(aka "Have I packed everything?!")
(Updated November 2023)
Initially at least this page may seem a strange concept, particularly to those who've been to Le Mans many times before, but if you haven't or if you're not used to travelling to a race outside the UK, you might just find it handy. It is drawn from a checklist that I've developed for myself over 37 years which I religiously run through several times before the bags go into the car for the trip.
At first blush it probably sounds a bit silly, paranoid even, but can there really be anything worse than sitting on the ferry as it pulls out of Portsmouth (or wherever) to then realise that you've left your passport, race tickets, euros, essential medication etc. behind.......?
Of course its up to you to decide what is absolutely essential or merely desirable - and these things vary considerably from person to person and group to group as well as on the amount of space you have and whether you're camping or in a hotel. If you're travelling by train with a backpack, your view will differ from mine, travelling alone to the circuit in a car! Some groups are happy to just fill the boot of the car with beer and a barbecue. What you take with you will depend on several factors, not the least of which is how much space you've got, whether you're serious about the photography side of things and how long your trip is going to last. My list breaks down into four categories:-
This list is by no means exhaustive and I add things to it and take things off every year.
Yes, this is dull. But when you're freezing your bits off out at Indianapolis at 2 am on race morning because you didn't think that an insulated coat, thick socks or thermal long johns were necessary, it's worth a thought - it can get really cold during race night, even if it has been ferociously hot all day.
General - Take as many changes of clothing as you think you'll need and you have room for. Even if you're travelling really light, allow for an extra change in case the weather is really bad (like 1992, 1995, 2001, 2007 and quite a bit of 2016). If you're planning to be up and about for most of the time (like me - so not a lot of sleep) take some extra changes of underwear, t-shirts and in particular socks. Having walked around all afternoon and all night as the race progresses, it's incredible how luxurious and revitalising it feels just to change into a clean pair of socks!
Think about your shoes. If you plan to walk for miles wear a comfortable (and ideally waterproof) pair. Le Mans is definitely NOT the place to break in that brand new pair of trainers that are seeing the light out of their box for the very first time. If you walk as much as I do during the weekend, you will get BLISTERS (as I did in 1996) no matter how comfortable the trainers felt when you tried them on in the shop.
Specific - A decent waterproof and well insulated coat is absolutely essential but if its not bucketing down I tend to reserve that for the night over a thick jumper. Remember, even if it has been hot during the day, by 4 or 5 am on Sunday morning it gets pretty chilly. 2011 and 2014 were the coldest nights I've ever experienced at Le Mans after which I invested in some thermal long-johns as although my upper body was warm, my legs were absolutely freezing. I also bought myself a very warm insulated coat. If you're travelling light you may want to invest in a "Jack-in-a-Pack" or a similar fold up coat or a lightweight waterproof jacket that folds up very small so you can stuff it in a pocket or attach it to your camera bag. (They do matching trousers as well, if the weather turns really bad). Have a pair of really thick socks in your bag to put on at night as well as a warm pair of gloves and a beanie. Having warm extremities really does make the rest of you feel like toast.
Another essential is a hat. I'm well known for always wearing a floppy sun hat rather than a cap. Yes, you can laugh and make fun of me, but if it doesn't rain, the sun can get very hot (I've never felt heat like it in the pits grandstand before the race in 2005), and if you're planning on standing on the tribunes opposite the pits for 3 or 4 hours watching the pre-race festivities and then the start of the race, the sun will beat down on your head turning the back of your neck to something resembling part-cooked bacon. I can guarantee you will wish you had worn a hat. I'm no slave to fashion, so for years I've worn floppy sunhats that I generally only wear at Le Mans! They not only protect my balding head but my neck as well. I now take at least two with me, as they keep me dry if it rains too.
General - Sounds rather serious, doesn't it?! In 37 years, I've had relatively few problems, but after severe food-poisoning in 1987 and very bad blisters in 1996, I've learned enough to appreciate that its "better to be safe than sorry"! We all tend to over-indulge, whether on food or booze, and this coupled with miles of walking, lots of blazing sunshine (hopefully!) and not a lot of sleep can leave you feeling very much the worse for wear at various times during the week-end (or the week, if you're lucky enough to be there for the whole shooting-match).
Obviously, if you have to take medication on a regular basis anyway, make sure you take enough supplies with you to keep you going through the trip, just as you would for any holiday.
Specific - Headaches - Paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen or whatever usually does the trick for you.
Stomach upset - Imodium, Diocalm or something similar in case things get really bad after all those merguez and tartiflette and Bisodol or Rennies etc. if things haven't quite deteriorated to that level yet!
Sun protection - I've mentioned the sun already - take some sensible high SPF sun-cream and make sure you put some on the back of your neck. If like me you're going a bit thin on top, don't forget that too. Noses are always a prime candidate as well for sunburn (and windburn if it's windy). If it's really hot and you're one of the macho shorts and no shirt brigade, put some cream on or run the risk of looking really pink (and really very stupid) by 4 pm on Sunday! It's a fact that we can usually spot the Brits by their red faces, necks and backs on Sunday at Le Mans......
Sore throat - In my younger days I was prone to sore throats so if you're the same, some lozenges might be an idea, plus a bottle of Difflam antiseptic mouthwash - the best thing I've ever discovered for sore throats.
Feet - Following my "new trainers" ordeal of a few years ago, I always carry not only some ordinary plasters, but blister plasters as well.
Not quite medical, but don't forget to pack useful things like wet-wipes (it gets very dusty if its dry at Le Mans and with sun cream, beer, frites, merguez and goodness knows what else passing through your hands, you can get really grubby - especially if you're camping), plus a towel, tissues and, most important of all, a toilet-roll - just in case. Although the public loos in the revised atmosphere-less F1-style Village at Le Mans made a huge difference, some of the others around the circuit are still best avoided.....
General - Whether you're a serious photographer or just an enthusiastic amateur like me you probably won't need much advice about what to pack. Nevertheless, its a good idea to make a list of what you want to take and to make sure you have all the batteries, memory cards and so on that you'll need - because they are stupidly expensive to buy at the circuit. If you're going to be carrying your camera gear everywhere you go don't leave things you know you won't need in your camera bag. The camera-bag will feel fine slung over your shoulder at the beginning of the trip, but by the end it'll feel as though you filled it with the lead off the local church roof. In fact, don't use an ordinary camera bag at all, invest in a good rucksack-style camera bag. I bought a Lowepro bag in 2011 (and I'm still using it 12 years later) and I've never regretted it - plus it has space for so much more in it.
Two other words of warning - firstly, make sure you test your gear thoroughly before you leave home. In 2008, my camera completely died two days before leaving. I'd already packed it ready for the trip but needed to take a quick shot of something. If I hadn't done that, I'd never have known it had packed up until I was in France..... Secondly, avoid carrying lenses separately - in 2019 I came within moments of losing my 100-400L as I had it in it's case and had put it down in one of the shops under the grandstands. Luckily for me, the shop owner had picked it up and I was able to retrieve it. Boy was I relieved.....
Camera and lenses. Pretty obvious. I'd love to have more but I now only use 2 lenses, both zooms, an 18-135mm and my big 100-400mm. The big lens has now been replaced with a new model. For 'snaps' and video I use my iPhone. It takes great pictures and very good video too - better than my 80D.
Flashgun - of limited use to the "ordinary" spectator, as the debris fencing completely ruins flash shots at night. But there are one or two places where you can avoid it (e.g. the banking inside Tertre Rouge).
Batteries - Make sure your camera battery is in good nick (or you have spares). Charge up any rechargeable batteries in advance and don't forget to pack the charger! Don't forget batteries for the flashgun or any remote controls, and that your batteries are also charged up for your video camera, if you're taking it.
Memory Cards - I went digital in 2004. You'll need to work out how many shots you'll be likely to take (and at what resolution) and take along as many cards as will be needed. Of course, digital users have the advantage of being able to dump those reject shots straight away. In 2008, I took one 4gig card, one 2 gig, one 1 gig and several 512 meg cards. These days though I take several cards of 8Gb or greater, one of which will probably hold all of the week's shots. Of course, if you have a laptop and you're staying in a 'namby pamby' hotel like me, you can download back at the hotel as and when you like.....
Tripod - I only ever use my tripod at night or in the early morning. Essential for those wonderful light-trail shots (that so many like me try to achieve and fail miserably every year), if you can find somewhere without fencing in the way. Only carry it around if you have to - otherwise leave it tucked away (safely locked up) in the car if you can - like the camera bag, they get very heavy when you've been carrying them for a few hours.
Monopod - I don't much care for the things myself (although I have several), but they're much easier to lug around than a tripod and can come in handy for that extra little bit of steadiness, particularly if your camera is sporting a long zoom or early in the morning as the sun comes up when there's not so much light around. My lighter monopod is also great for raising up my iPhone on an attachment with a remote control for elevated video.
Torch - What? I hear you say? Yes, pretty essential, actually. A small Maglite is extremely useful for reading the display on your camera in the middle of the night (without using up your battery on the backlight). And for finding your way in the dark to and from the car park at Mulsanne!
Cleaning - Before I set out on the trip I always give camera and lenses a good clean. Whatever the weather at Le Mans, everything will suffer, whether from water if it rains or from the dust if its dry. If its hot you'll end up transferring sweat to the camera and need to watch out that your fingers (and the remnants of that last merguez) don't find their way onto your best lens. A blower brush and/or some lens tissues may come in handy.
General - OK, to finish off then we have the silly little bits and pieces that are so easy to ignore or forget which you only realise you need when you're at the circuit and can't get them. Either that or they're the absolute essentials, without which you're stuffed!
Toothbrush/toothpaste - After a couple of nights on an endless diet of burgers, merguez, frites, beer and wine believe me, you'll be desperate to brush your teeth!
Shower gel - likewise, if you get the chance to have a shower, whether somewhere at the circuit or at your hotel, it's amazing how revitalising it is. When choosing your shower gel, the most important thing is not the smell! Make sure it has a securely-fitting cap, or like me in 1995 you'll end up with a bag full of the stuff and richly perfumed and very sticky clothes!
Spare specs - if you're like me and can't see your nose in front of your face without your specs, make sure you take a spare pair - along with your sunglasses - well, we need to be optimistic, don't we?!
Radio and headphones - another essential item for listening to my mate Paul Truswell on Radio Le Mans. In 2011 I invested in some Elvex Quietunes headphones with built in radio. Absolutely fantastic and they were still going strong in 2017 but in 2018 I bought a new pair of Honeywell Howard Leight radio ear defenders which are fantastic. But a small radio with earphones will do. If you forget, you can buy one from the RLM radio sellers at the circuit.
And what else? Well, you had better not forget these:-
Passport - well, I think its always best to state the obvious.....
Tickets - if you've bought them in advance.
ACO Membership Card - if you're a member.
Ticket holder - one of those cheap and cheerful plastic holders which dangle on string around your neck is invaluable - keep all your tickets in there and you can even perch a small radio in it as well! You can buy the holders at the circuit for next to nothing or if you're on an organised tour, you'll probably be given them as freebies anyway.
Cash and credit cards - packing the Euros you bought in advance isn't quite as vital as it once was.
Pen and pad - always handy.
Phone charger - don't forget it!
Battery pack - these days there are some really good external battery packs/chargers that will charge anything that plugs into a USB socket - really useful if you're planning to 'do' the whole race. I use a powerful Anker one.
So there you have it - Ayse's own personal guide to what to pack for Le Mans.
Only trouble is....... I'm sure I've forgotten something........ ;-)
Ayse - 22.11.23