The 88th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was always going to be a somewhat different affair without fans in attendance, but the difference does not truly sink in until you actually arrive at the paddock.
After some seven hours of fairly uneventful driving, the most thrilling of which was navigating Paris’ notorious Peripherique ringroad, the scene upon arrival was unusual to say the least.
While there were some people wandering around outside, possibly admiring the track, hoping to have a cheeky look inside or visiting the adjacent museum, track access was strictly enforced by security, with an additional staff member performing temperature checks on every single car that approached the main gate.
Once inside, it was clear that things were very different. The throngs of colourfully dressed fans you’d usually have to navigate your way through were nowhere to be found, and a fair few of the capacity grandstands were missing or only partially constructed, quietly waiting for the fans that never came.
In the paddock itself, things felt weird. The teams had brought their hospitality units, so it had all the trappings of a usual paddock, complete with team members hurling themselves around on quadbikes, but it had a clinical feel to it.
There were hand sanitizer stations dottered throughout the area, one-way systems put in place and security guards and staff carefully checking everyone to make sure nobody went where they were not supposed to.
There was one place that felt exactly the same, however: the pitlane. As usual on the day before track action, the pitlane was busy and filled with the sounds of wheelguns as teams went to work practicing their pitstops.
It gave the opportunity to also peek at some of the new liveries that teams had brought along. A personal favorite came from GTE Am Ferrari outfit Luzich Racing, who had decked out their 488 GTE Evo in a design that was seemingly inspired by the 1960s, with a big circle with its car number on the sides and the front. It was a very sleek design.
Elsewhere, cars slept soundly in their garage, patiently waiting to be unleashed out on track the following morning.
But even as the pitlane seemed like the same as usual, the mask-clad mechanics along with booming messages over the PA system reminding all in the paddock to cover their faces, broke the illusion of what is clearly a very unusual 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Let’s hope the racing will be as good as it has ever been.