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Le Mans 1999 Ayse's Story

Page 8 - Saturday 12th June

The Welcome, A Meal and a Flying Mercedes



The journey turned out to be both time-consuming and not a little unpleasant as a terrible bottle-neck of people had occurred at the Ford Chicane in front of the Maison Blanche grandstand, where the width of the road was severely reduced by people standing several deep spectating in front of the fencing and the large number of people trying to get past in both directions.  Carrying a large camera bag as I was it was very difficult to move and I was relieved when I managed to get through and head towards the Village via the underpass at the start-finish straight.  By the time I had walked up through the Village and had a quick look in the shops there, it was about 5.40 p.m. - less than an hour to go before the rendezvous.  I made my way into the “Welcome Area” and quickly negotiated the steps up to the top of “my building”.  Unfortunately it was absolutely packed and I only managed to fire off a couple of quick shots before I gave it up as a bad job, thinking that I could always come back again later.  This proved to be a very bad move, as that “later” never came!


My decision to press on was largely dictated by my desire to get over to the ACO offices at the back of the Village to pick up my List des Engagées.  I had collected my programme and poster while we were at the circuit the previous day, but the List des Engagées was not ready at that time.  If we were going to be heading back to the cars for the trip back to Le Grand Lucé, I wanted to take the chance to pick it up now, so I could put it straight into my bag in the boot of Martyn’s car.   On arrival at the ACO office, I was directed inside and had to wait some time while the lady official there dealt with another query.  It was while she was doing this that I noticed her name badge - yes, you’ve guessed it - it was my “friend” Françoise Fournier!  I addressed her by name and after a quick look at my ticket, I'm sure she recognised my name as well, although she was far too busy to enter into any conversation at the time.  My List des Engagées safely stored away, I took a jus d’orange in the reception area, before realising that I ought to press on to the champagne stall, as it was by now about 6.20 pm.


By the time I arrived outside the champagne stall most of the Tourists were there already.  As far as I could see, only Alan and (I think), Mark and Clive were missing and they all turned up about ten minutes later.  I must admit that I was beginning to get just a little peeved at all this hanging about while there was a race going on.  Its not that I don’t enjoy a glass of champagne, I had one and it was very good, but one was enough for me.  In the end, we spent the best part of an hour outside the champagne stall which for me was a terrible waste of race watching time, bearing in mind that we would be losing a substantial part of the daylight race due to the journey back to Le Grand Lucé for dinner.  We could have been using this time watching at the Dunlop Curve or down at the Esses, or I could have gone back to the “Welcome Area” for half an hour.  Ian decided that it was time to leave the circuit but he wanted to take a trip out to Arnage and Indianapolis.  I was very much in favour of this as the Arnage/Indianapolis section of the track is one of my favourite viewing spots.  Nevertheless, I was a bit worried about the time element, as it was by now about 7.15 pm and we were due back at Le Cheval Blanc for dinner at 8.30.  If we were to take a trip out to Arnage and Indianapolis now, it was certain that we would be late back.


Ian disappeared with Robert, Mark and Clive as his car was parked further away near Tertre Rouge.  After another fifteen minutes or so of deliberation, the rest of us headed back to the garage rouge.  We had all decided (unfortunately), that it was pointless to go to Arnage and Indianapolis now as it would take at least half an hour (probably longer), to get from car park to car park leaving us with little or no time to watch the race before we had to leave to get back for dinner.  I think Martyn was also thinking of Madame and Monsieur at Le Cheval Blanc, who had agreed to feed us, not realising until about 11.00 that morning that this would be the case.  It would have been unfair for all of us to roll back there at 9.00 pm when we were expected at 8.30.  So the two cars left the garage rouge at about 7.45 pm arriving back at Le Grand Lucé about thirty-five minutes later.  Our dinner table had been prepared at the back of the restaurant, so we would be able to see when Ian and co. returned to the car park there.  We had time for a quick dash upstairs to the room which was to be occupied by Martyn and Alan to have a wash and brush-up before dinner, and then it was back down to the bar for a drink and to await the arrival of the remaining Tourists.


After about a quarter of an hour, Ian’s M3 arrived in the car park, and Robert dashed in with alarming news which had just been announced on Radio Le Mans.  The No. 5 Mercedes, driven by Peter Dumbreck, had repeated Mark Webber’s alarming flying display from practice and warm-up, and had literally flown off of the circuit into the trees, either on the Mulsanne or on the run to Indianapolis.  There was as yet no news of the driver (who, I learned later, was only fifteen minutes into his first stint at the wheel on his Le Mans race debut).  The mood was sombre as the chances of a driver surviving a flight into the trees off the circuit seemed remote and my own mind went back immediately to my first Le Mans in 1986, when Jo Gartner was killed when his Kremer Porsche went off the road on the Mulsanne.  Unfortunately, although Ian’s car radio could pick up Radio Le Mans in the car park of the hotel, my pocket radio could pick up nothing at all inside.  So unless someone was minded to go out and listen to the radio in one of the cars, we would have to wait until the journey back to the circuit later that night to find out what was happening.


We had a really good meal that night at Le Cheval Blanc, so much so that I was pleased with the group decision to eat there.  I'm certain that Ian had some misgivings about it otherwise he would have booked the meal when booking the rooms, months earlier, but I believe that he was also pleased with the decision.  Certainly, he and Robert seemed to enjoy the garlic mussels they had for a starter (and I must admit they looked wonderful!).  I had petoncles, a small variety of scallop in a warm salad (also very good), followed by a white fish called grenadier (and I never discovered exactly what it was but it was a deep sea fish, apparently), and as my main course, a steak in a Roquefort sauce.  The fish was a little bland and the steak a little tough, but I enjoyed the meal (and the crême caramel which followed it).


One thing I haven’t mentioned so far was the weather.  It had been completely dry through the day, and we had heard earlier on that there was only a very small chance of rain.  We were not expecting too much therefore, when a few spots of rain started to pitter-patter onto the corrugated perspex roof of the room in which we were eating.  I thought this would probably turn out to be similar to last year (although a little earlier), when it rained just enough to make life difficult for the drivers, but the weather was about to surprise us!   Within five minutes, the rain was pouring down in torrents.  The car park was awash, and Ian even ran out to his car, Robert having sown the seed that he might have left his sunroof open - it wasn’t fortunately!  By the time he returned, only ten seconds later, he was soaked through!  The rain was now clattering onto the roof, making such a racket that it was difficult to be heard above the noise and the water was cascading off the roof and being blown in through the open door, which Madame had to close.   So now I was worried!  I was as always 100% determined to return to the circuit for the whole of the night, and I had my waterproof poncho and my "jack-in-a-pack" to protect me from the worst of the weather, but if it was raining like this at the circuit and if it continued to do so, the spectator areas would soon be turned into quagmires and several hours of this during the night would be pretty depressing!


After about twenty minutes, the rain began to ease and it soon became clear that although everything was still very wet outside, the rain was stopping.  Well, that was something!  Everyone was trying to imagine what must be going on back at the circuit - if it had rained like that there, they must have come close to having to run the race under the pace cars!  At the same time someone, Ian I suspect, made the point, quite rightly, that the weather in this area was notoriously unpredictable, and the fact that it had rained heavily here did not necessary mean that it had done so half an hour’s drive away at Le Mans.  One thing was certain however, it was time to get back to the circuit to find out!















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