Steeped in history and emblazoned this year with an unrelenting dose of glorious sunshine, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race which never fails to deliver. Speaking from the heart of the Toyota paddock, photographer Jamey Price presents his account of the 85th running of motorsport’s most famous and always unpredictable race.
It’s 5:58 pm on Thursday afternoon in Le Mans. I’m standing in the pine forest along the Mulsanne straight, waiting for the session to begin. The sun is shining and all is right in my world.
I’m all alone in what feels like the middle of nowhere, contemplating how lucky I am to be where I am; to be working for Toyota’s LMP1 team alongside my good friend James. I haven’t yet put my ear plugs in. I’m just listening to the forest. I briefly glance at my watch. The time reads 6:01pm.
At that same moment, far in the distance, there’s a new sound – one that has a different pitch to the one of trees and birds. And it’s getting louder; and louder, and louder, and LOUDER, until the first in a line of 60 cars appears before me. Time to get to work. An army of horsepower is charging toward me. V6 turbos. V6 twin turbos. V8s. Hybrid V6s. Each one adds a different note to this symphony. One by one, the cars roar past me in deafening fashion, as they have for 85 years. I would love to hear the stories these pine forests could tell.
When you’re photographing the 24 Hours of Le Mans, you’re trying to capture the track as much as you are the cars. Other places I go, that is much less the case. In some places, you’re actually trying to make the track disappear because it’s so ugly, bland, open or boring. But not here.
Dappled light pops through the trees as the sun dips low in the sky. The tarmac shines, bright and golden. The colours on the curbs beam against the colours of the cars. The trees themselves become subjects of the high speed painting I am constructing, all in 1/1000 of a second.
Every minute you spend trackside at Le Mans is one to be cherished. There are no places like this left in the racing world.
This race and this place is like a drug. You get a taste and all you want is more.
Ask any racing fan, and they will tell you the same. Because Le Mans is so much more than the name of a small(ish) town in central France. It’s an icon; a historical and cultural racing institution, the likes of which doesn’t exist anywhere else on Earth.
In this modern age, where sports like Formula 1 are trying to define their own identity, to give fans better access to the sport and the drivers, or to have better on-track racing action, Le Mans and sportscar racing in general have been doing so for decades.
For motorsport fans, Le Mans has it all. It’s a music festival, a dance party, a parade and a car race, all rolled into one amazing experience.
It’s also a photographer’s dream, with amazing cars and amazing racing, charismatic drivers, fans that come by the hundreds of thousands, and a circuit that can only be described as ‘special’.
As day turns to night, and night turns to day again, the magic of this great race flows through the circuit. Toyota may not have won this time. But history is always made here.
The race and the occasion always delivers. There is nothing like the Circuit de la Sarthe. And nothing, believe me, quite like Le Mans.
Jamey Price is a Charlotte, NC, based freelance motorsport photojournalist who has covered racing across the globe, including NASCAR, INDYCAR, MotoGP, IMSA Weathertech, World Endurance Championship, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula 1. You can see more of his work on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @jameypricephoto, and on the web at www.jameypricephoto.com.