The Le Mans diary
The Sky Sports diary direct from their road trip to the legendary endurance race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
By William Esler in France
Last Updated: 21/06/12 2:37pm
The trip to Le Mans is one I have always wanted to make, joining the thousands of British motor racing fans making the annual pilgrimage to the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Having been invited to join the Nissan convoy to Le Mans, we joined the hordes of sports cars at the Channel Tunnel equipped with a variety of cars, including GTRs and 350Zs.
The drive to Le Mans is part of the experience. The weekend is not just about the race, but rather the camaraderie and new friends you make when you become part of the event.
Avoiding the motorways, and sticking to the country roads, I was privy to some stunning French scenery whilst sampling some high performance road cars.
On Friday we set up camp at the circuit before heading into the town to see what some say is the highlight of the entire weekend - the drivers' parade.
The small French town of Chartres came to a stand still on Friday morning when the square was taken over by a collection of Nissan sportscars. Young and old gathered round for a look, then the Deltawing replica turned up.
The fans were stunned as to how it could be road legal, but you could see the delight at getting close to something that resembled a car that would be on track during the 24 hours du Mans.
A short drive through the French countryside was all that separated us from the circuit, and the closer you got, you could feel the excitement building, not just within our convoy but amongst the other motorists.
After checking in at the Nissan Hotel, I had time for a quick catch up with Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson, before heading into town for the drivers' parade.
The carnival atmosphere was incredible, and the access given to the fans is something they don't get anywhere else.
Despite heavy rain, the route was lined with people, 10 deep most of the way round, whilst the windows were full of locals desperate to get a glimpse of the show and it was clear why some say this is the highlight of the week.
I walked back via the campsites, and it was clear this is more than a race to the fans. Everyone was mingling with each other, whilst fireworks went off.
Every display, no matter how small, was greeted with a round of applause and airhorns, demonstrating the camaraderie amongst the fans. It is clear that the rain isn't going to dampen their enthusiasm this weekend.
After all the talk, it was finally race day and a chance to see the cars pushed to their limits in a 24 hour long sprint.
Gone are the days of a quick start and finish, separated by hours of cruising around - even during the night the cars are driven flat out.
There was a lot of talk around the new Deltawing and whether it would make the start, which it did, before coming together with a Toyota after six hours.
That incident was preceded by one of the most horrific crashes I have seen whilst covering motorsport.
My Sky Sports F1 colleague Anthony Davidson was hit by one of Ferrari's whilst lapping the GTE class car at the end of the Mulsanne Straight and flew into the air at speeds in excess of 150mph, flipping upside down. Fortunately he landed on his wheels before slamming into the barrier.
An eerie silence fell across the entire circuit, whilst fans, mechanics and drivers watched on hoping the Toyota driver was ok.
It was another sign of the camaraderie amongst the fans at Le Mans, that even those who wanted Toyota team not to finish and for Audi to dominate were all united in their concern for the British driver.
As night descended, the carnival atmosphere kicked up a notch as the parties started around the circuit in the hospitality units and the campsites.
It is clear tonight will be a late one...
What a late night it turned out to be. Just after I had added the latest update to the diary, news came through from a Le Mans hospital that Anthony Davidson had broken his back.
I quickly got back to the paddock and got the latest from Toyota on his condition and after getting the news online, decided to stay up and watch the race throughout the night.
Watching the cars flash past in the dark is an amazing sight as they dart through the Porsche Curves or the Esses.
I made my way up to the Dunlop Bridge for sunrise and met fans who had braved it out in the grandstands through the night - these were diehard Tom Kristensen fans.
All too soon though the day was over (despite having been awake for 36 hours at this point) as I watched Audi take the chequered flag in a formation finish.
After a quick couple of interviews, it was back in the Nissan GTR and off to Calais to catch the train.
During the drive I was amazed to see people lining the bridges over the motorways between Le Mans and Calais, taking pictures and videos of all the supercars heading back from the race, as fans made their way to the UK, Belgium, Holland and Denmark.
Le Mans has been an amazing experience and one a trip that every motorsport fan should make. Every fan I spoke to thought the same - even those who had lived in a tent for a week and braved the rain during the week.
All I can say is bring on Le Mans 2013!