Marmite, motorsport and motoring in France

Le Mans. It’s a bit like Marmite: you either love it or loathe it. Actually, I suspect all motorsport is rather like Marmite.

Personally, it doesn’t do it for me. But I have friends who visit Le Mans for the famous 24 Hour race (you know the one made famous by Steve McQueen in the Gulf-coloured Porsche) and swear by it, year after year. It takes place on June 16/17 this year.

OK, so it’s not my cup of tea, but what I do like is the way it reflects new technologies that we see in the fleet market. Sooner or later.

Let’s take Audi and diesel technology, for example. In 2006 Audi decided to race a diesel-engined version of their sports-prototype racer. It won. The Audi R10 TDI was the first diesel powered car to win at Le Mans. And what do we have today? A company car market dominated by diesel engines, valued for low running costs and low benefit in kind. But what comes next?

Hybrids by the look of it.

This year the two major factory teams are Audi and Toyota. Audi is entering two cars with a standard diesel engine and two cars with a diesel hybrid system.

OK, so it’s not my cup of tea, but what I do like is the way it reflects new technologies that we see in the fleet market.

Toyota is entering cars with petrol hybrid systems.

Interesting? I reckon so. That’s where I expect the next big developments in company car technology to come from – and let’s face it, the recent diesel hybrids from the likes of Peugeot and Citroen already look like benefit in kind winners with no 3% diesel surcharge and fuel economy of nearly 75mpg.

And then there’s the Toyota Prius Plug-in with potential fuel economy of over 130mpg and benefit in kind of just 5%.

Was all such technology forged on the race track at Le Mans? Maybe. But Le Mans is certainly a unique proving ground and a powerful way of promoting the technology.

But if you are travelling to France to see the French classic, you should be aware of some legal requirements.

Apart from the headlight converters, you will need a reflective jacket. This must be available to you in the car before you get out if you breakdown – fines are 90 euro – as well as a warning triangle and spare lightbulbs.

Speed camera detectors are also illegal now. And that also means if your satnav can display French fixed location speed cameras, then this must be disabled. Penalties are severe – up to 1,500 euro.

Then there’s breathalyser kits – sounds odd, I know. But while it won’t affect you if you are going to the Le Mans race, from the beginning of July it’s a requirement to carry a working breathalyser in the glovebox and produce it on demand.

Finally, make sure you have appropriate insurance, and if you are driving a leased car, then make sure you have a VE103 before you go abroad – it says you are entitled to drive the car (because legally it belongs to the leasing company).

As for me? Well, I shall need none of this. Instead of watching cars go round and round, I shall be watching a ball being pinged into the back of the net in the Euro 2012 championships!

On my sofa, with a beer. Now that is bliss.