Le Mans 1992 - Ayse's Story
Page 4 - Saturday 20th June - Arrival and the First Merguez....
We docked at Caen at about 6.30 on Saturday morning and were soon back on the coach for the straight trip down to Le Mans. We didn't stop on route, preferring instead to get to the circuit as soon as possible. The fact that we were travelling on a "coach trip" did not reduce that familiar feeling of anticipation as we headed ever closer to the circuit, and began to see billboards advertising the race, and the many signs for the garages (car parks) which have always been a significant (if rather simple!) psychological high-point of the trip as far as I am concerned. We arrived at the circuit at about 11.30 a.m. and parked up in the garage bleu (a new arrival point for me) just up from entrance to the circuit at the Ford Chicane. We were soon off the coach and Peter and I made our way swiftly into the circuit, as we were keen to check out our grandstand seats. The seats were numbered 01466 and 01467 and, as it happened, they were pretty good, about one third of the way back in the Maison Blanche grandstand on the left hand side. They afforded a good view of the Ford Chicane and then on up the main start/finish straight. Bearing in mind it was still drizzling fairly consistently, I was becoming more and more relieved that I had the foresight to buy the tickets!
For the first time in seven years, I had arrived at Le Mans sufficiently early to be able to watch the race-morning warm-up session, giving us an excellent opportunity to take some early pictures of the competing cars. This was a task which was more easily achieved in 1992 due to the paltry size of the final entry. Only twenty-eight cars would find their way to the start-line on Saturday afternoon, with one further car (the ALD) having failed to qualify, and the Team Davey car suffering a non-start as a result of a lack of finance (despite my membership of Tim Lee-Davey's "Sponsors Club"!). It was almost wholly in anticipation of Le Mans 1992 that I had purchased a new Canon EOS 100 and the two zoom lenses. I also had with me my tripod and remote control for the long range night-time shots. As I'd hoped, the camera was to prove to be quite a revelation. After watching the warm-up session (and catching a first sight of the new BRM in action, at last), Peter and I then headed off to the Chequers marquee for our introductory welcome, courtesy of TV's Gary Champion, and former F1 driver, Jonathan Palmer. The highlight of this was an appearance by one of last year's winners, the ever-popular Johnny Herbert, who, with last year’s co-drivers, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot, was again driving for the Mazda team. His car was actually rather less Mazda that it might have appeared to be. It was actually a TWR Jaguar XJR14 chassis, with a Hart engine - not much Mazda there!
The complimentary glass of wine went some way to improving our spirits, bearing in mind the weather outside the marquee. Peter had hedged his bets on this trip. He had with him both an SLR camera and a video camera, and he merrily juggled with the two all week-end. Unfortunately, he seemed to be constantly plagued by recalcitrant batteries in the video camera... Following this welcome hospitality, and a wander around the nearby shops, stalls and spectator areas, it was time to return to our seats in the grandstand for a spot of lunch. For me, it was the inevitable merguez and frites! I could not persuade Peter to indulge in a merguez though, and, with his frites, he "made do" with some form of steak, which, when alive, would probably have run well in the 2.30 at Haydock Park!
Following the race-morning warm-up session, the build-up proper to the race began with laps from a number of cars which had been successful in previous years at La Sarthe. I was unable to identify some of the older cars, although I recall there was at least one Bentley and a Lagonda among them. The more readily identifiable cars were C and D-Type Jaguars, Aston Martins, Ford GT40's, the 1980 race-winning Rondeau and the Renault Alpine which was the victor in the 1978 race. Perhaps the most impressive sight of all though, was a Porsche 917K, in the famous powder blue and orange Gulf Oil colours, which, to motor racing afficionados, was elevated to motor racing stardom through the Steve McQueen film, "Le Mans". One could only imagine the sight and sound of half a dozen of these brutish cars battling it out with the legions of Ferraris back in the late 60's and early 70's. What a sight it must have been!
Eventually, after a deadly dull support race for Peugeot Spyders (which did nothing to suggest that the similar cars which were to take part in the main event would be anything other than a complete waste of time!), and the rather shorter driver presentation this year, the competing cars began to assemble on the dummy grid, ready for the pace-car lap.