Some people dream of seeing the Sydney Opera House. Others want to swim with dolphins or variously visit geological oddities, travel in the footsteps of heroes or walk around ancient ruins.
For me, it was to visit Le Mans, and see an LMP1's tortured brake discs glow cherry red. And now I can tick it off my must-do list.
Le Mans is, by any measure, a wondrous event. The ultimate challenge in motorsport. The pinnacle of mental and physical fitness; the last word in technical reliability.
All this, I knew, but after spending a manic couple of days camping a few dozen yards from the Porsche Curves, I now have a more of an understanding of what the drivers and teams go through. Until you’ve been there, and experienced the sights and sounds, I’m not sure you can full appreciate it.
Every year, tens of thousands of Brits are among the 300,000-plus fans who make the pilgrimage to the French town. However, although there were plenty of people to seek advice from, and even more books, magazines and websites to offer help, there was also much that I didn’t expect, or simply hadn’t occurred to me. Here's what I learnt:
It takes time. Calais to Le Mans takes around five hours on a decent run, so trying to cram it all in two days is achievable, but only just. There’s so much to see, that you’ll not take it all in. More than that, you’ll miss – as we did – the open pit lane and drivers’ parade.
The circuit is massive. If you think you can walk from one end to another as you can at Brands Hatch, you’ve another thing coming. To walk from the Porsche Curves to the preceding corner, Arnage, takes an hour. You can, of course, take one of the shuttle buses, but expect to queue, and walk a fair way at the other end. Plenty of visitors take bikes. I can see why.
Take something to cook on. We were in the minority of not having a barbeque, which meant being at the mercy of the pricy food stalls. In our experience, they were surprisingly few and far between.
Consider booking with a travel company. The organisation we dealt with sorted tickets, Le Shuttle crossings and a campsite for us. The private site had manned gates, and clean toilets and showers. When the alternative is sharing with several hundred thousand beer-crazed fans, the additional cost feels like money well spent.
If you’re going to make the most of your time trackside, get plenty of sleep beforehand. And yes, that will mean taking earplugs.
I certainly know more now than I did about the Le Mans experience. It is, without doubt, the finest motorsport event I've been to.
Yes, I achieved a long-standing ambition seeing those glowing brake discs (on the entry to Dunlop Curves, at the end of the pit straight, since you ask), but the event also has far more than that to offer. Not content with ticking it off, I’m now a Le Mans devotee and will return.
I’d love to hear your pearls of wisdom so I’m even better prepared next time.