In mid-November Laurent Charles Catherine C. Van Hoestenberghe took his fiancée, Dr. Carine Isabelle Jouffret, to Las Vegas for the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
They are both big fans, having attended car races in Monaco, close to Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France, where they live, and across Europe. This was their first time seeing a race in the United States, and Mr. Van Hoestenberghe wanted to make it a special experience.
“I reached out to the F1 concierge service that came with our tickets, and I said, ‘Can we get some flowers or maybe a photo session with a driver?’” said Mr. Van Hoestenberghe, 50, who works in client relations for the French tennis brand Babolat.
He was shocked when the Formula 1 team came back to him with another idea: They could get married at the racetrack, free of charge.
Las Vegas, which is known as “the wedding capital of the world,” already has about 100 chapels in the city that offer easy 15-minute ceremonies. The Las Vegas Grand Prix team also decided to set up a pop-up chapel for race fans, with neon hearts, a racecar that said “just married,” and a sign that said “Lights out and together we go.” (The phrase is a modification of one David Croft, a Sky Sports commentator, says at the beginning of Formula 1 races.)
The chapel is in the paddock, where cars are kept and worked on throughout the Grand Prix. It is one of the most secure areas on the track and the hardest to get into. “You are in the midst of all the drivers, the stars,” Mr. Van Hoestenberghe said. “When I heard about the chapel there I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, this is amazing. Of course we have to do it.’”
Mr. Van Hoestenberghe has a graduate degree in management studies from Open University Business School, north of Central London. Dr. Jouffret received a graduate degree in medicine with a specialization in radiology from Aix-Marseille University in France.
Dr. Jouffret, who is also 50 and a radiologist who co-owns several offices in Aix-en-Provence, said she learned about the wedding chapel just before leaving for Vegas. It made the long flight more fun. “We smiled and laughed all the way,” she said, “becoming the favorite passengers for the flight crew.”
She and Mr. Van Hoestenberghe had already discussed eloping in Vegas. They even made a reservation at the Graceland Chapel for the Monday after the Grand Prix.
Each had been married before (Mr. Van Hoestenberghe has two sons, 23 and 21, from his first marriage, and Dr. Jouffret has a son and daughter, 21 and 13) and had large weddings. “We didn’t want to go through the whole fuss again,” he said.
The couple met at a bar at Club Med Yasmina in Morocco on July 20, 2017. “The funny thing is I had just arrived, and it was her last night, but we talked until the morning,” he said. He didn’t think anything would come of the meeting. “I was living in Belgium, and she was in France, and initially I thought, ‘What a fantastic woman, but we have 1,000 kilometers between us,” he said.
Dr. Jouffret was skeptical, too. “Although we connected that evening like soul mates, we kind of knew it would probably end up as a nice little holiday memory,” she said. “But we kept calling each other everyday, for hours, and we met again right after summer, and it felt very natural, like we knew each other for years.”
They stayed in touch, calling each other daily and squeezing in visits when they could. When Covid hit, Mr. Van Hoestenberghe moved in with Dr. Jouffret in her house in Aix-en-Provence. “I got rid of the house in Belgium after that,” he said. He proposed last year just before Christmas at home.
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They married Nov. 17, five hours before the qualifying race began. They started the day by going to the Clark County Marriage License Bureau to fill out paperwork before shopping for rings. “We found these ones with F1 cars on them,” the groom said. For the ceremony Mr. Van Hoestenberghe wore the jersey, jacket, and cap of his favorite team, Red Bull, while Dr. Jouffret, did the same for her team, Ferrari.
Formula 1 officials escorted the couple to the chapel. On the way they got a tour of the pit lane, where the racing teams set up the cars.
The officiant, Brian Mills, the president of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber who received permission from the Clark County Marriage Bureau to perform the ceremony, was dressed as Elvis. He conducted a brief ceremony, during which time the couple said their vows in French.
Afterward, they drank champagne in the chapel and headed back to their seats in a V.I.P. area known as the Skybox with an open bar and complimentary food like lobster and steak.
“People around us were amazed we just got married, and then we opened even more bottles of champagne,” Mr. Van Hoestenberghe said. “Our wedding was already special because we did the Vegas thing, but doing it on a racetrack? How many people could say they have done that?”