Aysedasi's Le Mans

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Le Mans 1996 Ayse's Story

Page 4

Saturday 14th June - Off to the Circuit



So I finally got to bed for what seemed a very short sleep as I woke again at 7.00 am.  I immediately went to have a look out of the window, to check on the weather.  The news was bad – it was raining again.  With only nine hours now to go before the race started, it was beginning to look pretty ominous, particularly after Peter and I had checked the weather forecast on French T.V., which suggested that the rain was likely to continue.  But the one thing you can do nothing about is the weather, so Peter and I decided to put a brave face on it and go for a walk.  I had a revitalising bath before doing so, and we both set off, at about 8.00 for a wander around Vendôme.  I could remember the town reasonably well from last year but this was Peter’s first visit to this attractive little town.


Peter and I spent about half an hour walking around in the rain (which, fortunately wasn't particularly heavy), during which time we examined the motor cycle we had seen the previous evening, which had been abandoned near to the bar.  It was a powerful motor cycle, and was obviously not very old, but was nevertheless now in poor condition.  The rear tyre, of course, was ruined, and the exhaust was blown (presumably as a result of the engine being revved to its maximum for so long the previous evening).  It had also clearly been bashed and scraped.  If it was a stolen machine, the owner was likely to be pretty disappointed if and when he recovered it!


By the time Peter and I got back to the Auberge, the others were up and about and it was time to have breakfast.  It was a good (if continental) breakfast, with lashings of strong French coffee to get us going.  After this, it was time to pack our bags up again, and load up the cars.  The plan then appeared to be to take a more leisurely wander around Vendôme before taking our leave of the town, although I had rather hoped that we would get on the road to the circuit nice and early.  


It was at this time that we had good news – the rain had stopped and the sun was shining!  This was pretty unexpected, and I don’t think that any of us thought it would last.  Peter and I had been trying to remain optimistic about the weather prospects for the weekend, while the others remained definitely pessimistic, and in our hearts, Peter and I really felt the same!  All we could do was keep our fingers crossed.


So the luggage was brought down to the car park and the cars loaded (after Peter had tidied up Martyn’s boot!), and it was time for another wander around Vendôme.  I had done this last year, although I was quite keen to enjoy the sunshine while it lasted!  As it happened, however, I managed to lose the other six!  I was keen to purchase a copy of the AutoHebdo Le Mans supplement (the French equivalent of Autosport), which I had not yet seen in any shops.  I therefore ducked into a newsagent, to try (unsuccessfully!) to make my purchase.  Unbeknown to me, the other six had decided to wander around the large church in the centre of Vendôme.


I had a suspicion that they were in there, but all the same, I pressed on along the same route by the river we had taken last year.  It was when I couldn’t see any of them in the distance (I had only been a minute or two behind them, at the most), that I realised they must still be back at the church.  So I carried on, taking a few shots of the scenery (all very similar to the shots I took last year!), and waited for them to catch me up.  This took longer than I expected, as they paused to watch photographs being taken of a bride-to-be and her bridesmaid (who everyone seemed to be admiring!).  Eventually, they all joined me on the bridge over the river (the name of which I have forgotten, for the moment), and we headed back to the auberge and the cars.  Finally, as we were heading back, I saw a newsagent’s stall alongside the river, where I finally managed to obtain my AutoHebdo supplement.  Success!


So we headed back to the cars and finally left Vendôme (where I shared the accommodation bill with Peter – Jeff dealt with the meal), at 10.30, rather later than I'd hoped, for the trip to Le Grand-Lucé, where once again, the rest of the team would be staying on Saturday night at the Hotel Restaurant Le Cheval Blanc.  So, after travelling again via Chartre sur le Loir (for no other reason than that this was a famous stopping-point for some of the British teams (Jaguar and Aston Martin, in particular in the 1950’s), we reached Le Grand-Lucé at 11.45.


The plan was a familiar one – get the gear stowed into the rooms, a swift beer and then on to Le Mans.  As I had done for the previous two years, while the others were stowing their gear, I wandered up to the maison de la presse to purchase a copy of Le Maine Libre, to catch up on the latest qualifying news.  I would normally also buy the race programme at this stage however, I had a freebie coming – more of that in due course!


By the time I got back, one or two of the boys were down from their rooms, having a pre-lunch drink.  We had a good look at the qualifying information, noting then that it appeared that one of the Panoz cars had failed to qualify and that the Joest TWR Porsche, last year’s winner, was on pole position.  Fortunately, the weather was still holding relatively well – it wasn’t raining, anyway!  It clearly wasn’t warm enough though for Martyn and Jim to change into shorts as they did in 1996!  It really was hot at this time last year...


After an hour or so at Le Cheval Blanc, we returned to the cars for the journey to Le Circuit des Vingt Quatre Heures, without a doubt, my favourite journey of the Le Mans week-end!  It's a relatively short journey from Le Grand-Lucé, about half an hour (which was the major advantage of having Le Grand-Lucé as a base), and we arrived in the garage rouge at Le Mans just after 1.00 pm.


This is the magical moment of the week-end!  It simply isn’t possible to describe how I feel each year as we drive into the garage rouge.  The atmosphere is so familiar and I know exactly what I am going to have to look forward to over the next thirty or so hours.  After the usual minor argument with the garage marshals, we parked the two cars right at the head of one of the queues (number 17, for those keen on detail!), and then it was time for decisions as to what to wear.  The hats and radio hats came out of the boot, but this year, it was more a question of which jacket or anorak to wear, rather than which t-shirt.  Thankfully, it was still bone dry although none of us really believed it would stay that way for the entire race.


Both Jim and I christened the fences surrounding the garage in the time-honoured fashion before we were all ready to head off to purchase our enceintes generales.  The procedure for the purchase of the entrance tickets this year would be different, thanks to me.  About six weeks before the Le Mans week-end, I had received from the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, a flyer for membership of the club.  I had thought about joining the ACO last year, but decided that it was too expensive (as it included the full admission price).  This year however, the cost was about £50, for which you received a reduced-price entry ticket, plus the opportunity to buy another 5 tickets, also at a reduced price. 


In addition, the membership brought with it a free programme (hence my not buying one at Le Grand-Lucé!), together with the full programme of runners and riders, normally only issued to the press.  After the race, members would also receive a full results programme, and photographs of the winning car and the winning drivers on the podium.  I worked out that by purchasing the 6 entry tickets at the reduced price (240 Francs instead of 320 Francs), that alone would pay for the membership, so I went ahead and joined.  This meant that, when we came to buy our entry tickets, I bought six of them at the reduced price.  Having paid half of the accommodation costs at Vendôme and the six entry tickets, I was pleased to know that I already had a considerable sum chalked up on the board to stand me in good stead when it came to the final reckoning, some time on Monday evening.















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