In some 17 years of following the race from afar, the 2018 edition wouldn’t rank in my top ten or fifteen. On the positive side there were some prominent highlights: a worthy winning team, a true test of endurance among the new LMP1 cars, some fascinating F1 visitors with very different approaches, a much better GT race than expected. And I once again enjoyed being a tiny part of the online endurance racing family.
It’s the big one, the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.
There are 60 cars with 180 drivers. 60 stories to follow. Three class races other than LMP1. Please do not belittle all of that just because the race for the win might be boring!
It is easy to write a preview for the next big race, but actual journalists already do that.
I thought instead I would write a guide for how to watch a 24 hour endurance race, such as Le Mans or Daytona or Spa, if you are watching from home. You can adapt this strategy for 12 or 10 hour races like Sebring or Petit Le Mans.
Search for the website of the championship or event to find an Entry List, see if you can spot any drivers and teams you’ve heard about. This is your ‘in’, your way in to understanding the race.
Check www.spotterguides.com to see if Andy Blackmore has drawn up the liveries for this race so you can spot the cars – and cross them off in marker pen when they retire.
Have a look at some sports car news sites such as Racer.com, DailySportscar.com and Sportscar365.com, so you can see what’s been going on.
Live timing helps a lot. TV graphics are okay, but they never show what you want when you want it.
Live timing shows last lap time for each car and the gaps to the cars – so you can see who is gaining on the cars ahead and who is losing time. It shows the number of pit stops made, so you can work out strategy. It also shows the number of laps done by each car – in this type of racing the gaps can run to multiple laps. If a car falls behind you need to be able to see if it gets a lap back.
When you learn how to read it you almost don’t even need the TV pictures, you can understand and enjoy it from the data feed alone – or data feed and radio coverage.
It is important to find a commentary team providing detail to the level needed, without making it dry. The gold standard is RadioLeMans.com and IMSA Radio. Check to see whether these guys & girls are covering the race you’re watching. They do Le Mans, WEC, IMSA and more.
Countless people watch whatever TV or streaming is provided, put it on mute, and listen to RLM instead.
The Eurosport commentary at Le Mans can be good too, depending what shift it is.
You could just flick on the TV if you like, dipping in and out, which is great if you just want to chill out watching some cool cars racing. And this is a great way to get a taste for this style of racing and just start absorbing who is who without pressure. But you won’t necessarily understand what’s going on with strategy.
A lot of people have at least two screens – which is fairly standard for most motorsport now anyway: many of us tweet during a race for example, and follow live timing. [I usually do both from one PC]
Many more dedicated endurance fans have three or four or more screens. These are showing dedicated onboard videos from their favourite cars. Some might have one tablet/laptop for timing, another for social media, another for omboard, another with a different onboard.
Many fans then have tablets or laptops dedicated to running streams of onboard cameras, which are frequently provided free of charge or as part of a paid streaming service. This is an absolute luxury, though you do see some great car control and some incidents the main broadcast could never catch.
I found this to be overwhelming so I streamlined to this:
Main TV coverage with Radio Le Mans talking (or IMSA Radio);
PC with timing & social media;
Maybe a smaller device with one onboard;
Social media is important, too. I don’t mean just sitting there tweeting from your own account. Look up the championship account, look up your favourite team and driver accounts. Find other fans. Information comes through very quickly, faster than the broadcasts.
Some say sports car racing is boring. At first it looks like cars going round and round, hour after hour. And on the face of it, it is!
Then you think about it. At Le Mans you have 60 cars, 3 per car makes 180 drivers. At Daytona some cars have 5 drivers. At Nurburgring there are 150 cars on a 14 mile track. Add in those team bosses and engineers who have become well-known. Different combinations of teams, chassis, engines and tyres. Different classes of car in each race. Each class with a different rule set, which may differ between championships.
Every one of those people has a story to tell, every team has a history. It is totally overwhelming. It takes years to learn who they are. It is not possible to follow all of it in real time. [Unless you are Paul Truswell.] The nature of this racing means information doesn’t come to light for half an hour or an hour. Or lots of things happen at once.
To manage this, break it into chunks. Just pick your favourites in each class. And pick the likely winners in each class. Or those whose stories you like. Focus on following those on the screens and on the live timing. Everything else will flow from there. You’ll pick up everything else you need to know as you go along.
Often you get close racing, often there are long periods where are you waiting for it to play out. A strategy call might be made at 6pm, you may not see the payoff until 11pm, when all of a sudden that 6pm decision to triple-stint every driver puts a car into the lead. Be patient, but also pay attention.
Your Fuel Strategy
Eat small, eat regularly.
A great tip is to eat small, eat often. Do stick to your meal times but make it a moderate or small meal. Don’t have a great big meal, it’ll just make you sleepy. It can be fun to gorge on a Chinese takeaway or a big pizza just as you would on a film night, but if you plan to follow the race all night long – or have just a small sleep to resume in the early hours- this is the worst thing to do. Over-eating means you sleep for hours.
Get a supply of snacks. Nuts, fruit, chocolate. Mix it up. First it keeps your energy up, second it gets you up and walking around to the kitchen and back, and third it gives you a break from the screen and the concentration.
And fruit is the best. No, seriously. A banana every few hours, or some grapes by your side, or even strawberries and raspberries with ice cream. You can try all the energy drinks and coffee and chocolate in the world – and I recommend having some – but nothing works better for me than the natural properties of fruit for a pick-me-up. Again don’t rely on it, it’s racing, have a bag of M&Ms too!
Okay this is a tough one. Especially if you are like me and drink several cups of tea or coffee every day in the 9-to-5 at the office. Don’t have too much caffeine. Whether it is tea or energy drinks, just have one every few hours. All of these things work best when you don’t build a resistance to them by having them all the time. If your body is used to a lower level, when you do have one, you get a bigger kick.
Instead, have plenty of bottled water nearby. It really does help. Use the caffeine drinks to give you a kick when you start to flag. But not with less than an hour to go, after all, you want to be able to sleep after the race.
- Eat small.
- Get your tools – live timing, video streams, commentary, social media.
- Pick your faves and follow them, disregard others.
I hope these tips help your experience with endurance racing and that you become a long-time fan!
The next big event of the year is the pinnacle of sports car endurance racing, if by prestige as much as anything else. If you can easily argue other races are tougher – N24, Bathurst, Sebring – it is Le Mans that remains the top prize.
We may not have Audi but we have five factory LMP1 cars and no team orders. Toyota are bringing a 3rd car to avenge defeat last year – you don’t want to miss that, do you? We have new, fast LMP2 cars. And all out war in the two GTE classes.
I also recommend recording the two Road To Le Mans races, one is on Thursday at 4.30pm and the other is Saturday at 10.30am. These are races for LMP3 and GT3 cars and were good fun last year.
The ACO seem to be pushing to broaden the appeal of Le Mans, with a Free-to-air deal in France and now two FTA channels in the UK covering at least some hours of the race!
How do you follow the 24 Hours of Le Mans if you are in the UK?
There are a few different ways of following it: Radio Le Mans, Eurosport, Quest, ITV4, the App.
Radio Le Mans will be live as always at www.radiolemans.com and on Tune In Radio, as well as on 91.2 FM at the track if you do go to Le Mans, supported by Mobil 1 and Esso.
They will have every 24 Hour session live (practice, qualifying, warm-up, race). I expect they’ll cover the Road To Le Mans support races too and quite probably the Porsches too.
Commentary will be from Jonny Palmer, John Hindhaugh, channel newcomer Ben Constanduros, experts Graham Goodwin and Sam Collins, pit reporters Shea Adam, Joe Bradley, Bruce Jones and Owen Mildenhall – and of course the perpetual Paul Truswell on timing & scoring.
Sadly no Jim Roller this year though I’m looking forward to Ben Consty’s input.
And if you miss anything it’ll all be uploaded as podcasts! The podcast page is right here and includes previews for each category should you get the time before the race.
Freeview channel 37
Excellent news that Quest TV will once again air snippets LIVE through the race. Coverage includes Lou Goodman, Diana Binks and Andy Jaye.
There will be updates on the hour plus the following:
1.30pm – 3.00pm Race Start Live
8.00pm – 9.00pm Race Live
10.00am – 11.00am Morning round-up
1pm – 2.30pm Race finish
Freeview channel 24
Brilliant news – ITV4 will ensure there is live free-to-air coverage of the last 4.5 hours of the race!
9.30am – 2.45pm Le Mans 24 Hour Race Live
And if you are a die-hard fan or just want to dip in and out at your leisure, the race will be live in full on Eurosport 1.
If you remember the days of swapping between Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 – those days are gone!
This year’s commentary team includes Martin Haven, Marc Cole, Carlton Kirby, Chris Parsons and David Addison. Addison is new to the team, you’ll know him from BTCC and Blancpain GT, he seems to be in place of Jeremy Shaw who is not listed this year. Analysts include racers Damien Faulkner, Liz Halliday and Sam Hancock.
Don’t knock their coverage – many die-hard RLM fans stick with it but I tend to have an ear on both broadcasts, particularly when Haven is on Eurosport.
They’ll show every 24 Hour session live as well as the Porsche Cup and possible the Road To Le Mans.
Eurosport time schedule in the UK:
3pm – 7pm Practice
9pm – 11pm Qualifying
3pm – 7.10pm This slot appears to be Porsche Cup practice then Road To Le Mans Race 1 at 4.30pm.
6pm – 8pm Qualifying
9pm – 11pm Qualifying
Saturday – all on Eurosport 1
8am – 8.40am Warm Up
9.15am Porsche Carrera Cup
10.30am Road To Le Mans Race 2
1.45pm to Sunday afternoon 24 Hours of Le Mans
The Eurosport Player app (on tablet and via website) will stream the race live, including a commentary & advert free option showing the race continuously. It may also have onboard feeds.
This is ideal if, for example, you wanted pictures to put up alongside Radio Le Mans!
Le Mans / FIA WEC App
On the Apple and Google stores – or via here – there is a 24h Le Mans app. This is the same as the FIA WEC app, so if you have the WEC app already you just need to update it and be sure you have the right subscription.
Health warning: for the Spa 6 Hours this app subscription wasn’t working properly. It is not the most reliable thing I’ve ever seen, which is ironic, given the setting.
They’ll have the ‘World Feed’ TV team including Toby Moody and Allan McNish plus live timing and information. It should also have a choice of onboard streams and usually there’s a French language option.
Other Useful Things
Official Website: www.lemans.org/en
Live Timing: www.lemans.org/en
Race Timetable: www.lemans.org/en/Program/schedule/95
What are the classes?
LMP1 / LMP2 / GTE Pro / GTE Am: www.lemans.org/en/Page/categories/105
Entry List: PDF
I notice Andy had to change his design after the ACO ‘borrowed’ his ideas. I’d go with Andy’s if I were you.