Le Mans 1996 - Ayse's Story
Page 8 - Sunday 16th June - The Night
The whole team came back to the circuit for an hour or so, before they all departed for Le Cheval Blanc at Le Grand-Lucé, and a few hours sleep. I was determined not to miss another minute of the race and quickly set to with my camera and flashgun. After the abject disappointment in 1995 when my flashgun broke after about 6 or 7 shots, I had decided to take a lot of flash pictures this year. I suppose I should have known better. From the poor results obtained in just a few shots last year, I should have realised that the flashgun simply wasn't powerful enough to reach through the debris fencing, to properly illuminate the cars. I said afterwards to the others, that I would either have 50 great shots of the cars, or 50 great shots of the debris fencing. Sadly, the latter proved to be the case. I've included a few of the better shots (you wouldn't believe it!) just for the sake of completeness.
As always, I enjoyed the night enormously. The solitude doesn't bother me at all, not being much of a social animal anyway. It is without question, one of the highlights of the weekend, when I can go where I like and do what I like without having to concern myself with keeping up with or looking for others. Having been to Le Mans now eleven times, I know the spectator areas very well, and always feel confident in these circumstances. My game plan was very similar to years past. I spent quite a bit of time on the outside of the Esses, before wandering down to Tertre Rouge. I went underneath the circuit there and took a couple of shots of the new Bar Le Tertre Rouge, which has sadly replaced the famous Café du Tertre Rouge on the outside of the corner. After this, I spent a short while on the inside of the circuit on the small hillock at the bottom of the Esses, before walking back to the outside of the track and up the hill to the Dunlop Bridge. Being more confident about my flash shots (far too optimistic, unfortunately...), I didn't take many of the standard light-trail pictures this year. If I go to Le Mans in 1997, I shall have to make a decision. Either I purchase a more powerful flashgun, or I concentrate on light-trails, its as simple as that!
I spent quite a bit of time in front of the pits, waiting for a pit stop for the Lister Storm, and then headed out to the Porsche Curves. Unfortunately, the fencing which had been broken down there in 1995 had been permanently replaced and it wasn't possible for me to make the illicit journey out to the concrete retaining wall which I had made in 1995. It would be fair to say that by this time (about 4.00 am), I was feeling pretty tired. I remembered that in the heat of 1994 I had struggled very badly on the Sunday, both in terms of stamina and just staying awake. I'd put the fact that I felt better in 1995 down to the cool damp weather. In 1996 the weather remained gloriously warm throughout the entire weekend (although it did get a bit cooler during the early hours of the morning), so I was a bit concerned about how I was likely to feel later in the day. The time came when I had to stop and take a rest (taking some more highly unsuccessful flash shots) at the Ford Chicane.
I finally made my way back (slowly!) to the main spectator area, and took more pictures at the Dunlop Chicane. In some ways, it is funny how one's perception changes. Over the years, I've discarded many photographs of racing cars, taken both at Le Mans and in this country, where to me the shot was spoiled by being out of focus or blurred. Now I keep them as good, arty examples of photography of cars at speed, having seen so many similar shots in the motor racing press over the years! Some of the pictures which I took at this time of the morning certainly fell into this category, and I will let you be the judge of whether they are good or bad!
I did, however, find an excellent vantage point for some photographs just after the dawn (5.30 am?). I was on the Dunlop Bridge, facing the chicane, where it was possible to actually rest the end of the zoom lens through the holes in the fencing, and thus take pictures of the cars, not only without the fencing in the way, but with the camera steadied by the support of the fencing. I got some good pictures at this time and was able to make use of my 6-point star filter to take a number of shots highlighting the headlights of the cars as they came through.
I'd stopped on a number of occasions for small cups of very strong coffee, and did so again at a stall near to the Dunlop Chicane. It is worthy of mention that in 1996, the ACO had now franchised the catering operation at Le Mans. There were still a number of the bigger traditional stalls behind the tribunes, but most were now set out exactly the same, with a set price list applied all around the circuit. Although, in financial terms, this was probably better for the punter, as far as the colour and atmosphere which is always generated by the stalls, I did think that something had been lost.