It's half past twelve at night. The cars are still going for it. I am sitting in one of the many lounges set up by Audi for their guests to experience the most famous and most gruelling circuit race in the world - the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I am inside the lounge, staring at a giant screen set up to show the race in vivid detail, a band is playing cover versions of famous songs, there are all sorts of drinkable liquids and eatable solids for you to indulge. Outside, the racing drivers are blazing past at incredible speeds and every single gearshift cuts through the music like thunder. It's a proper party over here but I am thinking of all the people who are outside. The real race fans.
Throughout the day I observed them, people from England and Espana and Denmark and Deutschland, of all sizes and shapes. It is a carnival atmosphere and they are here to watch a race that will go on for 24 hours continuously on a June weekend in a small town in France, a two-hour drive away from Paris. I see all sorts of t-shirts, either endorsing brands (Gulf) or dissing them (Gulp). I see little children along with their fan-dads and fan-moms. This is how it begins. Forty years later, the same children will come with theirs, cheering their favourite team, marque or driver. Five minutes of constantly listening to these high speed endurance machines can hook you for life.
At least the weather has been good this Saturday, despite the dismal rains in the morning. It rained on the driver's parade on Friday evening, literally. Despite the depressing weather, people had turned up at the town centre, to watch the racing drivers sitting in various vintage machines. Whether it is cold or hot, wet or dry, it doesn't matter. The people are here to watch the race. There are many who have been camping for several days now. They are living out of tents and camper vans. There is food, beer and wine and that seems to take the hardships away. They have come in a crazy bunch of cars and bikes. There are beaten-up Renaults and slick Porsches. There are some bizarre Matras and gorgeous Austin-Healeys. There are KTM Duke 125s and big burly Fat Boys. It is cold out there, thankfully it is not wet. But it is awesome.
What warms the heart is the Indian flag flying up there along with those of Germany, France and a bunch of European nations. It is thanks to one single Indian driver, Karun Chandhok, who is literally keeping the Indian flag flying high. I am happy to point that out too whoever I meet. Yes, till the time I am keying this in, he has done well. Fingers crossed...
And there is another Indian too, and she has a major role to play in Audi's another shot at glory. She is the race engineer for the Audi #2. A woman and an Indian. Her name is Leena Gade, a tiny woman dwarfed by burly men. She is there, in the thick of things. Vaishali will have some exclusive stuff on her for BSM. Speaking of Indians, Vaishali herself is out there with a press pass and going everywhere possible to bring you the kind of motorsport coverage that is unparalleled. She has become some sort of a celebrity herself. The European press guys are taking her pictures and wondering if this is really possible - an Indian woman covering motorsport. To paraphrase Obelix, these Indians are crazy.
The racing scene outside is dramatic. The lights are seen far in the distance and then the explosive noise of the cars follows. The speeds are stunning, the sheer pace leaves you breathless. And they have nearly fourteen more hours of keeping the pace from flagging. Fourteen hours. At least now there is the technology to keep things safe and under control. How the hell did they manage in the 1920s and 1930s?
I will try going now to watch the cars coming round the curves, where speeds are shaved dramatically and it will be a treat to watch them with their brakes lighting up like Lucifer's eyes. It has been an hour since I started keying this and there is no let-up in the racing outside or in the people's passion...
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