Held in the middle of June, you’d hope Le Mans had a fighting chance of always being pretty sunny and warm. Not this year. Rain had been forecast, and with an hour to go before the race’s 3pm start, the sky looked at its schedule and turned ominously dark before emptying itself angrily upon La Sarthe.
It wasn’t enough to dampen the pomp and ceremony that’s inseparable from the start of the Le Mans 24 Hours, though. No matter how many times you attend, the fanfare between 1pm and the race start is a sight to behold.
The national anthems are belted out over the loudspeakers, flags are vigorously waved, and the Patrouille Acrobatique de France – the French equivalent of the Red Arrows – soar over grid.
A military helicopter put on a little display this year too, delivering troops to greet this year’s celebrity race starter, Brad Pitt.
All of which conspired to make the actual race start a damp squib; the heaving rain (apparently level two in the ACO’s four-level weather rankings, making us wonder how bad a ‘four’ is) called for the first safety car start in the LM24’s 84-race history. Yikes.
Now, if you’ve seen this footage from qualifying, as the safety car slid with some style, you’ll know that the Audi R8 and its driver, Yannick Dalmas, are already unintentional stars of Le Mans 2016.
But that doesn’t mean a 53-minute, seven-lap SC period was at all welcomed by the crowds. Particularly as the rain stopped long before the R8 pulled back in, nearly an hour into the race.
The more cynical suspected the race was being held until F1 qualifying finished, to avoid viewers being distracted, but the truth appears to lie in exceedingly wet kerbing, with the dog-tooth kerbs holding water far longer than the track. And being far more slippery, too.
Once the R8 returned to the pits, racing immediately started, with the top-six big name LMP1 cars dramatically shuffling places, with one Audi dropping almost to the back of the whole pack due to issues during a pit stop.
As we publish, the Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley leads the race, with a Toyota, Audi, and the other Toyota and Porsche following behind, while two Ford GTs are in the GTE Pro top three.
Ford GT number 67 started the race a couple of laps in after difficulties, and has some ground to make up if it’s to make any impact on its class. If ever there were a race long enough to allow that, though…