Le Mans 1994 - Ayse's Story
Page 2 - Friday 18th June - The Trip Over and the Pegasus Bridge
As always, the plan was to rendezvous at Ian's house in Chilworth for the drive to the ferry port at Portsmouth. Originally the intention was that I would pick Fred up from his house near Highcliffe and then go on to Peter's new house in Ashley Heath. At the last minute however, Fred decided that he would go to Peter's house himself, to save me a longer journey. I left a slightly 'frosty' home at about 5.00 a.m. on the Friday morning for the drive across a wonderfully quiet New Forest and met with Peter and Fred at about 5.30. From there it was off to Minstead, as I had also agreed to pick up Nick Jordan from his home, before heading off to meet Ian and the rest of the team. We had no problems finding Nick's place, delightfully situated in the middle of nowhere, and we reached Chilworth in very good time. Alan and Martin were already when we arrived and it was introductions and "good to see you again's" all round. In due course, Chris and Jim also arrived and Richard wandered over from his house just across the road! Due to the size of the 1994 team, we were taking three cars; Ian still had his BMW 325i cabriolet (which Peter and I had the benefit of last year), and Martin had another BMW 525i (as in 1991). The third driver was to be Chris, who had brought with him his VW Golf VR6, with a very nippy 2.8 litre engine! (Chris drove the VR6 with gusto all week-end!). I learned the particularly sad news while we were preparing to depart that Robert (who had been a regular team member with us from 1986 to 1989) had died quite recently.
After coffee at Ian's, it was time for the bags and cases to be loaded into the three cars for the journey to Portsmouth. We filled up with petrol for the trip at the usual filling station just outside the ferry terminal, and soon joined the queues for the ferry. We were taking the 8.00 a.m. crossing this year, and would again travel on the Normandie. This was the earliest crossing the team had undertaken to date, and this, together with the fact that we would be returning on the 4.30 p.m. boat from Cherbourg to Poole on the Monday, meant that the week-end would be the longest of them all, so far.
We were soon on the boat and ready for our breakfast. In the past we have had to order a place in the restaurant for meals, so we were pleasantly surprised when told that our party of ten could be accommodated immediately. In fact, it was noticeable that in comparison to previous years, the restaurant appeared to be half-empty, and there were tables available throughout the time that we were taking breakfast. We were in the restaurant for quite a long time, from about 8.00 until maybe 10.30 a.m. It was very comfortable, and the price included as many return visits to the buffet as we liked and plenty of hot coffee. We were able to order a full English breakfast, which went down well on an empty stomach! After breakfast, we wandered up on deck to take the air and have a drink or two. Even by mid-morning, it was obvious that it was going to be a very fine day weather-wise.
It seemed to me that that we had only just finished our breakfast when Richard suggested that it was time for lunch! After my problems of 1987 I have always been just a little careful about what I eat and drink in advance of the race - I try not to take too many chances! Nevertheless, I trooped back into the restaurant with the rest of the team, determined just to have a cup of coffee, but ended up having lunch as well. The young waitress who had served us at breakfast was on duty again at lunchtime, and was clearly amused that we were back again for more so soon!
I suppose we must have arrived at Caen at about 2.30 p.m. and we went up on deck to watch the ferry turn to link up with the new double-decker ramps. Strangely, just as we were heading back down to the cars, Jim decided that he needed to pay a visit to the loo. He didn't make it back before we disembarked, so we had to wait for him to come running off the ramps to meet us! We split up into the various cars, myself with Jim and Chris in the VR6, Peter with Fred and Nick in Martin's BMW, and finally, Richard and Alan with Ian. We had already decided to pay a visit to the Pegasus Bridge at Benouville, the site of the D-Day landings in 1944, which was only ten minutes drive down the road. The Tourists had visited the Bridge before in 1988, and since then, a new (identical) bridge had replaced the original one. We had a good look around the bridge area, which had been centre-stage in the D-Day commemorations only two weeks before. Those who had not been to the bridge previously had a look around the museum, and then it was time to head back to the cars to set off for Buais.