Le Mans 1999 - Ayse's Story
Page 3 - Friday 11th June
The First Friday Arrival
We eventually pulled out of the car park, I suppose at about 10.00 am with a journey of just over two hours in front of us, subject to traffic and so on. There was quite a bit of traffic around which slowed down our progress, which was also hampered by the fact that we were a three-car convoy, so we were constantly checking behind to make sure that Jim was still with us... We were well into the journey and making good progress after being held up quite badly by a number of lorries and other slow vehicles, when we noticed that Jim’s Audi was no longer in sight. We weren’t particularly bothered as this had already happened two or three times and all we had to do was to slow our pace and wait for him to catch up. We did this, but there was still no sign of him. Eventually, it was decided that it would be better to pull over and wait a few minutes for him to catch up.
Ian and Martin pulled over in front of a roadside bar and we all got out to stretch our legs. Robert went across the road to stand on the bank opposite, where he would see Jim’s car first. (He would regret this later in the day as he was suffering from hay fever and the bank had been newly-mown!). We waited. Then we waited some more and there was still no sign of Jim. Thoughts were beginning to turn to an accident or breakdown and we were just about to send one of the cars to go and look for him, when the silver Audi came into view at last. Poor Jim had been stopped for speeding! He had been stuck behind some very slow-moving vehicles and had finally got past them and put his foot down in order to catch us up, when a gendarme stepped out in front of him and stopped him. He had been clocked at 132 kph in (I think) a 110 kph limit, the result of which was a 600 franc on-the-spot fine (about £60.00). Fortunately Jeff had quite a few francs and was able to pay up. He was lucky as the gendarme indicated that if he had been travelling at 140 kph or more, the fine would have been 5000 francs! Out of fairness, we all agreed to put the cost of Jim’s ticket into l’addition to be spread between the twelve of us. Surprisingly perhaps, it was the first time any of our drivers had been stopped for speeding in my fourteen years of Le Mans... It just had to be Jim!
With this little diversion over, it was back into the cars to complete the journey to Le Mans. That journey from Honfleur had taken us through Bernay, Broglie, St. Evroult de Montfort, Nonant le Pin, Sées, Alençon, Fyé, Juillé, Beaumont sur Sarthe, St. Jeanne D’Assé and St. Saturnin. We reached Le Mans at about 12.30 pm and were soon heading down the familiar road running alongside the sprawling rouge car park. On arrival at the main entry gates we were surprised to find them locked, so we had to turn around and head back towards another entrance, situated roughly opposite the run down to the Esses on the circuit. The marshal there was initially unwilling to let us in as we didn’t have garage rouge car park tickets yet, however, to our amazement he accepted our promise to purchase the tickets as soon as possible and allowed us to park. So we parked up and collected together whatever gear we thought we might need for the rest of the afternoon. I took the opportunity to hand over the enceintes generales which I had previously purchased for Martyn, Alan, Ian and Robert. I had given Peter his a couple of weeks earlier.
This was quite a strange experiences for me, arriving a day
early and finding the cars parks almost empty, no queues to get in and
relatively few people milling around the spectator areas. Once we were into the circuit (Jim, Jeff,
Richard, Mark and Clive pausing to buy their entry tickets), we made our way
straight over the Dunlop Bridge and down behind the Dunlop Chicane into the
Village. After pausing for a while
to look at some of the shops and stalls in the Village (a little longer to
allow Peter to buy a Toyota hat!), we then went into the “Welcome Area”. We had no
problem as there was no restriction on entry on Friday.
idea had been to get a drink from the bar in the “Welcome Area” but this was closed. I wasn’t too disappointed as I wanted to get
up on top of “my building” to savour that exceptional view again. The building roof was deserted and we spent
ten minutes or so up there, watching the crowds milling around in the pits
below. In fact, I was paying very close attention to the pits, as I
was beginning to fancy my chances of getting in there. Before long, I was urging Ian and the rest
down towards the back of the pits grandstand to begin my search for a way in. The others may have been in need of a drink,
but I had more important things on my mind!
first success was to gain access to the stairway above the back of the pits over the team transporters. In
truth, this was hardly a major coup as it appeared that this view at least, was
available to all. Nevertheless, it was
encouraging and not a little rewarding, as it was a view I hadn't previously
experienced at Le Mans. I was able to
take quite a few shots from this area, looking down on the transporters. With only twenty-four hours
to go to the start of the race, this area was a hive of activity, with team
personnel going through their carefully planned routines to get the cars ready
for tomorrow’s race. Spare bodywork
parts were being prepared, including nose sections for the ORECA Vipers and
gantry over this area also led up to the rear entrance at the top of the main
pits grandstand. As you may recall, Ian,
Martyn, Alan and I had been lucky enough to get onto the old pit balcony in
1990, the last year of the old pits which dated from 1955, the new complex
being built after that race in readiness for the Le Mans of 1991. This was the first time since then that I had
been able to look across the track from this vantage point to the tribunes and
the famous ACO grandstand on the other side of the track. The view was an eerie one, as the tribunes
and the grandstand were completely empty and we knew that this time tomorrow,
they would be packed to bursting-point (and Ian would still try and find a
place in there!).
It had always been obvious how steeply raked the pits grandstand was and I had wondered many times just how good a view the spectators had from their seats. That steepness was almost alarming, standing right at the back of the grandstand, looking down (as you can see from the photographs which I took at the time). I remember saying to Peter that I didn’t fancy watching the race from here - I would be afraid of tripping and falling over the edge! In fact, although the spectators sitting here would have a fine view of the start and finish straight (and I would have loved to have taken some photographs from there of the cars lined up ready for the start tomorrow!), they could not see anything at all of the pits underneath the grandstand. For £50 a seat, I would have preferred a ticket for the ACO grandstand, or even those at Maison Blanche or Dunlop (all three of which I have graced with my presence, in 1993, 1992 and 1990, respectively).
2021 Edit - the pits grandstand, aka T34, would in time become one of my favourite vantage points at Le Mans.