• Ashley Hampson

Le Mans Classic


In 2016, my Dad asked if I fancied going to the Classic Le Mans race. The year before this we had been to the regular 24hr race which was an unforgettable experience. Motorsport has always been something I have had a passion for ever since my Dad brought me back a poster of the winning Jaguar from the 1983 Le Mans race. Which looked like this...

My experience at the race in 2015 was incredible. The noises, the smells, the insane constant partying both on and off the campsite. Le Mans really is a special place.


'Why the classic?' I asked my Dad. 'Well, it will be a change and we could drive down in the Alfa' he replied. Now, I must mention here that my dads pride and joy is his 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider. Here is a shot of it I took in a studio...

I actually left the hospital in this car when I was a baby so it's been part of my whole life and I've always relished the opportunity to have a blast in it. So it was settled, we were going!


I'll skip a couple of months now and get to the good stuff. We set of early in the morning to make our way to Plymouth to catch a ferry over to Roscoff. We had planned to lease with my Uncle at Plymouth who was making his way down on his pride and joy, his classic Moto Guzzi. What was instantly exciting about this trip, were the other obvious Le Mans travelers on the road heading in the same direction. We saw all sorts of exotic, classic cars on the road and when we took our place in the queue for the ferry, we were surrounded by interesting and beautiful automobiles.

After a many overly priced beers, gin and tonics and continental breakfasts we arrived at Roscoff. The weather was stunning. It was blisteringly hot, so we put the roof down and hit the open road.

Now the best thing about the French motorways, are the service stations. Although they may look like regular petrol stations, they actually contain some of the strongest and tastiest freshly made espressos know to mankind. I found it charming to see old boys sat around tables conversing, even if they were all smoking!? At this point, my uncle was feeling the heat more than we were in his head to toe biking leathers. I guess that's the price you pay when you only have two wheels...

The levels of excitement were rising as the signposts informed us of the ever decreasing km ahead. When we got there finally, we realised the queue to get in was going to take some time. The traffic was moving so slowly in fact, that there were people who had not only got out of there vehicles to stretch there legs, they had put up Gazebos at the side of the road and embarked on their initial BBQ's!

Eventually, we got in, found our pitch and created our base camp. My Dad has brought his second favorite object with him (which, like the Alfa had also been around my whole life), his prized Vango Force Ten Tent. He had used this when he was in his twenties and he was an avid rock climber, growing up in North Wales close to Snowdon and Llanberris pass. I had then spent ninety percent our our family holidays camping as a child in it, before he wussed out and bought a caravan.

So, the Force Ten was up, only one thing left to do...

After some undercooked sausages and a couple of boiled eggs I decided to go for a wander around the campsite and over the bridge into the pit area to soak up some of the crazy Le Mans atmosphere I remembered. Now, something strange hit me at this point, it was fairly quiet. There wasn't music booming across the campsite and beer chugs left, right and centre. There were amazing cars all around me, a sense of relaxation and many carefully stacked pyramids of empty Kronenbourg bottles to be seen. There didn't appear to be that many people wandering around though. I found this very strange and realised the classic was going to be very different.


And then it happened. A moment I will never forget, as I was wandering through the village in the centre of the circuit, I turned round and saw something that almost brought a tear to my eye. The Jag. The Jag from my poster (nearly - this one was number 2, same race though). WOW. It was real. It actually existed. Sitting in this car was probably one of the most awesome things I never thought I would get to do. Already, I was in love with the classic Le Mans.

That was going to take some beating, but the common occourance of walking round a corner to be face to face with a Ford GT40 or Ferrari 250 GTO certainly did not wear off. Not at all. At this point it's probably worth me mentioning that I wanted to photograph Le Mans in a very different way. I wanted to capture the atmosphere, the unusual and anything I found to be unique or memorable. I wasn't interested at all in photographing any of the racing. I was there to watch that, not to photograph it. I wanted to try and capture the essence of my experience there. Here are some of my initial photographs...


When the sun went down, the place came alive. People were mingling on and off the campsites and circuit. I really enjoyed this, it is universally accepted here that if you have arrived in anything other than a regular car, if someone comes into your plot to have a look, you must let them, offer them alcohol and be keen to talk to them at length about it. If you like the sound of this, then go! It will also save you from having to pay nearly €9 for a pint. That's about £7.70 a pint. You can tell the type of people that go to the classic, are not short of money. I remember glancing at the menu at the Champagne and Oyster bar (in between the Ferrari and Porsche stands and noticing that a bottle of chilled Moet would cost you over €150. Whoa.


Now, on the ferry ride over I had met a chap called Nathaniel who was also heading to Le Mans. He was also from Cornwall, so of course we shared a couple of beers together, swapped numbers and arranged to meet on the evening. After realizing that our campsites were at opposite ends of the circuit we decided to walk halfway, meet in the middle and go for a couple of pints. It was a great idea because not only did I get to have a good wander around and see parts of the circuit I had never seen before, but by the time we met each other we were more than ready to sit down and spend twenty percent of our entire weekend budget on a couple of pints. Here are some of my photographs from the first night, starting with a portrait of Nathaniel...

The next morning I decided to explore a bit more of our campsite, again I was offered conversation and generally Whisky by pretty much every person I spoke with! A great way to start the first race day!

I then stumbled across something that really caught my eye. Tiny Le Mans cars. I had not been aware but today they were kicking things off with a Junior Le Mans for children to race in around the circuit. Now, these were not your everyday electric motor toy cars, they were tiny petrol engined Le Mans replicas! Amazing! Just look...

We then watched the racing and drank beer until around 9pm. My father and uncle retired back to basecamp and I decided to meet back up with Nathaniel. This time I had thought things through though. Instead of spanking another 20% of all my money I popped to the local super market and bought a couple of reasonable priced bottle of fizz. We sat on a grass bank with a couple of others, drinking champagne and watching the evenings races. This felt remarkably sophisticated in comparison to my evenings at the 24hr race. It still felt quite relaxed and sophisticated. Whilst also still carrying the underlying excitement of Le Mans.


The second day consisted of more of the same and although I'd like to be able to go into more detail my memories are not exactly clear. I've also got slightly bored of typing now so I'm going to showcase the rest of my photographs below and leave this until another time.

Day two, the hangovers arrived. But you'll be pleased to hear that we pushed through, ate lots of overpriced and undercooked food, watched tonnes of racing and drank lots more beer, whisky, wine, tequila, rum etc. Here's the shots...

All photographs are copyright of Ashley Hampson 2019



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