Le Mans 1999 - Ayse's Story
Page 13 - Sunday 13th June
Honfleur Again and Home
I quickly made my way to the exit, fully expecting to be the first person back to the cars, and I was surprised to find most of the team already there, with the exception of Mark and Clive. It appears they had become separated from Ian and the rest and there was concern that it might be some time before they got back to the cars - it can take a good half hour to get back to the garage rouge from the Ford Chicane area. It was decided that Martyn should press on anyway, while Ian waited for the missing pair. We were soon out of the garage rouge and on our journey away from the circuit. This time, we didn’t travel in convoy, as Jim (still with Jeff, Richard and Steve) was travelling back to catch the ferry at Cherbourg, while we were on route to the ferry terminal at Le Havre. Inevitably, the journey to Honfleur (where it seemed likely we would take dinner before completing the journey to Le Havre), doesn’t feature too much in my memory, as I was asleep for most of it. I do remember our petrol stop and overtaking a open-topped double-decker bus, the occupants of which seemed to be having a great time berating the locals!
We arrived in Honfleur at about 8.00 pm and made a bee-line for the harbour where we wandered around, looking out for Ian and the other three, just in case they had overtaken us on the road somewhere but they arrived in the harbour a matter of two or three minutes after us and, after a quick consultation, the decision was made to take dinner in the Bar de Bisquine, the same place that we had enjoyed a great breakfast the previous Friday morning. I passed on the starter, but enjoyed a pleasant chicken dish and coffee. It was nice to round off the Le Mans trip, in much the same way as the trip had started on Friday. We were away from Honfleur just after 9.30 for the short trip over the two bridges back to Le Havre, to catch our 10.30 pm ferry back to Portsmouth. There was no delay at all as we were onto the Pride of Portsmouth within a matter of ten minutes or so, whereupon we made our way straight to our cabins (sharing as on Thursday night). Martyn, Alan, Peter and I were in cabin 356 on deck number 9 (for those interested in the ultimate detail!).
The first item on the agenda was a shower and Alan went first while the rest
of us made our way to the duty-free shop, where I purchased a bottle of
calvados and one or two things for the boys.
I had my shower at about 11.00 pm by which time we were well on our
way on the journey home, and then I headed back up to the bar to join the rest
for a drink. Although I did manage to
get a quick go on the Le Mans games machines, I was by now pretty
tired, and I made my way back to the cabin to get some well-earned sleep around
midnight, leaving the others in the bar.
I learned afterwards from Peter that they didn’t retire until near 2.00
am by which time I was fast asleep.
The four of us in our cabin were woken by an alarm at 4.30 am English time. But this wasn’t the ship’s early morning call, it was Peter’s travel alarm, as he had forgotten to allow for the time difference when he set it! We managed to dress and get up to the bar for a quick cup of coffee (and croissants for some), before it was time to head back down to the cars. We left the Pride of Portsmouth at 6.30 am and arrived back at Ian’s home in Chilworth half an hour or so later, to be joined by Ian and the rest about ten minutes later. After a quick cup of coffee, Peter and I said our farewells for another year and made the journey back to Lymington, managing to catch Jayne and the boys before they went to school. After dropping Peter off at Milford-on-Sea, I returned home.
That then, brings the story of the Tourists trip to Le Mans 1999 to a close.
I was soon travelling into Southampton to deposit my films for
developing and picking them up the next day.
In due course of time, the rest of my ACO Le Mans pack arrived (leaving
me the long job of preparing the pit-stop schedule), and, in August, I
purchased the video of the race, which turned out to be pretty good (even if
the cameras failed to capture some of the major action, including Lehto’s crash
in the BMW).
can I say about Le Mans 1999? It was a great race, albeit disappointing in certain respects, the
weather was marvellous (we were lucky that the only rain occurred while we were
under shelter at Le Grand Lucé), and the company was excellent. For me, the concept of going over to France a
few hours earlier on the Thursday evening was an absolute winner - the
high-point of the week-end though for me, was the opportunity to visit the circuit on
the Friday and get in to the pits - and it was of no real consequence to me
that, because of Ian’s other commitment, we missed out on the overnight stop on
Sunday night. Given the chance I would
certainly like to get to the circuit again on the Friday, although I know that
one or two of the others, Alan in particular, would probably prefer the option
of spending some more time in France, somewhere other than at the circuit. Nevertheless, I know that Ian enjoyed the
experience, and as the man in charge, I may be able to persuade him to do the
The one disappointment for me was that I didn’t really get to do the things I would normally have liked to do during the night of the race. Peter and I spent too long in one place and as a result, I missed out on the time I wanted to spend on top of the “Welcome” building. I recognise, of course that in the circumstances, doing much more in terms of walking would have been difficult for Peter and I was willing to trade off this disappointment for the unmissable opportunity to spend several hours in the pits on the Friday. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose (but next year, if the chance should arise), I hope I can do both!
2021 Edit - So this was Le Mans, 22 years ago. With a degree of irony I'm finishing this update on what should have been raceday at Le Mans in 2021. The fact that it's not happening and moreover that I'm not there is a surprisingly powerful feeling - much more so than I felt in June 2020 when I still harboured hopes of being there in September. Looking back at what was a fairly typical long weekend for the Tourists at Le Mans, I can't help but chuckle at my excitement at being at the circuit on Friday - the day before the race, or of being able to do a pitwalk. These days of course (or until 2019 anyway) by the Friday I would have been in France for nearly a week already and the start of the race actually signals the closing stages of the trip. I was very satisfied at the time, but nothing but the full event could satisfy me now. The other noticeable thing from 1999 is that in contrast to 1998, when I was very pleased with my photographic efforts, 1999 was one of my poorest years behind the camera - especially during the night. I so wish I'd taken a lot more of the Toyota TS020, my favourite Le Mans car. Look out for the millenium Le Mans update coming soon!