There are cities in which it is possible to organize car races on the streets and roads, whether close or far from the city center: from Daytona Beach to Marrakech, from Pau to Bucharest, from recent Baku to Vila Real or Hong Kong.
Few manage, given their size, to balance a relevant historical past with hospitable offers, offering at the same time cultural events of excellence, from gastronomy to tourism, from music to performing arts and cinema, keeping a tradition rooted in motorsports, bringing together the world’s elite, from teams to drivers, from manufacturers to engineers, without forgetting royalty, jet-set personalities and movie stars.
In this last group, we could perhaps choose only three places: La Sarthe (internationally known as the city of Le Mans), Monaco and Macau.
Monaco is a city track just over 3 km long in a small town (2.02 km2). La Sarthe is the longest circuit of them all, and although it has varied over the years, due to the changes that have been introduced, it measures around 13.626km, just over twice the length of Macau (6.276 kilometres).
If, due to the growth of the city, Macau is currently a totally urban circuit, La Sarthe cannot really be considered as such, since the circuit is semi-permanent, not passing through the central areas of the city. The proof is that to join the circuit, one goes to the stations located at the end of only two lines, blue and red, of the Tramway (the most modern public transport) – towards Guetteloupe-Pôle Sainé Sud and Antares-MMArena. Known internationally as La Sarthe, the track uses private and public roads, part of the Bugatti circuit and national roads.
The nature of the events organized on each of these circuits is different, corresponding to different motor sport categories (Monaco with F1, F2, F3 and promotional single-seaters and some GTs, Touring and Classics; Macao with F3, GTs and Touring cars, and the French circuit with the cream of World Endurance and GTs from all over the world.
Despite all these differences, there are some similarities and dissimilarities between La Sarthe and Macao to highlight; some elements that have weathered the slump of the past decade, helping to project into the future.
In both cities, there is an important religious heritage, each on its own scale and in its place — Saint-Julien Cathedral/Saint-Paul Ruins, Notre-Dame de La Couture, Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc Church, Notre Dame du Pré, Saint-Bênoit, La Visitation or the Chapel of the Oratory, on the one hand, and on the other hand many Catholic and Chinese temples (Sé, São Domingos, Santo António, Santo Agostinho, São Lourenço, São Lázaro, Madre de Deus or the Ermida da Guia next to the temple of A-Má, Kun Iam Tong, Pao Kong and I Leng). It is possible to find evidence of a centuries-old coexistence between different peoples over the centuries since they are lands of passage and settlement of people from the most diverse regions, which have continued for one reason or another throughout the throughout the twentieth century. They were meeting places in fields ranging from literature to poetry, from cinema to painting, from music to theatre.
Le Mans and Macau: Some 20 years apart
The city of Le Mans is celebrating its 90th edition this weekend. Over the years, Le Mans is no longer just the 24 hour race, now including other events. A small permanent circuit has been set up where it is possible to attend the World Motorcycling Championship, truck races or even follow car driving courses. While for many years Macau has hosted track marshals from Portugal and Hong Kong, even recently at Le Mans, volunteers from the Estoril Stewards Club and other parts of the world have worked together for a car race which has gained worldwide recognition. and extended well beyond the race weekend.
Le Mans has become an extended two-week festival that brings cars and drivers to the city and its historic center in the biggest car show of them all.
Residents and the thousands of visitors who flock here each year engage with the fabulous machinery. The women and men who ‘fly’ in the Haunaudières at more than 300km/h, bend to the limit in places as legendary as Mulsanne, Indianapolis or Arnage, dive at Dunlop towards La Chapelle, and oppose all their driving qualities passing the Ford or Tertre Rouge chicanes.
Unlike Macau, where there is also a museum, in Le Mans it is possible to visit the circuit at night, during the 24 hours: the city center is full of visitors, people nourished by people and culture, members of the many clubs venerating motorsport from all over, who are in the city to remember past races, to see friends old and new, to revisit memories of other times when many of them were participants. They taste the best delicacies and wines of the Loire Valley, drive their showy cars, offering them to the parade of drivers, while sculpted women meander all their prestige and charm. The summer aromas of their tanned skins brought by the hours spent on the slopes or walking in the historic center. Multiple musical performances, both publicly organized and spontaneous, take place on stage.
A galaxy of stars ambassadors
Le Mans is also at its service a choir of ambassadors from the most diverse fields. These are the people who contribute to building and designing the city, its diversity, its industry, its arts, its hospitality. The best proof that the city does not rely solely on automotive events is to have managed to have personalities such as Chinese Qi Jianhong (CEO of Spark Roll Group) and Jackie Chan, footballer Didier Drogba, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, conductor Claire Gibault, pilots Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx and Sébastien Bourdais, singer-songwriter Emmanuel Moire, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin-Vary, Diana Higbee or even the doctor and world-renowned researcher Bénédicte Haettich.
Forever immortalized on screen by names like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Patrick Dempsey or Michael Fassbender, the cities of Le Mans and Macao share much more than the pages of Jean Graton’s books.
But here, where the city without casinos is used for the parade of world famous pilots, and the city center is used to welcome all who arrive, the weighing and technical checks of vehicles in the days preceding the big event are carried out in downtown, among thousands of fans. Here, we find a sporting and historical heritage constantly renewed and cared for, and where private accommodation for foreigners is freely accessible and encouraged for those for whom there would never be enough hotels. Camping around the circuit is another solution.
Le Mans is an organized city, clean and welcoming down to the smallest detail, offering conviviality, gardens and green spaces at the service of the well-being of inhabitants and visitors; where the air is clean and calm and squirrels and different birds wander happily among visitors. At the same time, you can enjoy a Gamay Saint-Romain without fear of visiting rodents, cockroaches or mosquitoes. There’s no foul smell of garbage cans or heavily polluted river water here, and no sirens are likely to splash their bright dresses on the grimy, greasy sidewalks of the city.
Here’s proof, after all, that to build and maintain a friendly, glamorous city, you don’t need casinos and astronomical funds paying third-party commissions. Nor is it necessary to keep the streets safe by flooding them with video cameras and multiple regulations, bans and blue lines.
To have a healthy and organized city, all it takes is a few enlightened and well-prepared people, from anywhere in the world and speaking as many languages as possible, with a little common sense, intelligence and a sense of organization. They are talented people who know how to receive visitors without absurdity, and who are able to offer a lot of freedom of access, privacy, calm, tranquility and above all well-being to their residents.
Sergio de Almeida Correia MDT, Le Mans