24 Hours Centenary – Speakers give the race a voice

24 Hours Centenary – Speakers give the race a voice

24 HOURS CENTENARY – THE LE MANS EXCEPTION ⎮ The speaker keeps the public spellbound and informs fans during the race of the status of its favourite teams, drivers and cars. He keeps spectators awake during the night or wakes them up as the sun begins to rise. A running of the 24 Hours would not be the same without one…

The race's first speaker, Edmond Dehorter, served at the 24 Hours in 1930. Seven others would follow: Georges Briquet (1950 to 1956), Georges Fraichard (1957 to 1964), Paul Delrivière (1965 to 1967), Jean-Charles Laurens (1968 to 1983), Olivier de la Garoullaye (1984 to 1992) and Bruno Vandestick (1993 to today).

Jean-Charles Laurens | Speaker and creator of Info Course

Among the most recent speakers who changed the history of the race figures Jean-Charles Laurens, the voice of the 24 Hours for 16 runnings. In order to relate all the goings-on in pit lane and on the track, Laurens was initially aided by his wife Bernadette and François Mousseau who managed the timesheet for all 24 hours! Over the years, Laurens surrounded himself with a team to provide him with pertinent information so spectators could follow the race in real time. So was born Info Course, which still broadcasts relevant info as well as carrying out extraordinary archival work on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It has been said Laurens was always very respectful of those working in the paddock and that he never judged situations. What better way to relate the race objectively to spectators? In his day, the speaker booth was located in the middle of the paddock, easily allowing people to come share their stories about the race with the speaker. In 1983, Laurens – who always kept a silf scarf wrapped around his neck to protect his voice – turned his mic over to Olivier de la Garoullaye (assisted by Philippe Debarle) who held the post for eight runnings from 1984 to 1992.

Olivier de la Garoullaye | A fan of horsepower in any form

Olivier de la Garoullaye was better known in horse riding than motorsport. He was a multi-faceted man who was above all a horse breeder, licenced trainer, gentleman-rider, president of a racing company and commissioner.

De la Garoullaye wore every hat in the worlds of horse and car racing and even cut his teeth as the speaker at the French Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1984 to 1992: "I served as the commissioner (horse racing, Ed.) for 45 years. I started at 30 and stopped at 75 due to the age limit. I also sat on the Sports Society Committee and was co-opted to France Galop (flat and obstacle course organiser, Ed.). When I was licenced to train, I rode a horse before heading to the office, and my wife fed the horses at noon. I worked as the speaker namely for the French Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans."

In 1990, de la Garoullaye was joined on 24 Hours Radio by an individual everyone now knows in the paddock at the 24 Hours…one Bruno Vandestick.

Bruno Vandestick | The voice of Le Mans

Bruno Vandestick is the race's longest-serving speaker. This year, during the Centenary, he will celebrate his 30th year at the mic. With 29 runnings to his credit, he is the official "Voice of Le Mans," recognised by all those who set foot at the circuit. Vandestick is also revered as a 24 Hours "bible" thanks to his love for the race since childhood back when he switched school books for magazines about the race.

But Vandestick is not just a simple announcer. Thanks to him the circuit remains in suspense for more than 24 hours and spectators feel immersed in the heart of the action. Bruno Vandestick (in 2013 in the Ouest France newspaper): "I'm happy when spectators are able to tell themselves 'I came, I saw, I understood.'" At any given circuit, you only see a car for about 15 seconds of a lap of 03:45. So the speaker has to fill in the blanks. I get carried away. I do it on purpose to dramatise what is happening a little so the public remains captivated. So yes, sometimes I overplay it slightly."

He now has an entire team, including journalists in pit lane who help him involve the protagonists of the race, and David Waldron, well-known to Brits.

David Waldron | The circuit's "British touch"

David Waldron has worked alongside the race's speakers since 1988 after Jean-Marc Desnues (ACO press manager at the time) invited him to become the English speaker at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. David Waldron: "There had been English speakers previously, like journalist Bob Constanduros. During the race, Bruno and I are totally autonomous, I make my commentary and he his." Over the years, his voice has become indispensable to non-French-speaking fans across the world.

Speakers have always been an essential element of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Without them, it would be impossible to know what is unfolding on the other side of the 13-km+ circuit! They describe for spectators what is happening on the track and in the pits, and share the history of the race through unique anecdotes and special memories. In just a few months, Vandestick will be back at the mic to keep us glued to all the action at the Centenary.


PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO/Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), 1969-2022 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: Bruno Vandestick ready to welcome the winners in the various classes in 2022; the speaker's booth in 1969 just above the podium, with Jacky Ickx, the winner that year with Jackie Oliver in a Ford GT40; Jean-Charles Laurens at the microphone during the trophy ceremony in 1977; Bruno Vandestick taking a selfie with ACO President Pierre Fillon and several previous winners including Henri Pescarolo, Jacky Ickx, Tom Kristensen, Kazuki Nakajima and Gérard Larrousse; the Scrutineering podium in the centre of Le Mans also covered by Bruno Vandestick, with the help of David Waldron in English.

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