could do, so hurriedly packed into their vans and left.

DSC_0253It got to the stage where bucket loads of water were being thrown on anyone who drove past with an open window. The crowd would go wild if someone managed to lob a water balloon through a window or sunroof.

DSC_1046If you were in a convertible with the top down and had an inflated sense of self worth (like a lot did), you were a goner.

DSC_0116Sunglasses, top down and no burnout or rev. That’s three counts – didn’t stand a chance.

DSC_1085Riding a Segway. Brave or foolhardy? Either way, he’s now very wet.

DSC_0962These guys came preloaded with water pistols and water balloons to attack the unprotected crowd.

DSC_1089Then it happened. Two National Police vans swooped in…

DSC_1095… and arrested the main protagonist. But it only quietened things down for ten minutes as there were many people willing to take his place.

DSC_0063It was really interesting to observe the crowd dynamics regarding their taste in cars, despite how drunk everyone was.

DSC_0930DSC_0982If you drove through in a nice classic car, you were given a free passage. The guys put the water pistols down, and appreciated the metal in front of them.

DSC_0979This caged Morris Minor got a cheer just sitting there. Cool car.

DSC_0214Similarly, nobody dared touch a cult car.

DSC_0964You could have driven this Escort Cosworth through with all of the windows down and nobody would have done a thing. The guy in the MGF wasn’t so lucky.

DSC_1037Somebody lobbed a balloon at this Lotus Carlton, and it missed. That guy was set upon by the rest of the crowd worse than any of the cars were. Nobody messes with a Carlton.

DSC_0950The only way you could get through in a modern convertible without getting drenched was to lay a decent stinger for the crowd.

DSC_0197 (1)This Volvo ute laid the longest pair of eleven’s I’ve seen in a long time, and achieved almost legend status with the crowd.

DSC_1014These guys are obvious Le Mans veterans and came prepared with a smoke machine that was somehow connected to the throttle of this old Granada limo. They passed through about 3 times, and each time they would stop, smoke out the crowd and then disappear quietly before anyone noticed.

DSC_1123It’s a terrible photo because I was laughing so much, but the biggest cheer of all was reserved for the guy who strapped fireworks to his helmet and then rode through the crowd as they went off in the sky above.

DSC_0142There were even more people than before stopping traffic. It was all getting a little crazy.

DSC_0295The cops would do a pass every half an hour or so, and even they weren’t exempt from some water pistol action.

DSC_0223Eventually as people got drunker, the crowd dynamics changed and the enthusiasts left. It wasn’t light hearted fun anymore, it was now pure madness. Motorbikes were doing wheelies everywhere, and someone let off a smoke bomb.

DSC_0233I’ll admit it made for interesting photos though.

DSC_0096The Volvo came back for round 2 and picked up a random mid burnout hitchhiker.

DSC_0173You can probably guess what the expectation was here.

DSC_0267It soon turned into an all out water fight amongst the traffic. This guy probably deserved it…

DSC_0227… but old mate who just happened to be riding through on his push bike didn’t.

DSC_0174It was at about this stage when I noticed the traffic had all but stopped. The Gendarmerie helicopter started circling above…

DSC_0303… and I looked toward the start/finish grandstands to see 10 vans of riot police roaring toward us.

DSC_0324Behind me at the other end of the road was another 10 vans and lines of riot police just standing, watching. Without any fuss and without uttering a word, the Police killed four hours of fun in the space of about five minutes. It was beautiful to watch. I guess the French know a thing or two about controlling unruly groups.

DSC_0305DSC_0318A few of the more hardy attempted to make their stand, but just like that, Mad Friday was over. It’s without a doubt one of the craziest things in motorsport I’ve witnessed, if not one of the craziest things full stop. And this wouldn’t really happen anywhere except Le Mans.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

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7 Comments

  1. Jarrad July 4, 2013 Reply

    Awesome coverage! Brilliant!

  2. Tom Gilbert July 4, 2013 Reply

    "The Night Sausage Gobbler", outstanding.. What a great experience.

  3. Alexander Pickering July 4, 2013 Reply

    I just dribbled all over my iPad looking at some of the cars!

  4. pjrebordao July 9, 2013 Reply

    Last year i as fortunate to do the "pilgrimage" with a few friends. We drove from Portugal (1600 km) over an extended weekend. So we arrived on Friday night and most of the interesting part of mad Friday was over.
    One of the highlights was only noticing that we were driving on the hunaudieres straight, when catching the TV cameras towers by the wayside. General crazyness followed...

  5. Steve December 12, 2013 Reply

    Im the owner of the orange RSR replica - glad to say that we made the 900 miles back home without incident! Thanks for the kind words and picture which has brought back some great memories. Enjoyed meeting and talking to you - your X1-9 looks awesome - great website as well! All the best.

    • Andrew Coles December 12, 2013 Reply

      Thanks very much Steve, it was a pleasure to meet you and check out your car! Glad to hear the return trip was a success :)

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