Dedicated to sound recording in the field
Le Mans 24 Hour Race - 17th and 18th June, 2000
If you like motorsport and haven't been to the 24 Heures, you're missing a
Apart from the local traffic jams on race day, everything about it is wonderful
- the circuit, the atmosphere, the cars and of course the racing through the
night. The circuit itself - Circuit de la Sarthe - is made up of dedicated race
track (a couple of kilometres either side of the start/finish line) and
closed public roads.
The race may happen over one 24 hour period, but the preparations take the best
part of the preceding week.
Scrutineering takes place in the early part of the
week in the town centre. Track action begins with the two Qualifying
sessions on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Each evening is split into two
parts: 7pm to 9pm, then 10pm to midnight (offically a 'night' session).
Friday is 'pit walk day' when the public have access to the pit road and the
teams are busy with final preparations (or re-building the cars if they broke
them during Qualifying!).
Race day itself features a number of warm-up races and parades before the main
event, which begins with a rolling start at 4pm prompt.
Cars were competing in 2000: Audi (R8), Panoz, Courage,
Vipers, Corvettes, Cadillic Northstar, BMW, Reynard, Dome, WR, Lola and, of
course, a legion of 911s. So a wide range of engine notes, from howling
Judds to thundering US V8/V10s.
I had the privilege of being a race marshall. Marshalls are on duty
whenever the circuit is open. To cover the long periods involved, the
marshalling crews work in shifts.
The shift pattern gave me Thursday night off (2nd Qualifying) and also the
first two hours at the start of the race. I used these to try out some simple
Thursday 15th June. Second Qualifying.
First session - recordings from the ACO stand
The ACO stand is on the outside of the circuit and directly opposite the pit
lane and garages. This gives an excellent view of cars coming into and out of
the pits, and being worked on.
This first track is a soundscape from the stand,
with the commentary echoing around the structure. Cars are passing at speed
(from left to right) as they power past the start/finish line up the hill to
the Dunlop curves. 1:40, 1.4MB
Moving to the left of the stand,
nearer the pit lane exit brings in sounds of wheels being changing and
cars emerging from the pits. The warning horn for cars entering the pits is
also heard. 2:49, 3.2MB
The start of the second session on the Thursday evening is a signal for teams
go for their best lap times, bidding for pole position. At 10pm, the light
is still good, even though its offically 'dark'. The air is cooling, making
it more dense and allowing cars to develop more power then during the heat of
From the stand at the Dunlop chicane.
The chicane is immediately after the
Dunlop curve at the end of the pit straight. Cars brake on entry to the curves
at the left, then power away beneath the Dunlop bridge and over the crest of
the hill. 2:15, 2.6MB
Downhill to the Esses. After cresting the summit after the Dunlop bridge,
it's a fast downhill dash to the Esses,
a chicane on the way to Tertre Rouge corner. On this recording, the first car
through overcooks things and goes off, and can be heard rejoining the track as
cars power past. 4:02, 4.6MB.
Tertre Rouge and onto the Mulsanne straight.
Tertre Rouge is a sharp right
hand corner at the end of the downhill section from Dunlop Bridge. It marks the
transition of the track from the dedicated race circuit to public road - the
N138 to Tours, the Mulsanne straight - where the cars stream off
into the distance. 3:31, 4.0MB.
Soundscape at the end of the Second Session.
Recorded from a car park in the circuit infield at midnight,
just after the close of play. Cars are still circulating down to Tertre Rouge
on 'cool down' laps (ha!) and can be heard in the far distance heading
towards Mulsanne corner. 2:32, 2.9MB
Saturday/Sunday 17/18th June. The Race
Having an off-duty period at the start of the race was a bonus, which allowed
me to record the very beginning from the infield at Arnage corner, the slowest
on the circuit.
The rolling start lap at Arnage corner.
The race has a rolling start at 4pm prompt at the start/finish line, so the
cars depart the grid behind a pace car at 3:55. This rolling start lap gives
an opportunity to see and hear the field close together before race pace spreads
them out. In this recording, the cars approach from Indianapolis to the left, slow
for the apex of Arnage and then pull away towards the Porsche Curves.
The opening lap at Arnage With the race
finally underway the tempo is distinctly urgent. Cars scrub off speed under
braking into Arnage, then accelerate away. 1:27, 1.7MB
Lap 3. A slightly different recording
position, just after the exit from Arnage corner. Cars accelerate strongly
towards the Porsche Curves. Even after so few laps the field has spread out
significantly. 3:18, 3.8MB
Once the race is underway, marshalling settles down into a routine of duty
(intense concentration) and resting (but hardly sleeping!), with snatched meals
between. Not much chance for recording, but I did make one take at the end of
duty in the small hours of Sunday morning.
Soundscape north of Arnage, 05:20am.
Recorded from a minor road a couple of hundred yards away from the track.
Against a general background of cars arriving from Indianapolis in the
distance, competitors accelerate away from Arnage (at the right). This is the
continuous soundtrack when the race is in progress. 4:59, 5.7MB
Recordings made using using a Sony ECM907 one-point stereo microphone into a
Sony MZ-R37 minidisc recorder, with AGC engaged. The mic was hand-held,
mounted in a small home-made wind shield.
I have often wondered if more sophisticated equipment (eg condenser mics)
would have given better results. I suspect not. The high sound levels were
perfectly suited to the relatively low sensitivity of the Sony mic. Better low
fequency response would have been nice, though, to fully capture the sound of
the big US engines. The recorder AGC worked pretty well too: 'gain 'pumping'
is well controlled.
Edited using Wavelab 6.
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