The thunderstorm in the Le
Mans area hit in a big way during the night, waking me up at around 2 am and
then again at 7. I managed to sleep on though and by the time I finally
eased myself out of bed at about 9 am the worst was over, although it seemed
certain that we were in for a pretty wet day. Fortunately the rain did
ease enough to enable James, Tony, Allon and I to sit outside the bar and have our breakfast
(while Tim caught up on his beauty sleep), but we
all knew this wasn't likely to be a day for wandering around and enjoying the
sights. Still, as far as I was concerned it could rain all it liked today
if that reduced the chances of it doing the same during the race...
After heading back to the
hotel after breakfast James, Allon and I went in to the circuit as Allon was
quite keen to do the pitwalk. As it was raining by the time we arrived in
Parking Blanc, James and I quickly decided that we weren't as keen to get wet as
Allon and we decided to sit tight in the car as Allon pulled on his wet-weather
gear. I think we would both have gone in had the rain eased off, but it
actually got considerably worse while we were parked so we stayed put.
It was at this point that
these two grown men started playing a silly game. The spaces in Parking
Blanc are numbered and lettered and come race day the marshals are generally
pretty vigilant, making sure that everyone parks in their allocated spot.
Up to race day however (and even during the qualifying sessions) apart from
checking that you have a ticket for the car park itself, the marshals tend not
to worry about exactly where you park as the car parks are never full and so we
generally try to get close to the entrance. But not today....
It all started at the entrance
to the car park. I held up the ticket for the thickly-spectacled marshal
on a bike to see (we don't usually bother sticking the ticket to the windscreen)
to which his response was that it wasn't the right ticket. After
attempting to ask him what part of 'Parking Blanc' printed on the ticket was
incorrect, he clearly didn't understand, but eventually let us in. We
parked close to the entrance and after Allon had departed sat there in the
pouring rain. Then a young female marshal came over and told us we were in
the wrong place and despite the fact that there were probably only 30-40 cars in
a car park with spaces for many hundreds of cars, we were required to move and
were directed to our correct spot. Then, lo and behold, 'bicycle repair
man' decided to come over for another look at our ticket and he didn't think we
were correctly parked, but after a seriously myopic study of the ticket (again),
he rode off unsteadily on his bike to rejoin what was clearly a world of his
Having suffered the annoyance
before on race day of not being able to park in our allotted space, the lunacy
of the situation forced us into action. We started by turning the car
around in our spot, which caused some amusement as a couple arrived near to us
and proceeded to also park the wrong way around, before they then changed their
minds, realising that ours was the only car parked in this way. We then parked
horizontally across the row and then diagonally. From time to time our
manoeuvres clearly attracted the attention of bicycle repair man's young
sidekick, who obviously thought we had no idea of where and how we should park
and who persisted in coming over to us to ask if we needed '...any 'elp parking?'....
Our mirth at the situation was heightened by the fact that the whole process was
so banal and puerile, although tinged with a (very slight) degree of sympathy
for the young female marshals who were by now like drowned rats on their bikes
as they carried out their thoroughly pointless task as directed by their
thoroughly pointless senior....
Allon returned to the car,
also rather damp for his pitlane walk at around 3 pm, none the wiser for our
antics in his absence and I think quite surprised to learn that we hadn't moved
from the car all the time that he'd been away. We drove back to the hotel,
realising that it was now mid-afternoon and we'd had nothing to eat since
breakfast, so we stopped off at Auchan on the way where James and I bought some
foie gras and bread for a picnic in our rooms when we got back. And
jolly good it was too!
As is always the case (and has
been since my days as a 'Tourist'), the most crucial decisions of the day
always centre around food. We had never tried the nearby Le Portofino
restaurant but decided to recce the menu and thought that it looked pretty good
with the bonus that we were able to walk to it from the hotel. So it was time
to ring the changes that evening. This was agreed by Allon on the
strictest of understandings that we would go to Del Arte so he could have a
Pizza Marocco on the Sunday evening after the race!
After a few hours chilling out
after all of our Parking Blanc excitement, we headed over to the restaurant.
It was during our meal that a new Le Mans trip phrase was coined; 'Doing a
Portofino.' It started, as I remember it, with a glass being broken by
one of the waiters and not long after that by another waiter depositing a
container of garlic mayo destined for Tony's starter all over the floor and up
the side of my bodywarmer. And we had barely started our meals by this
time.... I had langoustine and mayo to begin with, which was OK, if not
particularly inspiring (or as tasty as I had expected), followed by a scallop
and prawn risotto which also failed to excite. It was a nice evening
though and we did manage to get some food in between the minor accidents and
amused ourselves at the wonderful translations into English of the items on the
dessert menu from the app on Tim's phone....
Sadly for me, the promise of the menu failed to deliver and it was fairly pricey
to boot. I shall remember it in years to come as we drive past it, ideally
After our meal it was back
swiftly to the hotel. With the intention (for most of us) of staying up
all night during the race very much in the forefront of my mind, I needed a good
night's sleep, as the next wouldn't occur until Sunday night!