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24 Hours of Le Mans From the Best Seat in the House, Literally

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Blue_Tires Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jun-15-10 03:46 PM
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24 Hours of Le Mans From the Best Seat in the House, Literally
When I covered my first 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1976, I wrote my story on a yellow legal pad as I sat in the shade of a small tree on a cinder block patio behind the pit area. I passed the handwritten copy to a Telex operator in a small press office next to the patio, and she typed it for my editors in New York. Then I walked right out onto pit lane for the victory celebration.

I doubt if I traveled 50 feet, all told.

Last weekend, some 35 races later, I might have topped that: I sat at home in California and covered the entire race from my couch watching the race live on Speed television, or following the world feed on my computer (thanks to a gambling site). Radio Le Mans broadcast the event live in English; others broadcast in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese and more. Audi and Peugeot each offered live online feeds from their in-car cameras. Twitter had a #LeMans tag, used by many teams, drivers and on-site fans, who also had Facebook walls devoted to their musings and photos from the event. Various chat rooms and fan sites provided discussions in at least a dozen languages that I could find.

At home, I knew in real time what virtually every team was doing, on and off the track. I had the added insights of hundreds, perhaps thousands of sharp-eyed bloggers, newshounds and Twitter followers. There were whole albums of Twitpics and Flickr photos, dozens of YouTube videos, endless RSS news feeds, audio clips and even old-fashioned e-mail messages.

During that 1976 race, I had no clue what was going on for almost the entire 24 hours. The tiny press operation, housed in a small room, included little more than a couple of local schoolgirls cranking the press officers occasional missives written only in French through a mimeograph machine. I believe the sum total of the news releases that day was five pieces of paper.

I knew that the Porsche drivers Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep had won the race that had been a foregone conclusion for hours, as I believe they had a lead of almost 100 miles (11-plus laps) over the runners-up. But I did not learn until hours later of significant developments, including the death of a French driver, Andr Haller.

Covering that 1976 race had been a rather lonely experience. I went home feeling overwhelmed by the size, scope and complexity of the Le Mans race. (I would return a dozen more times to Le Mans and learn a little more of the secrets to covering it effectively each time.)

But this year, for the first time, I felt like I was on top of the whole race, in the right place at the right time, for every key moment. And I never had to leave my living room. Im not sure what this says about the future of motorsports journalism!
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