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A visit to the Musée des 24H Le Mans

50th anniversary of the first victory by the Porsche 917 at the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hour race
This large poster announced the 50th anniversary of the first victory by the Porsche 917 at the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hour race

It all started back in early March of 2020. I had a trip planned to visit the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, to conduct another extensive photo shoot expedition. The afternoon before I was due to leave, at 15h15 to be precise, I received a call from Porsche to say, “Don’t come!” I was speechless, but managed to stutter a garbled, “What do you mean don’t come? I am leaving tomorrow morning early and I have my ferry booked and all the accommodation arranged!” The reply was, “The Stuttgart City Council has closed all public spaces, schools, restaurants and more, and there will be no-one to receive you at Porsche.”

1998 winning Porsche 911 GT1
In the main exhibition hall, the visitor is greeted by the 1998 winning Porsche 911 GT1

There was nothing I could do about it, and I just had to accept the situation as it was, because Europe was at the beginning of what would become its first lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic had taken hold, and the world would not be the same again. The UK was only a matter of weeks behind Europe, and soon the whole world would be plunged into the surreal situation of being told to stay at home.

The Porsche 907/8 was raced primarily during the 1967-68 seasons and was powered by a 2.2-litre engine
The Porsche 907/8 was raced primarily during the 1967-68 seasons and was powered by a 2.2-litre engine. This is the short-tail “K” version

This was a first for almost everyone alive, but there was nothing to do but knuckle down and get all those tasks done that did not require leaving home. In some ways this did not affect my work too much, as being a self-employed freelance motorsport journalist, this was where I did most of my work anyway. Then we got news that the Le Mans 24 Hours itself was being postponed until later in the year.

The Ford that famously beat Ferrari was the GT40
The Ford that famously beat Ferrari was the GT40. This vehicle shows how the ‘wool tuft test’ was used for testing the aerodynamic efficiency of the body

This threw things up in the air a bit, as the whole world just got on with accepting this new regime of doing nothing, but being an inventive lot, we always had a plan at the ready that we could kick into action at a moment’s notice. In time we did indeed get news that the 24-hour race was to be held over the weekend of 19-20 September. So when the call came from Porsche that the coast was clear, I arranged my now rescheduled trip to coincide perfectly to finish just at the start of the Le Mans week. That way I would be able to cover all the bases in one long trip.

A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years
A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years

At quite a late stage of the proceedings, I was informed that two of the cars I wanted to photograph in Stuttgart had in fact been sent to Le Mans for the 50 years anniversary of Porsche’s first win in the 24-hour race. It was disappointing for sure, but some swift phoning around saw Plan B swing into action, and I arranged to photograph these two cars at the ACO Museum just before the start of the 24-hour racing action. Believe me, arranging this whole expedition from Porsche Road & Race Towers in Wales, including my Covid-19 test, was no small matter but in the end it all came together perfectly.

A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years
A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years

Finally the day arrived for my departure and long story short, the whole Stuttgart side of the trip went off well. With that side of things completed, I set a course for Le Mans and Phase 2 of the adventure. As planned, I arrived at the ACO Museum at 16h30 on Tuesday 15 September to confirm my photo shoot the next morning at 08h00, before any visitors arrived. Of course it had slipped my mind that the Museum wouldn’t be having too many visitors that week due to the Le Mans 24 Hour race taking place ‘behind closed doors’ and so no spectators would have made the trip. Be that as it may, I headed off for my Covid-19 test at the circuit, a pre-requisite for attending the 24-hour race as a member of the media. Make no mistake, the importance and privilege of being invited to attend this year’s event as a photographer, was not lost on me!

A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years
A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years

Bright and early the next morning I arrived at the ACO Museum and was shown in via a back door to carry out my photo shoot. This I did and while photographing cars in a Museum never produces great results, it was though important to do it as this photographic record would form part of the history of those two cars. It didn’t take long to complete my work, and while I was there, I thought it would be a good idea to explore a little as it had been many years since my last visit to see the display in the Museum, and seeing as there were no visitors, I pretty much had the place to myself.

A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years
A large section of the exhibition hall was given over to this extensive scale model display of the vehicles that have competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours over the years

Some background

The museum was created in 1961 at Le Mans. At first, the museum was located within the circuit enclosure but it was then moved and bought by la Sarthe Council, a department of the French region of Pays de la Loire, in 1991. It once again became the property of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) in 2017.

The LMGTP #7 Bentley Speed 8 driven to victory by Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours
The LMGTP #7 Bentley Speed 8 driven to victory by Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours

This LMP1 Toyota 94C-V finished second in the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours in the hands of Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff
This LMP1 Toyota 94C-V finished second in the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours in the hands of Eddie Irvine, Mauro Martini and Jeff Krosnoff

In a normal year, the museum would expect to see nearly 125,000 visitors but of course in 2020, this number would have fallen to a mere trickle. The staff organise three thematic exhibitions per year at the Museum, celebrating automobile and historical anniversaries linked to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So the work load for the staff is fairly intense as there is a lot to organise, and having seen it first hand, I can vouch for this.

This #9 Peugeot HDi 5.5 L Turbo V12 won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours in the hands of David Brabham, Marc Gené and Alexander Wurz
This #9 Peugeot HDi 5.5 L Turbo V12 won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours in the hands of David Brabham, Marc Gené and Alexander Wurz

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