Aysedasi's Le Mans

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Le Mans 2022

Le Mans 2021

Le Mans 1996 Ayse's Story

Page 8

Sunday 15th June - The Night and the Wonderful 'Welcome'

  

 

Once we were back into our parking space in the garage rouge I set about dressing up suitably for the night (which I was expecting to be rather cold), putting on a thick jumper to keep out the night’s chill.  I also prepared my gear for the long night ahead.  I had purchased for myself this year a new, much bigger and sturdier tripod, and was keen to try it out.  The only trouble was that although it was fairly light, it was a great deal bulkier than the one that I had used in the previous seven years, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to lug it around the circuit for the next seven or eight hours!

 

The rest of the team had decided to wander down through the fairground with me (although we spent far too long waiting outside of one of the less attractive stalls), but we eventually walked right down to watch the cars taking Tertre Rouge corner, before I exchanged good-byes with Ian and the rest at about 1.15 am.

 

I only spent a few more minutes at Tertre Rouge before moving back towards the Esses.  In the past, I've tried to work out some kind of game plan for myself, for my night wanderings and photographs.  This normally involved time at the Esses, opposite the pits on the tribunes and down as far as I could go to the Porsche Curves. 

 

You will know how unsuccessful my attempts at flash photography have been over the past two years.  In 1995, my flashgun broke after just a handful of shots, and in 1996, I took about two reels of film, which proved to be devoted entirely to photographs of the debris fencing which now surrounds almost all of the circuit.  I decided to have one last go at flash photography and took quite a few shots of the cars at the Esses, and on the run down to the Esses from the Dunlop Curve.  I suppose I was somehow hoping that lightning wouldn’t strike twice at the same place!  But it did - I didn't get a single successful shot through the fencing and the best I could do was three shots overlooking the bottom of the Esses.


 

By about 2.30 I had wandered back to the Dunlop Chicane, and thought it was time to investigate the ACO’s Welcome Area, to which my membership apparently entitled me access.  The entrance to the Welcome Area is situated in the Village, between the main row of shops and the Grand Marnier crêpe stall (no, I wasn’t tempted again, at this time!).  It seemed very quiet as I went in, there were very few people in the restaurant provided for ACO members.  I thought I would have a little look around before heading back for a revitalising cup of coffee.

 

I had noticed many times that in the front of what I had thought probably was the Welcome Area were a row of white garden-type benches, and I headed over to those, intending to set up my tripod for some shots of the cars heading into the Dunlop Curve.  By doing so, I figured that I could at least sit down for a rest at the same time.  It was while I was looking around at these benches, that I noticed a stairway leading up to the top of the large building situated at the end of the main start/finish straight.

 

I noticed that there were a few people on top of the building, but I thought they were probably press or official photographers, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, I headed up the stairs, and found myself on the top of the building.  There was no-one to turn me away and I assumed that, by virtue of my ACO pass, I must be entitled to be there!  The view was absolutely phenomenal, looking back along and over the main straight, so that I could see the cars as they came out of the final part of the Ford Chicane onto the main straight.  I had a perfect bird’s eye view of the pits and, looking in the other direction, could see the cars as they sped past me towards the Dunlop Curve.  In all my previous 11 visits to Le Mans (including all of those which pre-dated the arrival of the dreaded debris fencing), I had never previously found a vantage-point as good as this.  To use the vernacular, I was well made up!


 

I knew then that this would be my photographic eyrie for some hours to come.  I set up my tripod among the one or two sleeping bags which had been set up there (with people in them – how can you go to sleep, during the excitement of the night, when you have such a brilliant view available to you – I really don’t understand some people – is sleep so important?!). I snapped away up on the top of the building, taking general shots of the main straight, and some closer ones (with my converter on my zoom lens), down into the nearest pits, those of the Schnitzer team’s McLarens. 

 

By now, it was getting on for 4 o’clock, and I began to think that if I stayed here much longer, I would not get to see much else during the night...  With a degree of reluctance therefore, I came back down from the building and had a very refreshing cup of coffee in the ACO restaurant, before making my way back to the tribunes through the pedestrian underpass which links the Village with the area at the back of the tribunes at the Ford Chicane end.  I then spent about three quarters of an hour in front of various pit garages, taking shots of the cars as they came in for their pit-stops.


 

In front of the now beleaguered Nissan pits (all three cars were suffering oil cooler overheating problems and were well out of contention in the race), were a group of Japanese Nissan fans, about 20-strong I suppose.  I couldn’t help but marvel at their resilience, their singing, chanting and drum-beating continuing incessantly for the entire period I was on the tribunes (and, no doubt before I arrived and after I left!).

 

In the race, the fight between the two works Porsche GT1’s and the Joest TWR Porsche continued.  As in 1996, the Joest car hadn't missed a beat, but the difference this year was that the two GT1’s were even more competitive, having received substantial modifications for the race (much to the chagrin of those teams running the customer version, who did not have the latest mods and were not in the same league as the two leading cars).  The Joest car was never far behind, but seemed unlikely to repeat it’s 1996 win unless the works entries suffered mechanical problems.


 

Just before 5.00 am, I decided to head towards the Ford Chicane to watch for a while from there as dawn approached.  Once again, I tried out a few flash shots, in the knowledge that they were unlikely to be very successful!  By this time, I was thankfully fully recovered from the nausea which I had felt at Le Belinois - in fact, I felt as fit as a fiddle, if a little tired!


 

I stayed at the Ford Chicane or thereabouts for about three quarters of an hour, by which time dawn was fast approaching.  My motivation for moving on was inevitably to get back to my vantage-point on top of the building in the Welcome Area, as I was pretty sure that there were a few more good shots to be had from that amazing viewpoint.

 

So it was that I made my way back along the tribunes, where a few of the slumbering bodies were finally waking, to check on the state of play after 14 hours of the race.  It is a fairly daunting thought at this time that there is still a long way to go to the end of the race (10 hours, in fact), even though my own thoughts are always that the best part of the race (and the weekend overall) has now passed.  The rest of the Sunday always seems to pass incredibly quickly, something which always seems terribly disappointing!

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