If you had told me a year ago that I would spend two full days at Road Atlanta, watch a 10-hour motorsport event, AND enjoy it, I’d laugh in your face. Sure, cars are cool, but can you really continue to be entertained watching them go around a track for hours?
Well, after experiencing Petit Le Mans for the first time last year, I can tell you that I absolutely did enjoy it and I want to go back again this year (if this pandemic clears up by then, that is). Here’s why:
The thing that stood out the most to me was the hospitality shown by BMW for all owners. BMW is actually the main reason we attended Petit Le Mans in the first place. My boyfriend Jonny received an invitation from BMW. I wasn’t expecting much, but when we arrived on Friday, we were directed to the BMW M Motorsport Chalet which was an air-conditioned, double-decker pop-up building right off turn 11. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
All BMW owners (and guests) were offered complimentary gifts (bags, hats, sunscreen, ear plugs, etc) and complimentary food throughout both days. We even received a complementary hot lap in an M5 with one of the BMW driving school professionals on Saturday just because we were standing around at the chalet and they had extra spots.
I’m telling you, the hospitality we felt from BMW was phenomenal and I applaud their event team for coordinating everything flawlessly.
The Fan Zone
While Jonny drives a BMW M3, I drive a Mazda 3 hatchback. So in another life, I might not have had the privilege to experience the BMW owner hospitality, but that’s ok! The Fan Zone, located in the middle of the track, features a variety of car brands who each have their own hospitality tent. I may not drive a luxury brand, but I felt super welcomed at the Mazda tent and even received a complementary, owners-only keychain.
The Fan Zone also offers interactive displays, entertainment, concessions, and memorabilia for purchase. There’s something for everyone!
Petit Le Mans is one of the rare events I’ve attended where you can get up close to the main attraction. Normally, if you attend a concert, you have to buy VIP tickets to get up close to the talent and then you probably have to pay extra for a meet and greet session.
Here, we could walk along pit lane, meet the drivers, get autographs, and see the cars before the race even happened. You’ll be walking by the paddocks and then you’ll hear an engine roar behind you and you have to move out of the way so the Lamborghini can pass you and get out on the track. I can’t think of another event where you can do that and not have to pay extra for it.
Jonny joined the BMW Car Club of America (CCA) prior to attending Petit Le Mans so we were also able to park in the BMW CCA car corral during both days. We met other BMW owners and got to hear their experiences with the CCA and how Petit Le Mans was one of the top events to attend every year.
As a CCA member, Jonny was pleasantly surprised to find out he could participate in the complementary BMW parade lap – where he could drive his M3 on the track with the other BMW owners. Other brands were also able to do a parade lap so it was cool to see everyone out on the track enjoying themselves!
Partnerships + History
As a marketer, I really appreciated the Porsche and Coca-Cola partnership for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Championship. It was really cool to see two iconic Atlanta brands come together and collaborate on their shared successes throughout motorsport history, especially for the 50th anniversary of IMSA. It says something about our city when we’re home to legendary brands like these.
2019 was also the last year Ford ran the GT, after a four-year racing campaign. The GT finished second in the GTLM class behind Ferrari. While it wasn’t a first-place win for Ford like Le Mans in 1966 (Ford v Ferrari, anyone?), I’m glad we got to experience history in the making.
There are four competition racing classes for Petit Le Mans (GTLM, GTD, DPi, and LMP2). Before race day, I didn’t know the difference. To be honest, I’m still a little fuzzy on them, but I can tell you that as you watch the race, you become extremely invested in the competition and the different classes.
For me, I found myself really invested in Mazda’s performance in the DPi class. I got to meet the racing team when we went down Pit Lane and I even bought a Team Joest sweatshirt from the Mazda tent in the Fan Zone. What can I say? You root for the brands you love. They ended up placing 6th in their class, but I can tell you I found myself constantly checking their placement for both cars during the entire race – something I didn’t think I’d care to do.
Both the sights and the sounds contributed to the experience of watching the race, as well. Seeing a car go around the track in the daytime and in the nighttime are two different experiences. The drivers’ strategies change depending on time of day and being able to see the rotors light up as the car brakes into the turns when the sun sets is something else.
And don’t get me started on the final half hour of the race. That’s when the pressure turns on and you find yourself stressed about who’s going to win and asking yourself “should they really be taking that pit stop now?!”
So yeah, 10 hours is a really long time to watch cars go around a track over and over again, but I learned there’s so much more to Petit Le Mans than that. It’s everything from the people you meet to the experiences you have to the feeling of calm you get as you sit on a hill and listen to the cars drive by you at turn 1. I loved every second and I can’t wait to do it again.
Whether you’re a seasoned motorsport enthusiast, someone new to the car scene, or even if you’re just with someone who has a passion for motorsports – there’s something for everyone. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.