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Le Mans 2005

The Tourists' Story


I began writing the 2005 edition of the Tourists' Story about five weeks after returning from Le Mans. I guess that of the individuals and groups out there who are fanatical about the great race, I'm probably the last to get anything up in words and pictures. Actually, I started writing this year's story quite early - but, as has been the case for a few years now, it has again taken me until well into the New Year to get the story from the previous year finished. Sadly, life is just far too busy these days!

This is actually quite a momentous event for me as, for the first time since I started my "internet adventure" in February 2001, I have no particular limitations in terms of web space. For the first time I can wax lyrical to my heart's content and, far more importantly, I can now post as many photos from my Le Mans trip as I like. But even good things have their drawbacks, because I somehow have to maintain the discipline of choice which I had to exercise previously, although it may turn out to be discipline regarding the just how long I make this story rather than how many illustrations I use! In other words, if this gets too boring - please tell me!

I've found myself thinking a great deal about what to say here this year. For weeks after the race weekend I go through the "this time last week I was standing on the tribunes eating a merguez sandwich..." or "three weeks ago I was driving to the Chief Tourist's house to get ready to the trip to the ferry terminal...". If you're one of the poor souls long ago taken by the Le Mans addiction, I've no doubt that you'll know what I mean. But this year was different.

Those of you who've shared experiences on the sportscar forum at Ten Tenths (and if you haven't please join us some time), will know that our arrangements this year were rather different to the previous 19 years that I've been to Le Mans. You may also have picked up the fact that these arrangements caused us a few problems, the worst of which were frankly of our own making and for which no blame is to attributed to anyone (except myself, perhaps).

A few weeks before Le Mans, someone asked me on the forum why it was that, being such a great fan of the 24 Hours, I left it so late to get there each year. While seemingly everyone else was talking about going over for the whole week, or maybe getting there in time for the first evening of qualifying on the Wednesday, this year, the Tourists wouldn't be making their appearance at Le Mans until probably some time after lunch on race day. I thought about this and ultimately replied at some length in my journal on the forum. I think that before I go any further, it would be useful to repeat here what I said....

I was asked in the “Le Mans 2005” thread on the Sportscar/GT forum why I’m on leave for so long before Le Mans but I’m leaving it so late to get there – I’m not actually going until the Friday afternoon before the race. I gave a brief and inelegant explanation at the time, but I thought I could use my journal to develop the thought processes a little and, in a roundabout way, to pay small tribute to the people I go to Le Mans with.

At the end of 1985, I’d never been to Le Mans. I obviously knew a bit about it as I was keen on sportscars anyway and my Dad went to Le Mans for the one and only time in 1970, where he and his friends were very heavily rained upon but at least had the satisfaction of “appearing” in the greatest motor racing movie of all time. If it hadn’t been for an offer from Ian, our “Chief Tourist” to join the crew going to Le Mans in 1986, I guess I may never have gone to the great event.

I’ve been in the habit of taking time off before and after Le Mans for many years. It used to be two or three days either side, but grew eventually to the full fortnight 4-5 years ago. So there would be no problem at all in my going over at the beginning of the Le Mans week and catching the whole “show”, or even going a day or two later and watching one or both days of practice. But I don’t.

It isn’t exactly because I don’t want to. I’ve always said that one day I would love to do it. To go over, say, on Monday afternoon, spend a night somewhere on the coast and then motor down to Le Mans, having booked somewhere reasonably close by for each night, Tuesday to Sunday. Its easily done, particularly if you know your way around and you make the arrangements early enough. (N.B. Don't mention camping - for me, at my age, the thought of spending a week in a tent fills me with something other than joy.....).

But, fortunately or unfortunately, I’m a Tourist. I’ve been a Tourist since 1986 and while the Tourists exist, I will always be one. Even in the years when we didn’t have a full Tourists’ trip to Le Mans, I was still a Tourist. I don’t know if the “Tw*ts”, the “Brethren” or more recently, the boys from the “Ketchupsack” feel the same way, but its actually very important to me.

There will only be six of us this year. The numbers always vary of course, from a low of 4 back in 1990 up to 15 in recent years. But every one of those six has been to Le Mans many times before. Ian and Alan were there in 1986 and like Martyn who I met in 1987, were going to Le Mans long before I started. Jeff has been coming with us since 1997 and Robert (Ian’s son) came when he was a schoolboy in 1991 and has also been every year since 1999. So I think we can all regard ourselves as Tourists, through and through.

It’s not to say though that every Tourist is as madly keen on the race as I am. Some take a lot less interest than others in who qualified fastest of the GT2s and which tyres the fastest car in LMP2 is running…… At times during the weekend, one or two of the Tourists aren’t particularly inclined to give up their beds in order to rush back to see what’s been going on at the circuit. So I don’t think the Tourists would consider themselves “hardcore” Le Mans fans – and I guess that even includes me – because if I was, I would be there for scrutineering, practice and every moment of the race….

Its not a love of the cars, the circuit or any one specific thing that’s necessarily important - it’s the friendship and camaraderie that marks out these people for me. You don’t keep doing the same thing every year for 20 years with mostly the same people if you don’t like them, after all.

I confess that over the last three years at Le Mans, I’ve spent a little less time with the Tourists because thanks to the generosity of my great friend Fab, I’ve sat up in the stand with him. But that applied even before I met Fab – I would often wander off and find a place of my choosing to watch from. But I always made that bee-line at 6.30 or whatever to join up with the rest of the Tourists for champagne and then the meal at Le Grand Lucé.

So if I went to Le Mans on my own, or joined up perhaps with others (non-Tourists, that is) to go early (as I’m sure I could), in my mind it would ultimately mean ceasing to be a Tourist. Because by not travelling with them and enjoying their company, the experience would be completely different. And if I reached that point, the whole experience would be significantly different somehow. And I’m not sure if I want that change really.

Who knows, one day Ian might decide he’s had enough of organising the trips and if he does, my suspicion is that none of the other Tourists would step into his shoes. I guess if I’m still able of body and mind, then perhaps I’ll make more effective use of my leave…….

I feel it was quite apt that I chose to write this back then because the words seem to have even greater effect after this year's event. But more of that later.

I always knew that Le Mans 2005 was going to be different. As we tend not to see a great deal of each other these days between Le Mans trips, Ian, our Chief Tourist normally gives me a call about February time. He knows of course not to even ask if I'm up for the trip again - some things are taken as read - but we usually have a conversation about this time regarding who is coming with us and how we're going to get there. In years past, our conversation has usually centred around the personalities rather than the travelling arrangements, but this year was different. We'd begun to get concerned about the increasing ferry costs. This was one of the reasons why we had taken the "bus" for the past four years, as it was not only convenient, but a lot cheaper than paying for crossings for 2 or 3 cars. But even the cost of getting the bus across the Channel was becoming more expensive and we were certainly worried about the loss of P&O from Portsmouth, which seemingly left Brittany Ferries with a monopoly which gave them the opportunity to print their own money during Le Mans week......

So what were we to do? Our thoughts variously turned from flying to Rennes, to taking the train to Paris and back again to flying. But it seemed that just as I was coming to terms with the idea of one way of travelling, no sooner did it change to another! When Ian phoned me in the office on 5th April, I was expecting him to confirm the Eurostar arrangement, so I was surprised when he urged me to book a particular flight from Bournemouth to Paris on Friday 17th June. So it was finally sorted. Ultimately the arrangements had to be unusual because Ian needed to be in England on the Friday night to go to an important retirement party. So the Tourists would be making their various ways to Paris first of all, instead of Le Mans.

Not only were the arrangements completely different to my previous 19 trips, but the group of Tourists was to be rather select as well. With just six of us making the trip, it was the smallest number since 1996 and all six of us were Le Mans regulars. I would be travelling with Alan and Jeff on flight TOM885 with Thomsonfly from Bournemouth, while Martyn would be flying from his home in Cardiff, meeting us in Paris late on Friday afternoon. Ian and Robert would fly from England early on Saturday morning and we meet them at Charles de Gaulle airport at 9.00 a.m. to jump in the hire car and off to Le Mans....

It was unfortunate that we wouldn't be getting to Le Mans until Saturday. It meant missing the walkabout on Friday and probably much of the Ten Tenths "meet" at lunchtime on Saturday, but hey, it was at least sorted, and I could now count down the weeks and days knowing what our plans were.

It had been a hard year in many ways. When I returned from the trip last year, I finally made the momentous decision to give up smoking. It had been difficult for a few months, but ultimately successful. By the time the Le Mans trip came around once again, I'd been clean of the weed for almost a year. I guess when you dispense with any kind of dependency, it has unexpected effects. For me, chewing the blasted nicotine gum left me with a jaw problem (mandibular tendonitis) which brings on crushing migraines every now and again. I confess there were times when I wondered why I didn't feel as well as I ought to after having given up!

As well as giving up smoking, I'd given up on Daewoo as well, after 3 cars and 9 years. I finally decided to get something a bit more comfortable and now have a Lexus IS200. I'm very pleased with it too. OK its not new and I could have bought a new Daewoo with what I paid for it, but it runs well and has all the bells and whistles I could ever ask for.

It felt very strange indeed in the week leading up to Le Mans. On the Wednesday night I enjoyed listening to my friend Paul Truswell on Radio Le Mans, as I always do, but it felt quite wrong to be sitting there on Thursday as well, doing the same, when ordinarily I would have been on a ferry on my way to France! In fact, two years earlier I was enjoying a good meal at Isigny-sur-Mer....

Still, enough for the moment of what might have happened......











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