Early risers this morning may have spotted a valiant pack of runners, made up of Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, Tom Kristensen, holder of the record for the most Le Mans wins, Allan McNish, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich and a group of motor racing and running enthusiasts, out for an early-morning jog around the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans.
It was already quite mild as day broke this Thursday morning. At 5:50am, the paddock was still deep in slumber, apart from the security guards who could be seen stretching their legs in front of the garages... and a small group which had gathered at the foot of the Module Sportif. They were (almost) all wearing shorts or leggings and wind-proof jackets, ideal for a run or cycle around the 13.626 km of the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans. Those who lacked the right gear had come along anyway, dressed in jeans. Anything but miss out on the occasion, organised on the initiative of the Autombile Club de l’Ouest’s Charimann Pierre Fillon.
"Allan, where are your shorts?'’ people asked three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Allan McNish as he arrived on his bicycle. He responded with a cheeky grin. His former Audi teammate , Tom Kristensen, the most successful Le Mans driver of all time (nine wins), arrived on a golf cart and parked at the foot of the Race Control tower. The Dane was ready to hit the track – but on two feet rather than four wheels! "I can barely keep my eyes open,“ admitted Dr Ullrich, former head of Audi Sport. The first round of qualifying for the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours had finished just a few hours earlier, with the #8 Toyota (Alonso/Buemi/Nakajima) having taken provisional pole. The rest of the circuit was still cloaked in silence.
Pierre Fillon gave the group of fifteen or so plucky runners a short briefing: “We have an hour and ten minutes to complete the lap on foot. If you’re on your bicycle, you can do two laps." The troop set off cheerfully along the pit lane, then veered left to take to the main track. They couldn’t help but stop to savour the moment - and take a few souvenir photos – as they passed under Dunlop Bridge. Then their phones were put back away and they contined on their run. Tom Kristensen led the way, giving the others advice on how to pace themselves. The marshals, already at their posts around the circuit, smiled as the pack jogged past together. “Careful! Keep off the rumble strips! Stick to the racing line or you’ll be hauled up before Race Control!" some of them joked. Dr Ullrich, who led Audi to 13 Le Mans wins, cycled at a leisurely pace beside the runners. The Austrian is enjoying Le Mans differently this year, no longer ‘confined’ to the garage as was the case in his role as team boss.
The pack, still smiling, made it to the finish line, well on time just before 7am. "It was great! You don’t really see the 13 km go by,” one of the Le Mans 24 Hours joggers told us. “Tom gave us a detailed explanation of the circuit and how he approached its different sections in the car, which made it really interesting." Whether on foot or at the wheel, there’s one thing that unites these enthusiasts, and that’s endurance.