Alex Goy is Cars Editor at XCAR, CNET's car-loving video show. You can see some of his work in the videos embedded in this story, and over onXCAR.com.
Here's what I'd planned to do. I was going to write 100 words on the hour, every hour and allow us all to watch as my mental state slowly but surely deteriorated, thanks to a mix of sleep deprivation, booze and adrenaline. It...didn't go to plan. Here's how it went down for me at Le Mans 2015.
Saturday 13 June, 15:00
The race has started, the atmosphere is something else. Most of France appears to be here and they're all screaming for LOUD NOISES COMING OUT OF CARS. Can't blame them really. The cars sound awesome. Every variety of race engine appears to be here, from screaming V8s to strange sounding hybrid systems.
Thanks to some over exuberance with beer last night I fear I may fail in my challenge to stay awake, but I'll give it a damn good go. After all, this year could see Porsche claim its elusive 17th Le Mans win.
A chance meeting with CNET's own Tim Stevens led to a chat about the finer points of Le Mans, the seemingly hopeless Nissan front wheel drive/rear wheel hybrid entry and how quick the "star" LMP1 cars really are.
The 2014 Le Mans was a landmark reentry for Porsche -- after a 16-year absence it returned with an F1 star, Nico Hülkenberg, behind the wheel of a car that promised to take on Audi and, maybe, win. It didn't, sadly, but this year Porsche's three cars are looking strong. Hell, they qualified 1-2-3, and are currently still all in.
The opening hours of the race are whizzing by rather quickly. Despite the late night I'm not feeling too bad, though I've not yet hopped on board the beer train.
Beer, Brits and Le Mans are kind of a thing. This race brings that out of people -- we all gather together on the outskirts of a sleepy French town once a year to watch cars go really fast and get hammered in the process. We are legion. And we are smashed.
As I type an Audi is in the lead, with a Porsche 919 following on. Will Audi make it another win? Or can Porsche take its 17th overall win since 1970?
I've spent the last hour having a look around the outskirts of the track. There's car parks stuffed with fantastic motors and many, many people. However, few of the people are actually watching the race. They, like me, were wandering aimlessly. It strikes me that you spend more time walking to find a spot to see the race than actually watching it.
That said, you don't miss much of the action. Giant screens line the place showing off all the action and live timings. Then there's the noise. It's constant. It's wonderful. There's no sweeter music than 50 race cars being flogged as hard as possible. I love it and I have a feeling I'll miss it when it's gone.
The last hour I got lazy. I retreated to a bar/shed to sit in air-conditioned luxury. Poor form? Maybe. But the temperature is high and I'm steadily turning in to a melting mess.
The race appears to be going well, though I'll freely admit I spent most of the last hour trying to get from one end of the track to the other. I heard the cars, but only after their noises had bounced off topless men with suspicious tan lines. There are people in various states of undress here and some amazing vest/wifebeater tan lines going on. Ten points for styling it out, France.
So...time got away from me a bit here. I spent longer than one should sat on a balcony overlooking the circuit and the cars haring by. It's a privilege to see the race from a vantage point like this, it really is. I decided I couldn't stay in a tower of wonderful things and went for a wander to the Village. The Village is a hive of activity, with stands offering to show you the wonders of Michelin, Alpine, Nissan, Aston Martin and, most importantly, beer. Booze aside, it also shows you the cars doing what they do best -- driving pretty damn hard.
The Ferrari 458's noise does my head in on the straights. Its high-pitched whine drills in to my head and almost hurts. It's nowhere near the noise you get from a road car because that's lovely. This...this is a scream. No one likes to hear screaming when it's in anger. But get them in the corners and it's far from painful. You get a V8 purring away and doing its job. Having spent some time hearing them be calm I'm more keen on them. But the V8 in the Corvette trumps it something rotten. It's guttural, dirty and unashamedly American. I love it. The Aston V12 howl, though, beats the lot. I want that as the soundtrack to my life.
I managed to meet up with the guys from the brilliant Gareth Jones On Speed podcast. It's a show about racing, cars and petrolheadonism. I've been a fan for years, so it was a pleasure to see them all here. They, like the vast majority of people here, are in love with the event. It gets under your skin. You learn to love the noise, you yearn to see the cars dicing with one another and, most of all, you want your favourites to win.
Most of the time you many not follow the World Endurance Championship (WEC), but you'll pick up stories about the teams from other fans, the Web or the media and you'll form a strange bond with them. Personally I'm gunning for Porsche to win. Not only do they deserve it after working so hard on "the return" but driver Brendon Hartley is a really nice guy. He's excited, humble and simply ecstatic to be here.
Sunday 14 June - 01:00-04:00
Thanks to the very lovely people at Aston Martin I got to have a look around the team's pits. It's a busy place. There's five cars to look after, each has its own shed's worth of tyres and they're looked after by a specialist from maker Michelin. If the rubber isn't up to spec when the team receives it, they don't only get a replacement, the old set is taken away and burned.
Then there's the data centre. Three guys monitor each car. One for the wellbeing of the car, one for the engine and the driver's very own race engineer. The driver and engineer are tight -- they have to trust one another, else the race can be blown in a moment. So, if the driver reports an issue it's relayed back to the engineer and fixed. If the driver is told to push hard, he knows the guy giving the advice isn't going to lead him to an unnecessary loss.
After that, there's a team of mechanics who wait for the car to come in and do the necessary chores to make it race-worthy again. To the untrained eye there's a large mass of people trying to keep a car running around in circles, but once you know what's going on and see it in action you realise how much work goes into keeping these cars on track.
I found a spot above the pit entrance just before the Ford chicane. The cars ducking in to the pits were making plenty of noise and making their brake discs glow an intense orange. Those tackling the chicane showed off how the classes differ. GT cars brake heavily and turn slowly. Watching their headlights pushing around each corner showed how much effort the car was putting in. As you climb the classes the effort fades away. LMP2 cars' lamps sweep across the bends while LMP1s (the highest class) dart from angle to angle. You expect a racer to be quick, but not that quick. They took those corners flat, true and faster than you think possible.
Part of everyone thinks they can be a racing driver. Watching these cars shows them they probably can't.
While I was hoping to stay awake for all 24 hours of the race, I can't. I'm exhausted and conscious of a long old drive back to London tomorrow. I've retreated to somewhere quiet for a snooze.
Man, I needed that sleep. With all the will in the world, I'm not sure I can manage more than 19 hours awake any more. I think it's because I'm getting older. Anyway, I woke to find that Porsche occupies first, second and sixth places, while Audi fills the gaps. Toyota's story for this race, despite being reigning WEC champs, is largely forgotten. It's turned up with a car and is currently lapping the circuit competently. It's not a "competitor" thus far. This race is Audi vs. Porsche.
The atmosphere at the circuit has changed since I had a kip. Yesterday there was a party vibe kicking around -- beer everywhere, loud music, huge smiles, massive enthusiasm. Today, though, I think everyone's knackered and/or so hungover they can't muster a smile. The weather's not helping. The bright sunshine of Saturday has gone, replaced with cloud and humidity.
I like to think of Le Mans as a music festival for petrolheads. The likes of Goodwood are wonderful but they can feel a bit stuffy in places -- there's an element of "not for you, oik". Here there's none of that. We're all here to watch cars go round in circles and celebrate highly tuned sucking, squeezing, banging and blowing.
There's two full hours to go of the race and I'm excited to see what's going to happen. I get the impression that Camp Audi is optimistic, but the P word looms strong. Currently Porsche's 919s are in first, second and fifth. It's looking like a landmark 17th win for the German marque. And good on them, too.
I can't wait to see how this one is going to end. 2015's a special one.
One hour to go and much appears to be happening. Porsche has retained the lead, Audi remains evenly spread in the top 10 and KCMG has held on to its race-long LMP2 lead.
I've positioned myself at the entrance to the Ford Chicane for the last hour. It's right in front of the pit entrance so I've had the opportunity to hear some very unwell cars chug their way in. I also caught Krohn Racing's Kermit-green LMP2 racer go in a number of different directions in quick succession. I'll bet there was swearing inside the car. And outside, actually.
Nissan's bold effort to re-enter Le Mans has gone spectacularly badly. Despite making lots of noise about its new racer, the whole "front-wheel-drive Le Mans car" thing hasn't worked out for them. At all. Last I heard the team has lost its second (of three) cars due to a gearbox malfunction. The driver was Jann Mardenborough, one of thewinners. He's a great guy and talented. Shame his Le Mans ended so close to the finish.
As time goes on I wonder how the Audi and Porsche pits feel. In 60 minutes we'll find out.
I legged it up to a pit box to watch the cars go over the line. The Audi team's mood seems...subdued. I'm buzzing. This could very well be a huge win for Porsche. Not only that, but Le Mans will have something of a kick up the backside as well.
I realised I'm going to miss the noise these things make. The aurally hypnotic rumbles, screams and whines become the norm all too easily. Silence will be odd.
The race is won. Porsche has taken its 17th overall victory since its first in 1970 and since it started competing in 1951. I'm made up for them after I followed the team's story rather closely last year.
Team Audi seems a little down that it wasn't another for them, but an R18 still placed third, so it's not all bad. At least their cars finished.
I'm elated, buzzing and knackered. Le Mans is always a hell of a ride and 2015 is no different. Here's to 2016, I'm sure Audi will be back and have Porsche in its efficiently crafted sights.
Now I'm going to drive back to England. I'm sure the traffic will be fine. (It really, really wasn't.)