Race week starts with Scrutineering and Administration check-in at the Le Mans City Center. For the Dempsey Del Piero Racing No. 77 it was late afternoon on Sunday, June 16th. 24 Hours of Le Mans is a bit misleading – it feels more like 24 hours for 7 days… Patrick and Joe landed in Paris, got on the train and headed to the Le Mans City Center. Every part of the race week has some ceremony built into it. The cars are paraded through Scrutineering, the drivers are paraded through press and fans, and a team photo happens.
This was probably the lowest point of our experience. Security simply wasn’t prepared for the literal crush on Dempsey and the worst offenders weren’t the fans. It was the photographers and journalists. They were aggressive and it was downright scary for all of us. Patrick doesn’t travel with an entourage or security detail. He doesn’t want that separation. Instead we all do our best to allow access and keep everyone safe. And jet lag never helps.
We survived and even smiled for the photo. It was fun to see our fellow ALMS teams there as well. Really, it settled me to have the familiar faces there, to laugh with us through the melee. The SRT guys watched the scene and I’d love to hear what they thought – I think…
The team stayed together at a Chateau not far from the circuit. It was the perfect refuge. Despite pressure from the documentary crew and others wanting to visit, we kept Monday a quiet day for all of us. A day off! No official duties. The rest of the teams were in town for Scrutineering and Admin. We chilled out. Took in the French countryside, drank some wine, laughed a lot, and got our minds settled on the task ahead.
Tuesday was a big media and filming day for us. Patrick sat down with Tom Kristensen and chatted about Le Mans for the documentary. Drivers Meeting, interviews, phone-in press conference with the States and an autograph session on pit lane made for a full day. This fan and photog interaction went swimmingly. We had our order and security in place. Long, but happy day.
The struggle is that the guys were itching to get in the cars and drive. The build-up is almost painful for them. They get tired of talking about it, they want to do it.
Le Mans is a night life. Practices start late in the afternoon and go until midnight. Most drivers get to sleep in…not ours. Every day, up to race day, had filming of some sort involved – Eurosport, Porsche and our own documentary. For me, 24 hours is the total sleep I managed to get for the whole week!
Then there’s the Parade. WOW. The parade organizers made special security arrangements to avoid any negative incidents; and somehow we ended up on the balcony over-looking the Place de la République for the parade start. And me with a glass of wine in my hand! Seriously a bit surreal.
I admit that many of my epic experiences in racing are because of who I work with, and it is not lost on me, ever. We made our way down to the parade car and contrary to the plan, I ended up walking the parade route with the guys. It was more a swoop and no choice in the matter, but it all worked out great.
The scene was crazy but I never felt scared or threatened. The Love for Dempsey and the team was palpable. The two Patricks and Joe had huge grins the whole time. We all did. I realized then that we had been a bit sequestered during the week, in a good way, and that this was the time for the fans. The history and energy of this event suddenly hits you, and it is emotional, still. At the end of the parade, we were again whisked away, this time with a police escort and everyone was happy, stress free and free to focus on racing.