Aysedasi's Le Mans

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Le Mans 1996 Ayse's Story

Page 13

Monday 16th June - Azay le Rideau, Saumur and Home

  

 

That was a good night’s sleep, that was!  Peter and I were awake by 7.00 a.m. and by 7.30 we had set about re-packing our bags.  This is often a problem after Le Mans.  My grip is usually pretty full for the journey over to France, but by the end of the week-end it is full to the brim with all sorts of bits and pieces, gifts for the boys, programmes and the like, which I'm always keen to bury at the bottom of the bag so they don’t get damaged and arrive at home in the same pristine condition in which they were obtained.  I managed to get most of the stuff which I knew I wouldn’t need again into the bag, although I also managed to break the zip in my endeavours!

 

I left Peter pottering around in our room while I went downstairs for a walk before breakfast.  Ian (another early riser), was doing the same and we had a short walk around together before heading back to the hotel for breakfast at about 8.30.  The others eventually joined us, none of them seeming too much the worse for wear for the exertions of the week-end (and the liqueurs the night before!).


 

Ian and I had noticed on our earlier walk that there was a Monday morning market setting up in the square outside the hotel (which, despite its rather substandard fare was set in very pleasant surroundings).  So we all set off to explore the market, which was selling a variety of plants and shrubs, toys, clothes, shoes, and the more traditional foodstuffs, i.e. meat, fish and veg. 

 

Someone discovered a stall selling sweets and Peter loaded up with some of these to take back to Hilda.  I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed (and I think that was Peter’s reaction when he returned home and tried the sweets later.  “They were awful”, I seem to remember him saying!).


 

By 10.00 am on a bright Monday morning then, our bags were all packed into the two cars and it was time to set off from Richelieu for Azay Le Rideau, just down the road (where we had taken coffee the late afternoon before).  It had always been Ian’s plan to take time out today to explore a chateau or two, and he knew that there was a chateau in Azay Le Rideau.

 

We arrived at the chateau at about 10.30 am, paid for our tickets and went for a wander around the building and grounds.  I must say I was rather disappointed.  The chateau was much smaller than I'd expected and although it appeared to be quite imposing from the outside, set on the edge of a small lake (and looking like some strange sea-going leviathan!), the inside was rather less inspiring.  Although we spent the best part of two hours there, frankly I'd seen enough of the chateau after about half an hour, and spent much more time examining the lake for fish (of which there were a few!).


 

Eventually we headed back to what appeared to be the main square in Azay Le Rideau, and stopped for a beer.  We supplemented the beer with some cherries (which were very good!), bought by Martyn in the market at Richelieu earlier than morning.


 

We left Azay Le Rideau at about 12.45 in the knowledge that we still had our journey to Saumur where we planned to take lunch and then the much longer journey on from there to Honfleur, for dinner, before finally heading on the short distance to Le Havre to catch the night ferry back to Portsmouth.

 

The journey to Saumur took only about three quarters of an hour and we were soon travelling over the large bridge over the river looking over to yet another chateau (which appeared (from the green netting surrounding it), to be undergoing repairs.  (I was later to find bottles of Saumur wine in the local Tesco, which had that same view of the chateau at Saumur on the label!).


 

It took rather a long time to find somewhere to park in the centre of Saumur, which seemed to be very busy for a Monday lunchtime.  Then of course, we had to find somewhere suitable to eat, which took equally as long.  We eventually settled on a restaurant where we could sit outside and eat, although I was beginning to have my doubts about the weather - it was starting to cloud over quite quickly and I was sure that, having avoided it so far, we were now in for some rain on this Le Mans weekend.  Its funny how it almost always rains at some time during a Le Mans week-end.  All we can do is to hope that it doesn’t rain while we are actually at the circuit!  We had a very good light lunch, consisting of croque madames all round which I have to say was one of the nicest meals that I had all week-end! 

 

By 2.45 we were aware that we still had the best part of the journey still to undertake, so it was back to the cars once again for the journey to Honfleur.  Before this the majority of the party (except me), were keen to visit the hypermarket to load up with wine and other goodies.  Of course, in the previous few years we had used the hypermarket at Caen for this purpose (with, if necessary, a trip to the wine merchant just over the road).

 

By the time we reached the hypermarket, which was only 15 minutes or so up the road, the rain had started and it looked very much as if it was set to be quite wet for the remainder of the day.  By 3.30 the wine had been bought and was loaded up with scant regard for the amounts actually allowable, and we were on the road again for Honfleur.  We knew that this was going to be a journey of four hours or so, and I didn’t take any persuading at all to settle down in the back of Martyn’s very comfortable BMW for another sleep!

 

I saw little of the scenery on the journey to Honfleur, the events of the week-end had not surprisingly taken their toll, and I only woke up just as we were heading into Honfleur, in heavy rain, which made it seem rather like late afternoon on Friday in Chartres! (If only it was and we had the weekend to enjoy all over again!).  Again, finding somewhere to park was less than easy, and we were all a little concerned about leaving the cars in a large public car park, with all our worldly goods (and a fair few quids-worth of wine) in the cars.


 

If the search for somewhere to park took a while, it was nothing compared to the search for somewhere suitable to eat!  We must have looked at all of the menus in all of the restaurants along the harbour front in Honfleur (and, if you know Honfleur, you will know that there are quite a few of them!).  In the end, we settled on what appeared to be the best of the lot, which just happened to be the same restaurant in which Ian, Martyn, Alan and I had eaten in 1990, on the way back from the race!

 

Initially, we were given a table outside, only protected from the elements by plastic sheeting overhead.  However Ian, who had taken a seat at the end of the table, found himself continually dripped upon, and, despite some initial debate, we were given a table inside the restaurant.  The meal was rather hurried, although the service was certainly well above Le Belinois standard.  After my steak au poivre (which I thought quite good, unlike Jeff!), I managed to throw down an exceptionally good crème bruleé, before it was time to deal with the bill (I can’t remember if I took charge of this or not), and head quickly back to the cars for the final leg of the journey back to Le Havre.

 

It was by now 10.00 pm already and we knew we needed to get to the ferry port rather quickly to be ready in line for loading onto the ferry for the 11.00 p.m. crossing.  In order to get from Honfleur to Le Havre, we had to cross the new bridge which spans the stretch of water in between.  To say the bridge is impressive is quite an understatement.  Rarely do you see such a striking bit of design these days!  We thought we had made it to the ferry terminal with only minutes to spare, and we were right at the back of the very large queue for the boat.  We were waiting with some fairly exotic machinery (as is often the case), including a couple of D-Type Jaguars, an XK120 and a De Tomaso Pantera, which made one hell of a racket and looked unbelievably cheap and tarty, if you know what I mean!

 

And that is where we waited….and waited….and waited!  11.00 p.m. came and went with no sign of movement.  11.30 arrived and we still hadn’t moved and no explanation was forthcoming as to why we were being delayed.  The boat was there all right, but there seemed to be no movement of cars onto it whatsoever.  Finally, on the stroke of midnight, we were allowed onto the Pride of Portsmouth (which had, of course, been our means of transport over to Le Havre from Portsmouth in the first place).  Even now, I still have no idea why we were held up for over an hour before we were permitted to board the ferry.

 

Ian had sensibly invested in cabins for all of us for the journey home and we thought we would find those straight away and leave whatever belongings we could in them, before heading back up to one of the bars for a drink.  It was at this point that we had one of the most amusing moments of the week-end!  Entry to the cabins (which we took ages to find, hidden as they were down in the very bowels of the ship), was gained by coded cards, which didn’t seem to work particularly well. Alan managed to break in half the entry card for the cabin he was sharing with Jeff, Jim and Ian!  Fortunately, I think it still worked afterwards and he didn’t have to go back and get another!

 

It was about 12.30 am by the time we got back to the bar for a drink.  We were all feeling pretty tired at this stage, but there was one final and very important task to be performed - l’addition!  As in 1996, Ian had been unable to persuade anybody this year to undertake the thankless task of keeping the accounts (as you know, I did it way back and Peter did it in 1995), so Ian himself did the deed.  I couldn’t believe how quickly he managed it - in about 15 minutes!  I well remember that when I did it, it took me most of the journey home!


 

I was very pleased with the outcome of Ian’s deliberations.  For the first time I found that, instead of owing money to others, I was actually owed money!  I had paid a couple of quite large bills early in the week-end and this meant that I was actually to the good when the final reckoning was completed.  So I found myself bringing back to England more money than I had originally anticipated.  

 

By 1.00 am I finally made it to the duty-free shop (just before it closed), as I was determined to get myself a bottle of calvados!  After this, it was off to one of the bars for a final cup of coffee before retiring.  By 1.20 we had decided to retire to our cabins, as we would be back in Portsmouth by 5.45 am English time.  Martyn, Peter and I were settled in our bunks in the cabins when Peter realised that he had not brought his jacket back with him from the bar in which we had taken our coffee.  So he had to re-dress and go in search of it!  Thankfully, about ten minutes later he returned, with his jacket, safe and sound.  Peter is a super bloke and I enjoy his company enormously, but he can be a little scatter-brained at times!

 

I managed a reasonable sleep in my bunk, but was the first to rise at about 4.45 a.m.  I went outside to stretch my legs before coming back to have a quick wash and brush-up.  We were all up and about by about 5.20, and made our rendezvous on one of the upper decks, as the Pride of Portsmouth docked in its home port bang on time (for the journey, that is, it was, of course, an hour late because of the still unexplained delay in departure) at 5.45 a.m.

 

Martyn’s car was off the ferry very quickly, having been parked in a different position to Ian’s, so much so that we were back at Ian’s home in Chilworth by 6.35 am, when the process of unloading the BMW and transferring possessions to our own cars commenced.  Ian arrived only ten minutes later, much quicker than we had expected.   After a quick cup of tea and the usual “See you next year” farewells, Peter and I were back on the road, to deliver him back to his home in Ashley Heath.  I left Peter at 7.40 a.m., having received a message from Hilda that Jayne had telephoned, in the hope that I would be able to get home before the boys left for school!  I just about managed it, arriving at 8.00 a.m.!


 

So that was the 1997 Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans in as much detail as I can now recall.  After the event, I purchased the video of the race, and went over to Peter’s to watch his video, which proved to be very good indeed!  Peter had decided to concentrate on the video camera this year, rather than still photographs, but, as I write this part of the story in November, I’m still waiting for a copy, Peter, over four months later!  (2020 Edit - I've still never received it!).  

 

About six weeks after the race, I received the balance of my pack from the ACO, which included another poster, the promised photographs of the winning car and the winning drivers on the podium and the full results list, which was quite incredible, not only including all the hourly updates, but also details of each and every pit stop made by each and every car.  An anorak's dream!  As you can imagine, I spent hours and hours poring over this information over the next month or so.

 

Of course, my films were put in to be developed the same day and were received the day after.  (I was on holiday for the whole week after Le Mans!).  I was generally very pleased with the photographs, particularly those taken from the building in the Welcome Area although I still wished I had taken a lot more shots, particularly during the night.  My flash shots through the debris fencing were, as in 1996, a complete disaster!  I promise I shall learn from this!


2020 Edit - Having just finished the revision to the 1997 story towards the end of August 2020, it's incredible to think that these events were over 23 years ago.  It was a small team of just six of us, and sadly two of those are no longer with us.  

 

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