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Le Mans 1999 Ayse's Story

Page 5 - Friday 11th June

Back at Vendôme



After about an hour, we left the bar with the intention of heading off from Le Mans for our overnight stop at Vendôme.    One or two of the Tourists, Alan in particular, were keen to make a move.  I got the impression that Alan was rather perplexed as although he enjoys the race, he's never been a committed fan like myself or Ian or Peter.  For Alan the major enjoyment of the weekend comes with the eating and drinking and visiting different parts of France, which we tended to do on the Monday after the race.  This year of course, we wouldn't be doing that, but I think Alan would have preferred to spend the Friday doing something completely different, away from the circuit.  I could sympathise with him - to some extent.  As we walked away from the paddock and grandstand area (waiting for Jim who had become separated, yet again), I was reflecting on what a strange sensation it had been to arrive at the circuit a day early and now to be going away again after two or three hours, only to return tomorrow for the race itself.  In a funny sort of way, it almost felt as if I'd already experienced Le Mans 1999, as, in a sense, we were getting two bites at the cherry this year...  For me it had been a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.  In the past, I've always been fairly successful in getting into places on race circuits where I wasn’t really supposed to be and I took substantial pleasure from the fact that my initiative had enabled all of us to get into the paddock and the pits to have a really good look at the cars before the race. 


Much to Alan’s chagrin, we were further held up as Robert decided it was time for him to make his merguez debut at Le Mans.  Having heard his father and I talking about them many times previously (and Ian and I are the only ones who are willing to eat them!), he couldn’t wait any longer to try one.  So, Robert, Ian and I made our way back into the Village to find a stall selling merguez and frites and Robert tried his luck.  I think he must have quite liked them as this would not be his only merguez of the weekend!   Before we headed back to the cars, I visited the ACO office at the back of the Village to pick up my programme and poster.  I couldn’t get the List des Engagées yet as this wouldn't be available until Saturday.  Alan, Jeff and Richard had already set off for the cars when we noticed a series of static displays of BMWs, Chryslers, Mercedes and other cars, situated behind the Dunlop Chicane area of the circuit.  We kept them waiting for another fifteen minutes or so, while we took a look at the displays, during which I picked up a set of photographs of the Mercedes drivers, with facsimile autographs.  At this time, it should be noted, we were still assuming that all three Mercedes would be in the race tomorrow, despite a big practice accident for Mark Webber.


With nothing else to delay us we finally arrived back at the cars in the top of the garage rouge at about 4.30 pm.  I was feeling rather tired and looking forward to a shower and a change of clothes at Vendôme.  My new blue shoes (which I had forgotten to change out of that morning), were already covered in the familiar orange sand of the Circuit de la Sarthe.  At about 4.45 pm all three cars left the garage rouge for what I expected to be a straight run to Vendôme, travelling through Parigné L’Evêque, Le Grand Lucé (to which we would return tomorrow morning), St. Vincent du L’Orouer, Brives and Lhomme.  It came as a surprise, therefore, when at about 5.15 pm we headed off the main road to make a stop at La Chartre sur le Loir.  We had passed through this famous town on a number of occasions in previous years, although we had never actually stopped there.  This time we did stop to take a beer in the equally famous Hotel de France.  The hotel, like the town itself, is steeped in Le Mans history, having been a favourite watering-hole for many of the Le Mans teams and drivers in the past, in particular, John Wyer’s Aston Martin team in the mid to late '50’s.  The walls of the bar were festooned with all kinds of memorabilia, from signed prints and photographs to steering wheels.   Although our journey to La Chartre sur le Loir had been relatively short, it had been a hot day and the beer we took at the Hotel de France was very welcome.  What wasn’t so welcome was the small dent that Ian received to his BMW’s passenger door while parked in the crowded car park there, thanks to some careless driver or passenger.


After half an hour or so, it was back to the three cars to continue our journey to Vendôme.  Martyn put his foot down on this final part of the journey, as he was convinced Ian had motored on ahead.  We passed through Poncé sur le Loir, Pont de Braye, Troo, Montoire sur le Loir, Les Roches L’Evêque and Varennes, arriving in Vendôme at about 6.30 pm.  As it happened, we were the first to arrive.  Ian had got caught behind (only by about five minutes or so), apparently waiting for us to catch him up!   We were soon trying to sort out the arrangements for the rooms with Madame, which was quite confusing, as there were several single, double and triple-bedded rooms.  You may recall that Ian had originally booked for only eight people, only later increasing the number to twelve, when it was known that Jim and his pals would be joining us.  In order to accommodate us all the hotel had put a couple of smaller put-me-up type beds in the two largest rooms, and I agreed to take one of these, sharing with Mark and Clive.


Talking of Jim’s pals, it was strange to be a full day into a Le Mans trip and yet still to meet one of the Tourists!  We were still missing Steve, who had already been in France for several days on business.  Jim had managed to make contact with him via his mobile ‘phone while on route to the circuit that morning.  Steve was apparently, already in Vendôme, having travelled there by train the previous night.  With no transport of his own he couldn't get to the circuit to meet us.  Apparently, at the time we arrived at Vendôme, he was out exploring the town somewhere.


After a quick shower and change of clothes, the speedier Tourists were soon down to the square outside the hotel, taking a beer in the evening sunshine from the bar next door.  The others joined us, one by one, by which time I had moved from beer to pastis.  The last to arrive was Steve, who had been investigating the town’s cathedral.  The time for dinner was fast approaching and I was really looking forward to my starter of paté de fois gras!  We soon moved through to the tables, only to be greeted with the disappointing news that the full menu wasn't available to us after all.  As the numbers in our party were so great, in order to speed up the meal, the chef had prepared us a special menu, consisting of melon and parma ham, followed by veal, the hotel’s incredible cheese board, and a mixed sorbet with fresh forest-type fruits.  Although I was disappointed to miss out on my fois gras, the food was excellent and the service superb.  Ee had the same waiter as in 1996 and 1997, a very pleasant fellow who spoke excellent English, who kindly took a couple of snaps for me with James’ (my younger son’s) compact camera, which I had brought with me for just this purpose (to save me having to lug my SLR around at the dinner table). 


Our excellent meal came to a close with coffee at about 11.00 pm, whereupon we sorted out a decent tip for our waiter, who had given us such fine service.  After that it was down to the appropriately named Bar St. Martin in the centre of the town (a familiar haunt from '96 and '97), for a glass or two of calvados (for me, anyway!).  We all went down to the bar, but after half an hour or so, Ian, Robert, Alan, Richard, Jeff and Peter decided it was time for some sleep, and headed back to the hotel.  The remainder decided to stay on for another couple of drinks.  I was persuaded to stay by Mark and Clive, who said I might as well, as they had the key to the room and if I took it, they would have to wake me up when they returned to the hotel anyway!


In fact, a couple of drinks turned to four or five (I certainly enjoyed my calvados that night), and, after a number of games of table football inside the bar, we finally left as it was closing at about 1.45 a.m.  So much for appropriate preparation for a 24 hour motor race (but, then again, I’ve said that same thing before, haven’t I!).















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