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TRADITIONALLY HELD MID-JUNE, the 24-hour race at Le Mans is being held this year on September 19-20. Here are tidbits on implications of this pandemically modified event gathered from a September 9, 2020, Porsche press release.
A Previous Delay and Cancellations. There has been only one other delayed Le Mans in its almost 100-year history: In 1968, civil unrest, strikes, and protests caused the Auto Club de l’Ouest to postpone the event until September 28-29.
Labor unrest and general strikes throughout France canceled the 1936 event. Because of World War II and post-war French reconstruction, there were no Le Mans from 1940 through 1948.
An Even Split. In a typical 24-hour Le Mans held near the summer solstice, the cars race in darkness for only a tad more than eight hours. With the 2020’s September date, the sun will set on Saturday evening at 8:01 pm. First light will be Sunday morning at 7:44 am. That is, this year’s Le Mans will be split approximately 50/50 daylight/darkness.
A Fast Pace. Porsche notes, “The long night means a longer period with cooler asphalt and air temperatures…. A good rule of thumb: If the ambient temperature drops by five degrees Celsius [roughly nine degrees Fahrenheit], the output of the engine increases by one percent.”
Pascal Zurlinden, Porsche’s director of factory motorsports, says, “If the weather conditions are good, we’ll witness a significantly faster race compared to June.”
Soft Tires. Cooler temperatures also imply that grippier soft-compound tires will last over longer periods. New regulations no longer allow refueling at the same time as tire changes, and the pressure will be on for pit stops as short as possible over the entire 24 hours.
Will It Rain? The quick answer is, “It always rains at Le Mans.” Though there is generally less likelihood of September rain, its showers are typically heavier than those in June.
On the Other Hand, er Nose.… June is legendary pollen season in France’s grain-growing Sarthe region. By contrast, the allergy-challenged are happy to have Le Mans in September this year.
Sunstrike. During dusk and dawn, drivers contend with sunstrike, all the worse because of steeply angled, dirty windscreens. It’s particularly bad at sunset as cars race through the corners at Indianapolis and Arnage. At sunrise, Tertre Rouge is the problem.
Zurlinden says, “As the sun is generally lower in early autumn compared to the summer months, our boys will just have to squint a little more often. It’ll be okay. They’re professionals.”
I remember photos of Dan Gurney driving one-handed while shielding his eyes with the other.
Earlier Green and Checkered. Traditionally, Le Mans begins and ends at 4 p.m. local time. For this year’s race, it’s moved up to 2:30 p.m.
This particular change of Le Mans has nothing to do with the pandemic. Rather, the final stage of the Tour de France bicycling classic will end in Paris in late afternoon of September 20, and an earlier Le Mans checkered flag will avoid any conflict.
Missing Fans. Typically, Le Mans attracts a crowd of around 250,000 people. This year’s race at the Sarthe circuit is closed to the public. Also, popular attractions such as the Friday Drivers’ Parade through the town center are canceled.
Alas, Grand Marnier crèpes at dawn will have to be self-concocted.
“It’s a real shame for the fans,” says Porsche, “but there’s no way around the restrictions required to contain the coronavirus. We’ll try to offer our passionate Le Mans fans the same gripping and spectacular programme via our social media channels.”
Mark your calendars. Saturday-Sunday, September 19-20. Consult your local listings; check with Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Siri, or whomever. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020