Hotel De France
Visit Hotel de France
Like any other fanatical race fan, I had to, just had to to visit the Hotel de France when at Le Mans last year. The Hotel de France is where many of the race teams stayed preparing for the 24 hours. It no longer is their “headquarters” and while much has changed, the history and memories are still there for any Race devotee. The hotel’s long-lasting association with Le Mans remains strong today with race car drivers, old and young, still visiting and staying at the hotel.
We inspected what was then the garage area for the team right alongside the main building. The mechanics would work on the cars and then drive the 40 miles or so to the track and back. Today the space is taken up by a parking garage and the hotel’s catering bus.
The renovations and changes made no difference to me because when I walked into that building I stepped back to another time. I saw them. I heard the low buzz of laughter and conversation first. They were all still there, discussing strategy, having a drink at the bar, eating dinner, and getting ready for the race.
The many pictures of drivers and cars in the bar area express centuries of racing history and also remind us of how much more dangerous racing was then with horrific accidents where drivers and spectators lost their lives. It was at Le Mans that French driver Pierre Levegh and eighty-three onlookers died in 1955.
One is immediately aware that the John Wyer Gulf team with the Ford GT40 and Porsche 917 teams were here. Looking at the pictures I can still remember watching David Hobbs in 1975 at Watkins Glen driving the McLaren M10B for Carl Hogan racing in a formula 5000 race. Then the pictures of drivers who are long-time dead from years and years ago. And still in our era, Henry Pescarolo, Gerard Larousse, and Derick Bell. Pescarolo has the distinction of 33 starts at Le Mans, more than anyone else with four wins. All memories and history that come alive in that room.
After all these years, the magic is still there at the Hotel de France. One can quietly feel it and see them, year-after-year returning to Le Mans and the hotel to race in what is now the oldest and one of the most prestigious endurance races in history. I sit down in the darkness and join them for one final drink.