Le Mans 2004
The Tourists' Story
When I started writing last year's story, I mentioned that Le Mans seemed to have come round very quickly. I'm pleased to report that I had much the same feeling this year, but even more so. The months after Christmas seemed to fly by, so much so that at the beginning of June I found myself rushing to do things I would normally have done by late April or early May.
Chief Tourist Ian had confirmed our itinerary in April. There would be 13 Tourists this June, with only two Le Mans newcomers.
So that everyone gets their rightful mention, the 2004 Tourists were: Ian, Robert, Alan, Martin, Richard, Mike, Dave, Howard, Chris, David, John and Jeff. Plus me, of course......
For the fourth year running our mode of travel was to be our faithful minibus, although 13 of us in a 17-seater bus was going to be a bit cramped!
The biggest development for me this year was my move at last from film to digital. The superb EOS 100 that had served me very well since 1992 was now gathering dust, having been replaced by an EOS 10D. So with batteries and CF cards galore (but absolutely no practice beforehand), I was ready with finger poised over the shutter button......
Our trip to Le Mans 2004 began on Thursday 10th June when the tourists made a fairly early evening rendezvous at Ian's home. After a glass or two of wine to get us in the right spirit, it was into our trusty (and since last year, refettled) bus for the trip to Portsmouth, to catch the 11.15 p.m. boat to Caen.
Bearing in mind our bus, and the coincidence of the Euro 2004 football championships, it came as no surprise when we were stopped by customs! (If you've ever seen our bus, you'll know why I say this!). After this, as usual, we had quite a wait for the ferry (along with plenty of other Le Mans travellers, a couple of vanloads of which were already the worse for wear!). But we were onto the boat soon enough, with bags being dumped in cabins and off for a meal before grabbing some shut-eye.
After an uneventful journey over, we were on the road from Caen by 7.30 a.m. and stopped for breakfast in a bar in Falaise. After that it was a good straight run through to Le Mans, where we arrived in the garage rouge at about 11.30 (on Friday morning).
After persuading the car park marshals to let us in to park and buy tickets, it was off into the circuit and, after the best part of three hours cooped up in the bus, a cold beer was definitely the first thought......
Having slaked our thirsts, as you can imagine, I was champing at the bit to get down into the pit lane, where I tried my customary trick of getting a shot of every car in the race.
As so often the case on the day before the big race, the weather was terrific for the walkabout and inevitably there were plenty of people clustered around the various Audi pits, plus the other top cars, such as Pescarolo, Zytek, Ferrari and Corvette.
And, of course, Le Mans just wouldn't be Le Mans without the ladies......
Time always flies when you're enjoying yourself and before long it was time for me to meet up again with the rest of the Tourists at the bar where we had started earlier in the day.
As it happens, I was the first to arrive there which gave me opportunity to devour the first merguez and frites of the weekend....... marvelous!
By 3.30-ish we were all together again and everyone had taken their late lunch, of varying descriptions. We decided to head off a little earlier than usual to our overnight stop - yes, as always, the Hotel Restaurant Le Cheval Blanc at Le Grand Luce.
Of course, one of the advantages of staying in Le Grand Luce is that it is then de rigeur to make the journey there via the Mulsanne straight......
......past the restaurants, just wishing we were doing 200mph+ in something rather more exotic......
Our arrival back at Le Cheval Blanc just after 4 signalled the start of the "scrum" for the best rooms (as usual). After a shower and a quick call home, there was plenty of time to catch up on last night's missed shut-eye and to re-charge the camera batteries before changing and heading off out to find the others - in a nearby bar - inevitably!
At 7.45 it was off to eat. As many times before, our evening meal would be taken at Le Belinois restaurant at Monce en Belin. And, as last year, my guest for the evening was Paul Truswel, commentator and Le Mans and sportscar expert from Radio Le Mans.
We had a very good meal and said farewell to Paul (wishing him well for the 24 hour marathon ahead) before heading back to Le Grand Luce. Needless to say, there was more than enough time to round off the evening with a nightcap (or two) up in the square before rolling into bed some time around 1.00 a.m.