I used to go to Le Mans every year. It was like a religion. We’d set off in convoy and catch an early ferry on Friday morning, reach the town of Le Mans by Friday afternoon, have some late lunch, maybe celebrate with a few too many Stellas, and then just sit back and watch the carnival unfold. It was one of the best weekends of the year.
And although the racing was almost a backdrop to the general festivities, it was still the reason we made the journey: to watch the spaceships going around, day and night, hammering it out against each other until just one car – sometimes it was a Porsche, sometimes it was a Jaguar, one year it was even a Mazda that sounded like a demented wasp – emerged victorious.
For a little while in the late 1990s it became a bit of a Porsche-fest, did Le Mans. But for the most part, and for most of the years on which we went, we didn’t know who was going to win. Watching the race was riveting, genuinely, because more often than not the result was impossible to predict.
And then Volkswagen decided that Audi must dominate at Le Mans, since when the German manufacturer has rather spoiled the idea of there being any doubt about who might win. Audi has won the race 11 times since the year 2000. Only Peugeot has managed to upset the status quo by winning in 2009. And, of course, Bentley was permitted to win in 2003 in order to help relaunch the road car brand that had recently been bought by VW.
On the one hand, Audi’s annihilation of the opposition at Le Mans this century has been an admirable achievement. But having locked out the top three qualifying slots for this year's race and, you’d now logically assume, being likely to win the race yet again, you can't help but wonder whether it’s doing Audi’s reputation any good overall.
Some of us – quite a few of us, possibly – have become bored with Audi’s dominance at Le Mans. There is, let’s face it, something quite antiseptic about knowing which car is going to win, year on year. It’s actually the reason why I don’t bother going any more.
What Le Mans needs is three, if not four, major works manufacturers, all at each other’s heels to try to win. And when Porsche makes its big return next year, I really do hope that VW allows both Audi and Porsche to race each other. Properly. Maybe with a Toyota or two in tow, ready to pick up the pieces if they go at it too hard.
If that happens – if a real race is allowed to occur between Porsche, Audi and Toyota – I might well think about going back. But if it doesn’t – if VW manipulates Audi out of the way in order to make room for Porsche – I reckon I’ll stay at home, maybe watch it with a mate or two and a beer on television, and reminisce about the good old days of Le Mans.