Le Mans w/ Richard Mille
Cars & motorsport

One Fantastic Classic: Richard Mille Celebrates 100 Years of Le Mans in Style

Steve McQueen may have introduced the small city of Le Mans, France, and its high-octane, high-drama auto race to the world via its namesake film back in 1971, but Richard Mille kept the dramatic feeling alive at this year’s Le Mans Classic.

By Barbara Palumbo

In racing terms, a centenary celebration is pretty damn special, and also, pretty damn rare: There is the Indianapolis 500 in the US, which began in 1911; the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Italy, which opened in 1922, and going back even further, there is the Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit in Surrey, England, which was built in 1907.

However, the 24 Hours of Le Mans race is somehow different, next level (and not just because an American actor played a fictional race car driver, putting a certain watch on the map in the process that shall remain nameless). For starters, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is exactly what its name states: 24 hours, in a beautiful French city, with magnificently fast cars, and elegantly dressed attendees, including several celebrities.

That is why, by all accounts, it is a perfect partner for Richard Mille, which is why no one was surprised when the brand announced its sponsorship of the Le Mans Classic car race back in 2002; only one year after the brand, itself, was founded.

(Disclaimer: I rarely insert myself into the articles I write for Watchonista, but in this case, it would be difficult to tell the story of this experience fully without doing just that, so I ask that you put your faith in me as I take you along for the ride.)

What’s in a Name?

If race fans didn’t know the name prior to the Le Mans Classic, they certainly do now. Black backdrops with the brand’s logo in white decorated everything from the mile markers to the track walls, to the timeclock (obvs.) to many of the classic cars themselves. And those classic cars were out in abundance.

There were Talbots from 1930 and a 1931 Austin Seven Ulster and a 1928 Bugatti T44; none of which I knew anything about, but hell, at the end of the day, I was there primarily to cover the new watch release (which I promise I’ll get to eventually). Being on the paddock and seeing cars I never dreamt I’d lay eyes on in my life was a complete “pinch me” moment, and one I won’t soon forget. But oh… was it about to get even better.

The Track Above/The Track Below

The brand had three “Sky Boxes” for its guests, many of whom are Richard Mille collectors and several who traveled in. There was no shortage of Provence rosé, fine champagne, or single malt whisky available, and the lunches were elegant meals as only the French can prepare. Meanwhile, attendees could view the track easily from any place in the boxes, and some – including yours truly – were also offered “additional” experiences both on and from above the 8.5-mile track.

Wait… from above, you say?? YES. FROM ABOVE, I SAY!! But what does that mean?? Well, that means that for the first time in my fifty years on this earth, I rode in a helicopter. And man, oh man, what a ride it was!

The track at Le Mans consists of both a closed track and local roads that are temporarily closed for the race, so to see this from above was astonishing; to watch the cars circle the track looking Matchbox-ish in size was surreal. Our pilot was amused by my giddiness but played along as I took far too many videos of her and the view for the ‘gram (as the young folk say).

A few hours after landing, I was scheduled to take round 1 of the Hot Laps in a McLaren Artura alongside a professional McLaren driver. My guy – Jack – (a 28-year-old former Love Island contestant) just happened to have been the fastest driver McLaren had on their team, and Jack wasted no time weaving our car in and out of the very crowded course and getting us up to a speed of 196 mph at one point.

But do you want to know what the craziest part of all was? Amazingly, despite the helicopter and the hot lap, I never once felt nervous. I think that’s what happens when you hit fifty; you just let all the fears subside and you live in the experiences while they happen. And I have the folks at Richard Mille to thank for such an incredible ride(s).

And Now, The Star of the Show

No, no… not Rafael Nadal. (Though he was in the Sky Box hanging out with Richard Mille, himself. And not going to lie… fatherhood suits him.) We’re talking timepieces, now. Because, clearly, an event like this wasn’t going to take place without a new watch being launched.

In this case, it was the automatic-winding flyback chronograph RM 72-01 LMC, which features the official colors of the race (green and white) and is limited to 150 pieces. And from a mechanical standpoint, the idea behind the RM 72-01 LMC was for the inner workings to echo the performance of the cars that compete on the roughly 13.6 kilometers of the Le Mans circuit.

So, to that end, the hands of the flyback chronograph (a first for the brand’s in-house movement featuring a patented coupling system with two oscillating pinions) are coordinated, and the “16” on the hour counter is also underlined in red, which pays homage to the traditional start time of the 100-year-old race. Meanwhile, the redesigned calibre CRMC1 skeletonized movement is equipped with hours, minutes, small seconds, and date functions and boasts a hefty 50-hour power reserve, whether or not the chronograph is in use.

Finally, a checkered flag pattern is featured on the watch’s titanium dial, within the Le Mans Classic logo, just to give one more bit of racing appeal to the timepiece that bears its name.

To learn more, visit Richard Mille’s website.

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RM 72-01 Le Mans Classic — RICHARD MILLE