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Le Mans 1999 Ayse's Story

Page 2 - Thursday/Friday 10th/11th June

Le Mans #14



I woke up on the Thursday morning knowing that I had a nice relaxing day to enjoy before setting off on my much-anticipated trip to La Sarthe.  Normally I take the Thursday off work anyway, so that I can be packed and ready to go early on Friday morning, however the sense of anticipation was heightened somehow by the fact that we would be departing that very same evening.  I had a number of things to do not the least of which was to pack.  I had purchased a new grip but was wondering whether it was going to big enough - only time would tell.  I had prepared my usual checklist of all the things I would need, with my passport and my French francs at the top of the list. I nipped into Totton to buy some food for the rabbit and guinea-pigs, getting back about 11.00 a.m.  I then set about cleaning my camera and lenses (as I do just prior to a Le Mans departure - the only time the camera gets a really good clean during the year!).  Everything in the camera bag looked rosy, and I loaded up the Fuji 100, 200 and 400 ASA films I had bought for the trip. I had bought these from MX2, a company based in Guernsey who seemed able to undercut everyone else considerably on price. I also had batteries for my flashgun and all sorts of spare bits and pieces to cover every eventuality.


The time had now come for the task of packing my new bag.  I had a new pair of shoes to wear and a couple of new pairs of trousers both to wear and take with me.  Far from struggling to get everything in that I needed, I found that all of the items on my checklist went in with no trouble at all - there was even some room to spare, which was good news, because you always end up bringing back more than you take!  The last thing I needed to do was to post a card to Jayne.  I always send her a card or two and, this year I had carefully planned the posting of two cards.  I knew that if I posted the first prior to mid-day on Thursday, it would make the collection at that time, and would hopefully be delivered on Friday morning.  The other card would be posted on route to pick up Peter, so it would not be collected until Friday morning, and would therefore be delivered on Saturday morning - clever, eh?


I had also bought cards for Toby and James, continuing the trend which I set for the first time a couple of years ago.  I left them both some money as well, as Toby would be setting off on an activities week at Calshot on Monday morning, and James could spend his during the weekend at Wolf Gang, or wherever!


Jayne returned home fleetingly, to see me off, as she had to dash out as soon as I was on the road.  I had primed Peter a couple of days earlier that I would be over to pick him up at around 6.45 p.m.  In the end, I left home at about 6.20.  Jayne remained absolutely super about the whole thing.  I know she appreciated she that the last twelve months had been particularly stressful for me at work and I was desperate for my annual fix of Le Mans to pick me up again  One of the cards I had posted was a “Thank You” for not just for putting up with me and my obsession with Le Mans, but more importantly, for always being there when I needed her. 


It was now 6.20 p.m. on Thursday, 10th June, 1999.  367 days had passed since Peter and I returned home from our Terrible Twosome trip to Le Mans in 1998.  It seemed quite incredible that yet another year had passed - it could almost have been just a couple of months ago!  Here I was, about to embark upon my 14th trip to Le Mans - an unbroken run dating back to 1986.  There was only one more thing that I wanted - sunshine!  If I had been a God-fearing man, I’m sure I would have been diligently saying my prayers for a weekend of uninterrupted sunshine for the last few weeks...  The goodbyes were said and I was on the road for Milford-on-Sea.  I soon reached Peter’s house and he was ready and raring to go.  I had left plenty of time to get to Ian’s.  I had allowed time to be held up at all sorts of places on the journey however, predictably perhaps, we sailed through all of the potential trouble spots and were soon pulling off the motorway at the Eastleigh junction, very early, at about 7.15 pm.  So that we didn’t arrive ridiculously early at Ian’s house, we parked up about a mile away for a ten-minute chat, before heading off again - talk about being keen!


In fact, I wasted another couple of minutes by contriving to drive past Ian’s house twice - I always had trouble spotting the entrance to his drive.  When I first went there in 1986, I drove up and down the road about a dozen times before I eventually found it.  We arrived at about 7.40 pm, 20 minutes early.  Peter and I were not quite the first of the Gordon’s Tourists to arrive.  Ian and son Robert were there, of course, as was Carol, his wife.  As you would expect, Robert looked a little different to the last time I saw him in 1991!  Also there, however was Martyn, who had driven down from Cardiff, arriving only half an hour or so before us!  Martyn still had the same BMW 523i which Peter and I had ridden in two years ago.  Martyn was due to change the car the following week for a 528i.  It was good to see him again.  Martyn and the Gordons were enjoying a meal when we arrived.  The intention, so I had thought, was to eat in Portsmouth before catching the ferry, although I had later assumed that as we were not meeting up until 8.00 p.m. (or earlier for some), we would be getting a bite to eat on the boat.  A bottle of red wine was cracked open, and Peter and I celebrated the start of the 1999 Le Mans weekend in fine style.


Next to arrive was Alan, who abandoned his MGB GT in the middle of the drive and joined us in a glass of wine.  Like Martin, I hadn’t seen Alan since the 1997 Le Mans weekend.  He was now practising in Winchester and rarely had cause to come to the Courts in Southampton.  Despite the fact that I had known him for something like 15 or 16 years, he doesn’t seem to change a bit.  Next on the scene was a former Tourist, Richard.  Richard came on the trips to Le Mans in 1988, 1991 and 1994, and I have said to him on a number of occasions that it is about time he joined us again.  As he had done in 1995, Richard had come over to Ian’s house (he lives just across the road) to see us off.  Funnily enough, I have probably seen more of Richard than most of the other Tourists (with the exception of Jim Taylor), as I bump into him from time to time at meetings at the Southampton County Court.  Richard took no persuading whatsoever to indulge in a glass of the house red! 


Clive and Mark were the next to arrive, chauffeured by Clive’s wife.  We all had fun watching Clive turning his car around in the minuscule space left around Alan’s MGB in the driveway.  Why someone didn’t just ask Alan to move the car was beyond me!  So eight of the gang were now here, and we awaited the arrival of Jim who was bringing Jeff with him.  It was at this point that I became aware that the tally of Tourists had gone back up to twelve.  After Jim’s friend had pulled out, Jeff had asked a friend of his, Richard if he would like to take the vacant place.  He apparently jumped at the chance, extending the number of Le Mans first-timers in 1999 to three.


Jim eventually arrived with Jeff and Richard (whose surname I didn’t note at any time during the weekend, I’m afraid).  The three cars were loaded up with bags and people.  Jeff and Richard would be sticking with Jim in his Audi A4.  Robert, Clive and Mark elected to travel with Ian in his M3, while Peter and I (having already loaded our bags into Martyn’s BMW), were joined by Alan.  Having said our farewells to Carol, promising her we would get Ian back in good time for his next trip on the Monday, we set off for Portsmouth at about 8.20 pm.


There was very little traffic about on a typical Thursday evening and during the journey Alan told us about his recent trip to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.  The lucky devil had received an invitation to attend as a guest with the full hospitality for the weekend!  After stopping for petrol in the customary place we were soon into the queue in the ferry terminal for our P & O ferry, the Pride of Portsmouth, which was to be our transport to France for the third year running.  We seemed to have struck it lucky, as our queue moved off towards the boat almost immediately, although there was some slight concern when, for some unknown reason, Ian’s car was selected for a spot-check by the Customs.  He was only delayed by about five minutes, however.  We were placed into one of four or five queues and it looked as if we would be among the first cars to get onto the ferry.  There was a delay however, and we sat in that queue for some considerable time.  The weather was pleasant and it was no hardship to stand around chatting and looking at some of the exotic machinery which was also heading over to Le Mans.  We eventually boarded the ferry at about 10.00 pm, and having collected our bags, we headed straight for our cabins.  Peter, Alan, Martyn and I were to share cabin number 229 on deck 10, which was relatively easy to find. 


Having stowed our gear, we made straight for the bar, and settled in for a few beers before eventually retiring for a few hours sleep.  The sailing was delayed, probably the result of the late arrival at Portsmouth of the ferry a couple of hours earlier.  The departure time was officially 10.15 pm, but it was almost 11.30 before we left Portsmouth harbour.  The good thing about a night crossing from Portsmouth to Le Havre, however, is that it is scheduled to take the best part of three hours longer than a day crossing, and I was assured that the hour we had lost would easily be made up during the journey.  We enjoyed a couple of beers, a baguette from the bar, plus a trip to the duty-free shop (almost for the last time with duty-free shopping coming to end on 30th June, 1999).  I then had a couple of goes on the Le Mans 24 Hours video game (the one Peter and I played with John and Fergus last year).  Not surprisingly, these machines were very popular with a large number of the travellers!  At about 1.00 a.m. (2.00 a.m. French-time), we finally decided to quit the bar and head off for our cabins for some sleep.  Bearing in mind that the morning alarm would be sounding at 6.00 a.m. (French-time), it was going to be a fairly short sleep! 


About ten seconds after my head hit the pillow (I was asleep after two!), the 6.00 a.m. alarm sounded, indicating that we would be docking at Le Havre in half an hour or so and that we would be able to disembark by about 7.00 am.  Martyn and I were up and about fairly quickly, and we wandered up to the Londoner Bar where we had coffee and croissants for breakfast.  We were soon back down to the cabin for a very quick wash and brush up, before packing our bags again.  Before too long we were making our way back down to the car decks to rejoin our transport and by 7.30 we were leaving the Pride of Portsmouth and heading out of the terminal.  The two BMWs had to wait for a minute or two, as there was initially no sign of Jim.  In a sense (and rather as I had suspected), it set the tone for the weekend, with Jim playing catch-up for most of the time - another of the things which doesn't seem to change!  Jim’s car joined the other two in a couple of minutes and we were soon heading out of Le Havre, towards the Pont de Tanquerville.  We paid our 33 francs at the péage (glad that we didn’t have to make the journey across the bridge to work a couple of times a day - very expensive!), and were on the road south - destination Le Mans!


Actually, this is not quite true, because our first destination was not Le Mans.  Although we were travelling south, our first port of call on a beautifully bright and sunny Friday morning was the picturesque harbour town of Honfleur, to which the Tourists have been regular visitors over the years.  Having eaten little since the previous afternoon/evening and with a long journey ahead of us direct to the circuit at Le Mans, there was a clear need for sustenance before getting seriously into the journey.  We therefore parked up in Honfleur and after a quick look around, we settled on the Bar La Bisquine, right on the harbour front, as the most suitable spot for breakfast.  It was very apt, actually, as you could have a Formula 1, 2 or 3 breakfast, with the Formula 3 being the best on offer, with eggs, unusual for a continental breakfast.  Everyone except Alan settled on the Formula 2, with coffee, croissants and bread, but Alan went for the Formula 3 - he didn’t want to miss his morning eggs!  When they arrived, a kind of cross between fried eggs and an omelette, I felt rather envious, and I wasn’t the only one! Never mind, the croissants were superb, the best I have tasted for a long time, and the bread was as good as fresh French bread always is.  Why is it you can’t buy bread like it in England?  They advertise bread made with French flour in the supermarkets but it doesn’t taste anything like the real thing...


It really was as pleasant a start as I could imagine to a Le Mans week-end.  We had the whole day to ourselves, the advantage of travelling overnight, instead of early in the morning, and to sit in the very warm early morning sunshine, drinking coffee and eating bread and croissants in excellent company - what could be better?


Still, we couldn’t stay here all day!  Ian had originally planned to be at Le Mans by about 11.30 a.m., but he hadn’t envisaged quite such a leisurely breakfast at Honfleur!  We finally dragged ourselves away from the harbour-front and headed back to the cars, where Robert started an impromptu game of football in the car park!  There are a couple of good shots in my photograph album of Martin in particular showing off his footballing skills!















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