Le Mans 1991 - Ayse's Story
Page 5 - Sunday at Tertre Rouge
By this time, it had become clear that the Jaguars were not in the same league as the Mercedes. It was also noticeable that the Herbert/Gachot/Weidler Mazda was very much in touch with the leading pack. But the Mercedes would undoubtedly win the race - provided that it didn't break! As the day wore on, warm but overcast, we spent quite a bit of time watching the race from the Esses (where some mad fools were paying for the privilege of bungee-jumping!).
For some time, Mike had been trying to persuade us that he really did have hospitality invites from an organisation called the "96 Club", which was supposed to be based near Tertre Rouge corner. Frankly, neither Ian or I believed this for one moment! The information and "invitation" was on photocopied paper, and I really wasn't at all bothered about wasting time going on some wild goose chase, when we could be enjoying the race from some better point on the circuit. Thankfully though, Mike's will prevailed, and, as a result, we were all treated to a remarkable experience. We found the house from which this hospitality was supposedly to be dispensed. It was a private house, sited just around Tertre Rouge corner, and with a garden leading right up to the circuit (which is, of course, a normal public road for the remainder of the year). Parked in the entrance to this house was a Ferrari F40, with the registration F40 AJW! (Robert rather enjoyed that one). We headed around to the garden of the house, and were greeted most warmly by the organisers, and were immediately plied with bacon croissants and champagne. Not bad eh? We were able to have a sit down, on proper chairs, and enjoy the refreshments on offer. A short while later, we realised that, if you were able to dodge the ever-vigilant gendarmes, it was possible to sneak right up to the armco on the edge of the circuit, and take pictures of the cars as they headed around Tertre Rouge, and on down the Mulsanne Straight. It was absolutely fantastic! I can honestly say that I have never been able to take pictures this close to the action, either before or since. (As an aside, it has to be said that, quite apart from the fact that it was very exciting to be this close to the action for once, with no debris fencing to get in the way of the camera lens, it was also extremely dangerous!). The opportunity was also there for one or two sleepy-heads (notably Robert and myself) to nod off to sleep, despite the noise of the cars roaring past, only a few yards away. (The lack of sleep during the night was at last taking it's toll!).
As the clock drew on towards 4.00 p.m., the leading Mercedes unbelievably faltered, letting the incredibly reliable orange and green Mazda through into a lead it was not to lose. The Mercedes would fail to run cleanly, the loss of alternator and water pump drive belts causing irreparable damage. And what about the Jaguars? Well, as some suspected, their seemingly lack-lustre performance on Saturday was illustration enough that the 1000 kgs disadvantage was too much to overcome. Nevertheless, three of the four cats finished, taking 2nd, 3rd and 4th places. (It was quite interesting to note that the winning Mazda actually covered a greater distance than the winning Jaguar in 1990, so it could hardly be called a fluke victory!).
We watched the end of the race from the very sunny tribunes, where Alan and I did our nodding dog impressions! I was virtually asleep on my feet by this time!
So, the first victory for a manufacturer from the land of the rising sun, which was very well received by the assembled crowd. One got the impression that, provided the Mercedes didn't win, everyone would be generally content. (It is surprising how little support is generated for Mercedes at Le Mans. The 1989 victory brought a rather subdued reaction. Maybe old wounds take a long time to heal?).