Tech inspection at Le Mans is an event in itself
LE MANS, France (June 11, 2012) – Every year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans begins with technical inspection, a.k.a. verifications techniques, a.k.a. scrutineering, a.k.a. le pesage. At most races, tech inspection is something that happens under a discreet tent in the paddock without much pomp and circumstance. But this isn’t most races. This is Le Mans.
Tech inspection for the 24 Hours of Le Mans is traditionally held in the center of Le Mans the Sunday and Monday prior to the race and is open to the public. For 2012, the location is the picturesque Place de la République. Cars roll over cobblestone from one checkpoint to the next while a church bell rings in the background, pigeons fly overhead and locals sip coffee at outdoor cafés. Fans hoping for an autograph or glimpse of their favorite car must arrive early and scout a spot ― the square fills quickly. Those arriving late (or lacking in height) will often bring ladders!
Teams are held to a strict schedule with a car presenting for inspection every 15 minutes. At the first checkpoint, the car is scanned with lasers to verify dimensions and is weighed (le pesage literally means “the weighing”). The second checkpoint is for officials to check underneath the car and examine the diffusers and ground clearance. The final checkpoint is reviewing safety equipment, lights and data acquisition devices. While the car is going through its checks, the drivers’ paperwork, safety equipment, transponder and weight are checked. Finally, the car is reunited with the crew and drivers for an official team photo after which the media descend for interviews and fans for autographs. All in all, it takes about an hour per car.
In the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, all of the same procedures happen under one tent (minus the group photo) and take approximately the same amount of time. The rulebook is the same, so the inspection items are the same. But in the ALMS, all of the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) officials must fit their workspace inside one small tent and work in tight quarters to get the job done. The ALMS is also more flexible in its scrutineering schedule. Teams may request an alternate time ― something unheard of at Le Mans.
“In the ALMS we tend to be firm, but flexible,” IMSA Technical Director Charlie Cook said. “The ACO tends to be very firm.”
Cook attends the full scrutineering process to assist all ALMS teams. Sometimes a car component has been developed on an ALMS car that has not been seen by ACO officials. The ACO will look to Cook to explain why IMSA deemed the part acceptable, saving the team time and hassle.
Any inconsistencies found during scrutineering are dealt with at the track rather than in the village center. Officials will make note of the problem and request it be addressed before they revisit the team. You wouldn’t want to spoil a good time, right?
Scrutineering at Le Mans is the perfect kick-off for the world’s most legendary race. Where else can you enjoy a beer and baguette while the new Audi R18 Ultra rolls past and Allan McNish is interviewed on stage? It sets the tone for an unforgettable week.
The 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans begins Saturday, June 16, at 3 p.m. local time, 9 a.m. ET.