Le Mans 1999 - Ayse's Story
Page 9 - Saturday 12th June
The Esses and Tertre Rouge at Night
By the time we had assembled out by the cars allowing some extra time to for Peter to change and lose his bum-bag, it was well after 11.00 pm. The decision was soon made not to go straight back to the garage rouge, but instead to make our customary visit to the restaurants on the Mulsanne Straight. The journey there was quite quick bearing in mind that it was effectively on route to the garage rouge and we drove into the car park at about 11.30. I was astonished to see so few cars there. Although it would be right to say that the number of cars to be found in that area of the circuit has diminished greatly over the years (in the Jaguar heyday from '86 to '90, that particular car park was always packed), I had expected to find some difficulty in parking, bearing in mind the very big crowd this year. As it happens, we had no difficulty at all. The first thing I noticed was the complete absence of any sign of rain. The cars in the car park were kicking up dust as they drove in and out and the grass underfoot didn’t appear to be wet at all. It just goes to prove the point which Ian had made back at the restaurant. I was relieved as I had previously had visions of walking around in a mud-bath, with perhaps more rain to come. Thankfully, the skies were clear, and there was no sign of any more rain on the horizon.
We made our way as usual to the fencing alongside the Restaurant des 24 Heures, and spent ten minutes or so watching the cars roar past at undiminished speed in the darkness. We didn’t stop long as Ian was well aware of the need to get back to the main spectator areas for a quick look at what was going on before heading back to Le Grand Lucé. Of course, a journey back to the circuit was essential, if only to drop Peter and I off for the night! As it turned out, the two of us were to be the only Tourists staying at the circuit through the night. Originally the plan had been for Ian and Robert to join us, for the simple reason that there were only beds for eight of the team at Le Cheval Blanc. I know Ian had been concerned about this as over the last two or three years, he had reluctantly accepted that as one of the drivers, it was essential for him to get some sleep during the night. A couple of hours of unsatisfactory sleep in the car was no longer enough to keep him awake and alert for the journey away from the circuit the next day. Bearing in mind that our journey on Sunday evening was an important one as we needed to get back to Le Havre for the night boat back to Portsmouth, it was all the more essential for Ian to be fit for that journey. For this reason Ian and Robert had been toying with the idea of simply kipping down in one of the rooms, but this became unnecessary as just before we left Le Cheval Blanc, Monsieur told Ian that another room had become available so Ian gratefully accepted it for Robert and himself.
Back to the circuit then and we arrived in the garage rouge at around midnight. Once again, we had problems finding somewhere to park three cars in the packed car park, but, for the first time during the week-end, a car park marshall actually appeared to locate some spaces for us - miracles never cease! I donned some warmer gear for the night-time, including a comfortable fleece which my sister had given me for my birthday. Although the weather had been exceptionally good (except while we were eating our dinner!), I knew that as the night wore on, it would get a bit chilly out in the open. Soon we were back through the entrance and a decision was made to head down into the fairground. Not my choice, I have to say, as I lost interest in the fairground at Le Mans a number of years ago. Nevertheless, it was clear that the fairground was more extensive, in terms of the attractions there, than it had been last year. For the first time for at least ten years, there was actually a Ferris wheel down towards the Esses, which made a splendid sight in the night sky. In fact Ian, Robert and Alan were keen to have a go, and if I didn’t have such a terrible head for heights, I might have been tempted to join them, as the view of the circuit from the top of the wheel must have been sensational.
and I waited for some minutes while the others queued for their ride as I was
hoping to take a few photographs of them as they ascended, but it was obvious
they had quite a long wait in the queue so we decided to say our goodbyes and
to press on to a suitable vantage point to catch up with the race. We had already covered ourselves by agreeing
a rendezvous point and time with Ian for our journey back to Le Grand Lucé
(later) in the morning. We were to meet
Ian just outside the main entrance at 8.30 am.
Peter and I made our way to the edge of the circuit at the Esses. I had brought my tripod with me from Martyn’s car and set this up for the first of the evening’s light-trail shots of the cars at the Esses and on down towards Tertre Rouge. We must have stayed in this position for about twenty minutes before moving on a bit further around the Esses and up the hill for a better view. No sooner had we done this, but we realised we were standing just in front of the other ten Tourists! Those who had wanted to had taken their trip on the Ferris wheel (and had very much enjoyed it, by all accounts). Pretty soon however, Ian called time and we said our goodbyes to the rest of the team as they made their way back to the cars in the garage rouge. Over the space of the next hour or so the Terrible Twosome remained in the vicinity of the Esses, Peter using his video camera, while I continued with the light-trail shots, some of them (I hoped), including the Ferris wheel in the background.
gradually meandered on down towards Tertre Rouge not getting there until just
before 3.00 am. Again, we both settled
down to our familiar routines, enjoying the atmosphere that only the Le Mans 24
Hours can produce during the night. Our
reveries were shattered when Peter learned from Radio Le Mans that Thierry Boutsen had gone off the track in the
leading Toyota. This car, following all
sorts of trials and tribulations for the Martin Brundle sister car, had been
taking the fight to the leading BMW of Lehto, Kristensen and Müller for the
last few hours. It transpired that
Boutsen had been forced off the road by the Estoril Porsche and the car which I
had forecast for victory from the outset was out. No repeat of last year’s success therefore for Allan McNish, and worse still, the news was that Boutsen had been injured
in the shunt.
This took a little edge off our enjoyment of the race as both of us had been rooting for Toyota from the outset, and it seemed fairly unlikely that the three Japanese drivers in the last of the three Toyotas would be able to challenge the leading BMW which was continuing to run faultlessly. It looked very much as though Toyota’s Le Mans jinx had struck once again, much to our disappointment.