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Le Mans 2001 - The Tourists' Story

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The driver parade brought with it some good shots for me, but also yet more intermittent showers.  After the parade, it was race preparation time, and I was able to pick up a good series of shots of Mark Blundell preparing for his first stint in the MG.

Guy Smith, Stephane Ortelli and Martin Brundle accept their ovation during the driver parade.    Mark Blundell dons his balaclava in preparation for the opening stint in the 33 MG he shared with Kevin McGarrity and Julian Bailey.

Poor weather or not, the time before the start of the race, particularly after the cars had set off on their parade lap, was as electric as ever and I was able to catch the stream of cars on video as they started the first lap of the 24 hours.

The calm before the storm.  This shot of the 19 SMG Courage C60 of Gache, Beltoise and Policand was taken just moments before the deluge.

The opening laps were pretty exciting, too exciting for some with cars falling off the road every few minutes, notably the Johansson Audi and David Terrien in the FFSA Viper - what an effort he made to get the car back to the pits!

Eventually, we quit the tribunes and made our way around to the Dunlop Chicane.  We watched in increasing alarm as the black clouds moved overhead and as we crossed the bridge and walked down towards the Esses, the heavens opened, drowning us all in a matter of minutes.  At that stage, we decided to give best to the rain and headed back to the van to make an early getway for Le Grand LucÚ and a change of clothes and dinner!

Naturally enough, with weather as bad as this, I was giving some very serious thought to my intention of staying at the circuit all night, but in the end the risk of getting very wet had to come second to watching the 24 Hours at night.  We returned to the circuit (after a quick visit to the Mulsanne restaurants), and the others left me for the comfort of a few hours in their beds at about 1.00 a.m.

There aren't many places for the "ordinary" Le Mans spectator and snapper to avoid debris fencing, but I managed to find this one!  Here is the 62 RML Saleen of McKellar, Lambert and Mowlem.    I confess I'm guessing as to who is driving the 2 Audi here.  Christian Pescatori?

My "Le Mans at night" tour was slightly more limited this year than usual, as I was just a little wary of being caught out in the open if there was another downpour.  By the time I had arrived back at the circuit, the rain had eased to just a fine drizzle.  As a result, I tended to divide my time between the top of the Welcome building and the tribunes, whilst further dividing it between still and video photography.

I'm pretty certain it's Ben Collins here in the 20 Ascari he was sharing with Werner Lupberger and Harri Toivonen.

The Welcome area was always an irresistible lure as it not only provided me with my favourite view of the track, but a non-stop supply of revitalising coffee from the bar there.

What can I say - my favoutite view.......!    Yes, I know, I've done this one before as well..........

Eventually though, I dragged myself away from that view and headed off to look around the few stalls that were still open at that time of the morning.

As far as the race was concerned, rather like last year, the works Audis had done the rest of the field up like a kipper, and that included the two Bentleys, although we still had the No. 8 Bentley to cheer on, even if the two lightning-quick but fragile MGs had bitten the dust.

As dawned arrived, I decided to rest awhile in my customary lofty perch.  It has never ceased to amaze me how many people quit the circuit during the night and early morning, or who give in to the temptation to waste the time by sleeping!  I guess that most of the time I was atop the building during the night, there were no more than half a dozen others up there at any one time. 

 

Not a desperately successful Le Mans for Henri Pescarolo this year.  Sebastian Bourdais leaves the pits in the 17 car he drove with Redon and Boullion.

Once more, at about 7.30, I left the Welcome building and wandered back through the Village and the underpass, to spend a bit more time watching the race and the pits action from the tribunes.  I should mention that Radio Le Mans had been superb company throughout the nighttime hours.  I think I must have listened to more RLM this year than any other.

At speed past the Welcome building in the early morning goes Pedro Lamy in the 16 Team Playstation Chrysler LMP.

I was waiting (and nodding off) outside the Welcome area when I received a tap on the shoulder from Paul.  He, Howard and Robert had kindly returned in the bus to collect me.  I was impressed by the fact that Paul and Howard had come back - as Le Mans newcomers, they were obviously keen enough to leave their beds - unlike some others!

After breakfast back at Le Cheval Blanc, we made our by now routine visit to Arnage and Indianapolis, again having to park in the overflow car park.  As lunchtime drew on it was frites, omelettes and merguez all round as the race headed for a crushing victory for Audi, Kristensen, Pirro and Biela heading for a second consecutive win.

Why do I always catch Sebastien Bourdais in the Pescarolo Courage?!  Here seen at Indianapolis.       "Does the baby want it's candy back now?"  Tom Kristensen might have been wondering if it could really be this easy.......

All too soon, the 24 Hours was over for another year and we were trudging back to the bus.  This year we were in no great rush, as we were staying in France that night.  We journeyed from the circuit to the Hotel Restaurant Le Gue du Holme at Saint-Quentin-sur-le-Homme, just 6 or 7 kilometres from Avranches.  I didn't actually observe very much of the journey, about 5 minutes at either end - I slept the rest of the way.

A private shot this of the PSR boys, Paul, Ian, Chris, Howard and Bruce.  They'll know what that means......

The hotel was a very nice place indeed - if you get the chance, visit their web-site - www.le-gue-du-holme.com - you can see what's on the menu!  The food was glorious - I can still taste the fois gras now!  And the desserts - well, suffice to say that we weren't watching the calories!  

A dinner fit for the Tourists at Le Gue du Holme.

After a very good night's sleep and a good breakfast, it was time to pile back into the bus for the first stage of the journey to Cherbourg for the boat back to Poole.  But not before Madame kindly assisted us with our 2001 team photo!

The 2001 team photo, kindly taken for us by Madame at the hotel.  L-R (top) Alan, Aysedasi, Chris, Bruce, Simon, Paul and Ian; (bottom) Martin, Robert and Howard.    A very nice hotel indeed.  Well worth a visit if you happen to be nearby.  (We'll be back there again after Le Mans in 2002!).

After stopping at the war cemetary at Colleville-sur-Mer, we lunched in a lovely little seaside restaurant, the sun now fully observing Sod's Law by shining warm and bright.  

Yet again, an excellent Le Mans trip, in great company.  Yes, the rain did put a bit of a dampener on it at times, but not enough to prevent me from signing up for Le Mans 2002 - watch this space!