Driving Your Dream Car at Le Mans
Le Mans, France is synonymous with motor racing. It is a city of narrow, tree-lined roads. South of Lemans are picturesque French towns sprinkled with chateaus and castles. I experienced these surroundings roads from the driver seats of a Ferrari 458, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-5604, an Audi R8 Cabriolet and a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet on the new Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, as I whipped through the misty countryside. Michelin outfits the majority of the teams that competed in the 79th 24 Hours of Lemans, and as a sponsor of the series, they were heavily vested in their tire outfit with an entire tent housing tires carefully coded and labeled, to be analyzed after the race for performance clues. This year, I joined three colleagues to see Le Mans from the Michelin perspective.
For the French company, based north in Clermont-Ferrand, Lemans is native stomping grounds. I spoke to various engineers and tire designers, who are decidedly passionate about tires grooves. While tires may sound somewhat abstract as a compelling topic, in racing, tire changes and performance are paramount to cutting down on time for victory. It helps to know people, and in a very cool game plan a stretch of the Le Mans course was reserved for part of my test drive, where I could experience the narrow stretch on the evening before the street was closed for the race, to be taken over by prototype and GTE cars.
Here’s the essential question — what was my favorite ride? Each of the super cars, of course, had it’s attributes. I gravitated toward the 911 first, and was not disappointed. The Porsche’s nimble grip and tightly wound exhaust note was exceptional. The Audi R8 — the big brand at Le Mans — was a big bertha rocket that had an exhilarating response to the gas pedal when I drove it after our lunch at the local estate. The Gallardo was seductive, though at times felt adrift as if I were skating on glass, and the sophisticated electronics had the effect of taking away the precision of driving and response. At the end of the day, the thrill of driving the Ferrari 458 wildcat was memorable. The high-pitched note, the ridiculously quick response and the sensation of the snug cockpit defined the quintessential Le Mans experience, setting the stage for the 24 Hour race, when our hosts would again claim multiple victories with Audi and Corvette teams riding on their tires for the 14th consecutive year.