The Friday before race day is traditionally known as “Mad Friday”
Various activities take place in the Le Mans area on the Friday, such as the Ceremony of Hands in the Place St Nicholas at 11am, the Classic British Welcome at lunchtime in St. Saturnin, the open pitlane and the Drivers Parade through Le Mans town centre on Friday evening, starting at the Place des Jacobins. It is however, the day when there are no practice or qualifying sessions on the track, and so the parts of the track that are made up of public roads are open all day and exotic cars, as well as vans, push bikes and all sorts of home made contraptions, including a motorised bed and a pirate ship, can be seen driving around the area.
Areas such as the Hunaudieres straight and Indianapolis are lined with spectators all hoping to catch a glimpse of a Ferrari Enzo, McLaren F1 or Lamborghini Murcielago speeding past. It is a unique experience that should not be missed. Where else can you see so many exotic cars for free?
For those looking to drive their own cars around the public roads, you should be aware that the Gendarmes are not particularly happy about this, and very often will have speed traps set up to catch you. If you want to put your foot down, your best chance might be to do so in the very early hours of the morning, but even then it can’t be guaranteed that you won’t get caught.
In years gone by, the road between the Maison Blanche and Bleu camp sites has been used as an unofficial drag strip, with many cars performing wheel spins on demand and spinning doughnuts. In the last few years however the local police have also cut down on this. As one of the moderators of the Club Arnage forum can testify, they will even confiscate your bottle of water if they see you pouring it under the wheels of a car to create some tyre smoke! Of course, a certain amount of it does still go on, and the roads will be lined on Friday afternoon and evening by people encouraging the drivers to show what their cars can do. It has also become common practice for the spectators to arm themselves with high powered water pistols and any cars that don’t “perform” for the crowd are likely to get sprayed with water.
Similar activities take place at the roundabout near the back end of Houx Annexe campsite. This generally consists of cars driving round the roundabout several times at high speed, sliding round the corners before shooting off on one of the exit roads. Again, large crowds gather around, and on, the roundabout armed with Super Soakers.
Whilst most of this is carried out in a friendly manner, there is (as with any large gathering of people these days) an unfortunate yob element who now frequent the festivities. For some reason, these morons think it is “fun” to put beer, or indeed urine, into their water pistols and spray the cars with it. They also seem to think that if a car doesn’t perform a burn out for them even though they have a police car in front of them that it is acceptable to empty the contents of their super soaker all over the leather interior of a Ferrari Spider, or indeed any other car that had its roof down or windows open. Others think it is fun to spray the windscreen of a car while it is sliding on two wheels around the Houx Annex roundabout to obscure the driver’s vision. On other occasions things have been thrown at cars, including stones and bottles, and people have been seen to punch or kick vehicles as they pass.
Mad Friday is a day that should be enjoyed by everyone, whether driving their pride and joy around the circuit, or simply sitting in a café watching the cars go by while enjoying a cold drink. It shouldn’t be allowed to be ruined by the minority who think vandalising and abusing someone else’s property is acceptable.
If you do participate as a driver, enjoy the French roads, drive within your limits, respect other road users and spectators and watch out for those speeding fines; but be aware that there may unfortunately be a minor element who think that your pride and joy is nothing more than a target for their stupidity and that you may need to protect it accordingly. If you go to watch the cars, please show them and their drivers some respect, keep a safe distance from where the vehicles are likely to speed/slide, cheer and clap the cars that entertain you and make it obvious to any hooligan elements you may see that their behaviour is not acceptable.
Most of all enjoy yourself and don’t ruin the enjoyment of others!
Please Note: In 2006, the local Police were seen to drive along the line of spectators spraying CS gas out of a slightly open door to disperse the crowd when they believed things had got out of hand. They will probably be ready to do the same again this year if things go too far and this could simply ruin it for everyone.