From noise to silence

The third Le Mans Passion Share on 26-27 April combined 24-Hours drivers and professional freedivers for an original challenge: to bring together two worlds, which à priori are diametrically opposed. It was an experience as rare as it was enriching, and which gave those taking part their fair share of surprises.

Speed, noise, a mechanical environment and battles with the others on the one hand, weightlessness, silence, a natural element, and a battle with oneself on the other: driving a racing car and freediving would seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Indeed, without this unique occasion created by Le Mans Passion Share these two worlds would probably never have met. It would have been a pity as these top-level sports and the sportsmen/women who practice them share several points in common. Rémy Dubern, one of the freedivers who took part in this meeting, summed up this parallel beautifully: “Driving and freediving are both very similar and yet radically opposed like Yin and Yang.” Four drivers from the Le Mans 24 Hours and four multi-titled freedivers played the game and slipped into the skin of the other and emerged from it stronger.

In keeping with the tradition of Le Mans Passion Share, an event launched on the initiative of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the Le Mans 24-Hours drivers were the first to welcome their guests before being welcomed in turn in their universe. Thus, inside the mythical Le Mans circuit Stéphane Sarrazin, Julien Canal, Mathias Beche and Christophe Tinseau greeted the freedivers Alice Modolo, Pierre Frola, Rémy Dubern and Arthur Guerin-Boëri on Wednesday 26th April.  

They had a day in which to learn how to drive a racing car, absorb a whole host of new sensations and live the magic of Le Mans in the Pescarlo Prototypes used in the Le Mans Driver driving school, which have been given a whole new look. These open cars with 360 bhp for a weight of 820 kg are smaller versions of the prototypes that race in the Le Mans 24 Hours. For the freedivers the experience began with a technical briefing in which the basics of racing driving were explained: trajectories, digressive braking, transfer of loads and then it was time to put in the driver suits very different to the ones they are familiar with. “It’s much bigger and it doesn’t even keep you warm,” quipped Pierre Frolla.

Under the watchful eye of their teachers for a day the freedivers set off to conquer the Bugatti circuit at the wheel of the prototypes. They seemed pretty gifted and soon learned the ropes: “They’re top-level sportsmen and women who are used to carrying out technical gestures with rigour and precision,” said Julien Canal. After their first laps of the track the novice drivers took off their helmets and had beaming smiles on their faces. “It’s incredible! The sensations are amazing. At the start you focus on what you have to do and then you manage to let yourself go and you really enjoy it. In this respect it’s very similar to freediving except that here you have to concentrate for a much longer period,” was how Frolla analysed the situation.

As they reeled off the laps their confidence grew. The professional drivers’ advice became more specific. The freedivers were completely involved. Before getting back behind the wheel Alice Modolo repeated the best way to get round each corner with Mathias Bèche, her partner for the day. Even the arrival of the rain didn’t dampen their ardour. But Arthur Guerin-Boëri who is over 2 metres tall had to admit that while his height isn’t a handicap in freediving, it’s not really the ideal size for a racing driver! 

After what I’ve experienced today I can die! Maybe I’m exaggerating, but that’s what I really feel,” said Alice when the day ended. The freedivers were completely won over and also exhausted by their physical involvement and their extreme concentration when they left the Le Mans circuit.  However, they were absolutely determined to make the drivers experience very different but just as thrilling sensations in turn on the morrow. 

After the Bugatti circuit it was rendezvous time for all the participants in Le Mans Passion Share at the dive pit in Villeneuve-la-Garenne. Like the previous day it kicked off with a briefing on the safety rules and the compensation techniques to avoid pain in the eardrums due to the depth. And then it was time to plunge in at the deep end! After some breathing exercises in dry conditions each driver joined up with his other half for a themed exercise: dynamic freediving, constant weight and free immersion, they had to learn all the tricks of the trade!  

By listening to the expert advice of the freedivers the drivers were soon completely at home under the water. This didn’t surprise Arthur: “They have an ability to concentrate which enables them to assimilate and then use a large amount of information.” Alice was pretty impressed! “They’re gifted! I didn’t think that they’d be able to let go so easily as they’re in a dynamic state under tension when they’re in their cars.” The workshops continued and the drivers’ competitive spirit pushed them to compare their performances in the dive pit The verdict: level pegging as they all managed to go down to 20 metres!  

But what was more important was that they all enjoyed it and felt new sensations. “It’s magic! I didn’t imagine I’d have such an impression of speed when you go down in freefall. And down below I felt good; it’s calm, you’re outside reality,” said Stéphane Sarrazin. Mathias said it was an enriching experience for their own sport. “It would be good for us to work on breathing and relaxing before getting into the car.” In the depths of the pit the drivers were no longer battling against rivals but against themselves and their primary survival instinct – breathing! It was a rare experience of exceeding one’s limits

By bringing together freediving and race car driving, two sports which à priori are diametrically opposed, Le Mans Passion Share once again proved that top-level sportsmen and women all speak the same language based on concentration, the search for limits and respect for performance and passion. When the drivers are about to get into the car for a stint in the coming Le Mans 24 Hours, they’ll certainly think about how to breathe and how to relax. The freedivers have said that they’ll be there to cheer them on in the race! 

The drivers

Stéphane Sarrazin
French racing driver
15 starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours, 5 podiums
LM P1 Toyota driver in the 2017 race

Julien Canal
French racing driver
6 starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours, 3 victories in LM GT
LM P2 Vaillante-Rebellion driver in the 2017 race

Mathias Beche
Swiss racing driver 
5 starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours
LM P2 Vaillante-Rebellion driver in the 2017 race

Christophe Tinseau
French racing driver
12 starts in the Le Mans 24 Hours
Driving instructor at the ACO Le Mans Driver driving school 

The freedivers

Alice Modolo
French freediver
Runner-up in the world championship, holder of numerous records in France 
Star of the clip of Runnin’ by Naughty Boy with Beyoncé

Pierre Frolla
Monegasque freediver 
Winner of two world championship titles and one French championship title  

Rémy Dubern
French freediver 
Winner of one world championship title and one French championship title  

Arthur Guerin-Boëri
French freediver
Winner of five world championship titles and holder of three world records