“With my partner, we took our Friday off to be able to go to Le Mans, since we have been waiting for the GP Explorer for so long!” enthuses Maeva Billerey, a 23-year-old beautician, about the Formula 4 competition organized, this Saturday, September 9, by YouTuber Lucas Hauchard, better known under the pseudonym Squeezie (18 million subscribers) and his production company, Bump. The second edition of this competition, called the GP Explorer, takes place at the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans in Sarthe, from 8 a.m. to midnight. On the program, stands, surprise entertainment, the race and a concert to close the day.
And what makes the originality of this "grand prix" is that it is not professional pilots who compete but personalities known from the web. All with means of organization and production practically similar to sports competitions broadcast on television. A shift that arouses the curiosity of many fans and attracts a sizable audience. The event, broadcast live on the Twitch streaming platform, brought together more than a million spectators for the first edition last year and, at the same time, broke an audience record on the platform.
Faced with the enthusiasm, the gauge to welcome the public on site has increased from 40,000 to 60,000. And the event is sold out: tickets, sold for around fifty euros, sold out in less than an hour at the end of May. “I spent five hours on the GP site to be sure of getting my place” , laughs Maeva. In the region, most hotels are taken over. "We rented all our rooms a few days after the sale of tickets, from June," confirms the Hotel Circuit Le Mans.
Last year, the competition was won by Sylvain Lévy (from the automotive YouTuber duo Vilebrequin). Among the participants this year are other content creators, who bring together millions of subscribers on the internet. YouTubers like Theodort, Mister V or Seb but also streamers such as Maxime Biaggi and Maghla. Rappers are also there. A team is made up of Marseille rappers SCH and Soso Maness, while rapper Kekra is in a team with streamer Billy.
Throughout the year, these participants raise expectations by communicating regularly about their training. Some post entire videos where they tell the steps to be ready on race day. From the first tests in the car to the stress on the eve of the competition, their communities have the feeling of accompanying them on this adventure. “I’ve been watching Squeezie videos since I was nine years old and it’s a pleasure to be able to support them in such a race,” says Maeva, “and for the most part we are from the generation that grew up with YouTube and then Twitch.”
Just like Maeva, who comes from Lille by car with her partner, many of the spectators present on site have organized their weekend around this event. Some do not hesitate to drive a long way to attend the GP Explorer. Like Clémence Muller, who came from Romans-sur-Isère in Drôme. "With three friends, we are currently driving eleven hours to reach Le Mans!", she explains, with joy. The Bisontin Thomas Jacquet is going there for the second time. “Last year, it was one of the most significant moments of my life,” he assures.
The 23-year-old real estate agent is about to drive six hours with his friends to attend the second edition. “What is special compared to other sporting events is that here we experience an exceptional moment with personalities that we sometimes follow since their beginnings,” adds the young man, “and we meet between fans, the GP breaks down the barriers of the internet”, he underlines.
Nevertheless, critics of the event point to the fact that the famous youtuber uses his notoriety with a young audience to “promote a polluting sport like motor racing”. Maeva, for example, recognizes this, since she watched the first edition of the GP Explorer on Twitch, she watches Formula 1 competitions from time to time. "I will see the results of drivers like Charles Leclerc or Pierre Gasly", explains she.
The two athletes participated in one of Squeezie's latest videos ten days ago. The video alone has nearly 10 million views. “Nevertheless, I find that it remains a sport and that there is a fun approach to the GP Explorer,” judges Maeva. “I don’t think we should attack this event and this hobby which only lasts one weekend. There are other battles to fight first, such as the use of private jets to make short trips for example,” concludes the young woman.