“My 24 Hours of Le Mans 1982” by Laurent Mercier …

1982 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down in history as the early edition of Group C. When you’re a kid, you do not really know what GrC is and its rules. What we want is to dream and leave Le Mans with the desire to come back in June the following year. That’s exactly what happened to me in June 1980 during my first visit to 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that should have its two holidays and non-working days. For me, 1982 was an important edition …

When I left Le Mans on Sunday, June 15, 1980, I expected only one thing: to go back to 1981. At that time, we went to school on Saturday morning, and who says we miss a Saturday morning to go to Le Mans said it was necessary to have the school results that followed. This is where the machine broke down. When the teacher did small surveys to figure out what you wanted to do as a job, I was the driver of the 24 hour Le Mans. The rest of the class (we called it CM1) was somewhere else: doctor, lawyer, firefighter, actor, etc … I was far from all that. Going back to 1981, my grades in school were acceptable. In two words, I was told I had facilities, so I waited for it to come. The concern is that the results took time to come. To sum up, in 1981 they never came … So no 24 hour Le Mans! A real family scandal. Even though I had a father who was very inclined to take me, my mother said no! I want to spare you the details of a race that was seen with my grandparents. Even four decades later, my mother still remembers it, because after the TV show on Saturday afternoon was over, I did an early tuning. My mother had stored in my grandparents’ attic (the same room as in 2022 became the office from which I write these lines) a Solex, which still worked really well, but which was no longer really used. Together with a friend, we disassembled the Solex to make a cross bike, which we painted red by putting a large antenna on the back. I let you imagine the face of my mother who is still talking to me about it. I thought I was deprived of Le Mans for a decade.

Let’s go back to 1982! There I received the approval of the family selection committee to go to the 24 hour Le Mans with my father. The release note given and given to the teacher was clear: “Laurent will be absent on Saturday 19 June due to 24 hours of Le Mans. Better than a Palme d’Or at Cannes! When you are a child in the early 80s , it is believed that going to Le Mans by road is the trip of the year, when in the end it is only two hours by road from my home.For my first visit to Sarthe two years earlier, we stayed with cousins ​​in Le Mans. My little letter written to Jean Rondeau after his victory, and especially his answer, was done to make me love this race.Without this answer you might not read these lines today.Take to 24 Hours of Le Mans 1982 for a racer weekend!

When you arrive at Le Mans on Saturday morning, regardless of age, there is an unchanging ritual: buy Le Maine Libre and Ouest France. At that time, it was still possible to buy the newspapers directly in the stands with sellers past the public. The last page of Maine Libre is devoted to the list of participants in small rectangles. The general fencing cost 150 francs and the additional non-competing stands and supply parks 54 francs. My dad, who worked in the auto industry, had annual access to the Elf Antar box, which overlooked the pipes. There was access from Saturday at. That year we were invited to the checkout booth at the Rondeau M382 ‘Kickers’ by Christian Bussi, Pascal Witmeur and Bernard de Dryver. The same Pascal Witmeur who became a friend four decades later and who I talk on the phone almost every week on various topics. Once the newspapers are purchased, go to the competitors’ park to approach the cars installed in tents. We have the impression of being part of the adventure as the machines are so close. Each team makes its final adjustments within zero hour. As a supporter of Jean Rondeau, this is where we spend the most time. It was the era of sponsor OTIS, which for me is not (even still in 2022) a brand of lifts, but the partner of Jean Rondeau. I have an uncle who was one of the leaders at Otis, and for me he worked at Rondeau. Every time I take an elevator, it reminds me of 1982.

The paddock smelled of grease, mechanics. Unfortunately, when you are a child, you do not remember everything, but still. There was a 45-minute training session on Saturday late in the morning. At Le Mans, you are able to stand like a crane in the stands in the middle of an dodger without giving way. The Bataille family delights the public with their Fiat stunts. I will not return to the 1982 edition, as everyone knows. The official Porsche 956s are magnificent. A couple of years later, my first cigarettes were R *****. I let you imagine the reason. Strong 17.00 to go for a walk in the locker room at booth # 38. You are even closer to the action and you can poke your head around to see the pitlan. This dressing room is for adults, not for kids my age. The place is noisy but so nice with the legs falling on the windows. An hour later we are standing on the supply balconies with our feet dangling in the void. Another era!

We spend our time between the supply parks and the village. This old shady village that reminds me of so many childhood memories. These names will remind you of something: Martini, Chrysler Simca, Garczynski, Antar, Les Comptoirs Modernes, RNUR, Allée Durand, Allée Coquille, Place Pininfarina, Allée Singher, Allée Faroux, Restaurant des Pilotes, Podium Europe 1, etc. it possible to retrieve ratings from the bins at the welcome entrance to the audience. There were many small shops and I remember I bought a lot of badges (before the founders we called them badges) of the different cars. There were still quite a few shady spots. I have incredible memories of this ancient village.

Before going to dinner in the car, it is a passage in the parking lots to admire some beautiful cars. From 1982 to 2000, the ritual was the same. The early evening was devoted to a visit to the museum located in the circuit (contract 35 francs) before passing through the welcome where it is possible to approach the course. We are waiting for Rondeau to pass and WM in Heuliez colors (Heuliez is 40 km from my home). Night is approaching, we go, we go and we go again to Dunlop. I thought that by crossing the Dunlop footbridge it was possible to look over to see the trail. How sad it is to see that it was finally not possible. The carnival is amazing, though I have a hard time understanding the sign that says the Three Breasted Lady attraction.

The night is short, very short. Back in the stands around kl. 04.00, where it’s very fat. We look at these pilots who turn tirelessly. Early in the morning, the first thing to do is buy the newspaper with its list of items crossed out with resignations. You must find your way through the stands among the sleepers. When you see the cars drive by, which continue to drive laps, you quickly realize that they no longer have the same colors as at the start. The mood there is special because the race on Sunday morning is nearing its end and it will be necessary to wait a year before returning, with the mission to work at the school in hopes of stepping into these stands again. A year is a long time!

Sunday morning there is always this trip to Arnage and Mulsanne to see the competitors from a different angle. For that, you need to get back to the car, a car full of dust. When you were a kid, you would like to have everything back from this race: stickers, posters, photos, Radio 24H footage, dirt from the stands and, above all, souvenirs. In the 80s, no social network, no internet, no way to stay connected with this race from June to June. So you have to get the best out of it.

Arriving at Mulsanne is synonymous with Le Mans 24 hours. There is still the signage on the other side of the track. The spirits are tired, the legs are pulling. When you leave Mulsanne, you know it’s over or almost over.

All these emotions experienced at Le Mans when you are a child, everyone knows what I’m talking about. All the children who one day went as a family to the 24-hour Le Mans brought back thousands of memories. How many of us have now walked through the fence? This passion has become an exciting job …

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