France's Carnival Classic
The 24-hour race at Le Mans in northwestern France is, to those who love it, one of the staples of life, ranking just a cut below pain et vin. Besides being the world's premier road race, it is a vivid, dependable thread in the texture of French existence. Again this Saturday an immense gathering (upward of 200,000 persons) will stand in silence as drivers sprint across the track to whip the 55 sports cars into snarling life (see below). The crowd, fueled with countless slender loaves of crusty bread and cooled by rivers of wine, will then chat, stroll, browse through a carnival midway and occasionally watch the race whistling around the silk-smooth, 8.3-mile course. Hundreds will tent at roadside (right) and, rising early Sunday, hurry to learn the events of the night. This year, as last, they will probably find Italy's Ferraris invincibly ahead. Possessed of more cars (10) and more foot than any rival (America's Phil Hill broke a four-year-old lap record in early trials), Ferrari is odds-on to win over-all and Grand Touring prizes.
The start at Le Mans is traditionally one of bright, noisy confusion. Here violent-looking Ferraris lead field away from the pit area
Daylight rouses tenters from their colorful campground. Some will attend open-air Mass before returning to see how cars are faring
Grand Touring cars slip into abrupt Tertre Rouge turn. Behind them is famous Dunlop bridge, a pedestrian crossing shaped like a tire segment
A single racer flies past the pits. In the bannered upper decks auto magnates and guests lunch on paté and vintage champagne
Racing past the tensely wakeful pits in the long watches of the Le Mans night, cars dissolve into streaks of light as mechanics hover over a standing auto