Le Mans 2005
The Tourists' Story
Sometimes it's Hard to Get to Le Mans!
We were soon on our way out of Paris, but our initial good pace was slowed by traffic. I wasn't terribly worried at this stage as I knew it was inevitable that we would meet heavy traffic leaving Paris at that time on a Saturday morning. In fact, I guess it took us less than an hour to rid ourselves of the worst of the jams and Robert had the Kia belting down the autoroute in fine style.
Circumstances dictated a watering stop about half way, but fortunately we didn't convert that into anything more (it was suggested that it might be a good time to stop for a beer!), but subsequently I was to thank our lucky stars that we didn't lose any more time at that stage.
It was a comfortable enough journey all in all, the Kia proving to be a perfectly acceptable Espace replacement and before too long we were on the outskirts of Le Mans. We had tuned into Radio Le Mans at the earliest opportunity and I was enjoying listening to the pre-race discussions, really looking forward to getting into the circuit, meeting Fab and hopefully some of the other Ten Tenths regulars, and getting into my seat in the pits grandstand in good time for the driver parade.By the time we reached that familiar road that leads down alongside the garage rouge, I guess it was about 12.15-12.30 pm. Not quite the 11.30 Ian predicted, but not so bad. At least we would be parked and into the circuit in good time for the driver parade......
In fact, we were lucky to get away with blagging our way down the road in the first place as we didn't have a garage rouge ticket yet..... I'll just repeat that for you, as its quite a significant statement. We didn't have a garage rouge ticket yet..... Leaving aside the the years when Peter and I travelled on our own to Le Mans (92, 93 and 98), until 1999 (and for me, that was 12 years in total) we had always arrived at the circuit on Saturday lunchtime, sometimes as late as 1.00 - 1.30 p.m. We always seemed to manage to get onto the tribunes in order to watch the pre-race festivities, which (at the risk of repeating myself), are one of my favourite parts of the whole weekend. I guess I became spoiled after 1999, when we finally made it to the circuit on Friday and then managed to do the same for each of the following years. But the point was that from those early years, up until 1999, we had never bought our garage rouge ticket in advance. We had always bought the ticket either on the road in Le Mans leading down to the circuit, or on the gate itself.
We reached the first gate but the marshals there weren't about to let us in without a ticket. On driving down to the other entrance at the bottom of the road, it was no dice there too. It was pretty obvious that were weren't going to get into the garage rouge. What followed was I guess 45 minutes of driving around the outskirts of the circuit, looking for anywhere to park. There was absolutely nothing. With the French optimistic for a Pescarolo victory plus the Brits out in force for the return of Aston Martin, it was obviously going to be a bumper attendance - good for the ACO, but not so great for us, still searching for a parking place the with clock ever ticking on.....
Eventually we drove back beyond Tertre Rouge and started looking for somewhere (anywhere) to dump the car along the road within reasonable walking distance of the circuit. Eventually we found a spot about half an hour's walk away from the garage rouge entrance. That solved the immediate worries and we were quickly walking at a pretty brisk pace to get into the circuit, but I was seriously concerned about what would happen later - if we couldn't lay our hands on a garage rouge ticket - or indeed any garage ticket - that would be a major blow to our plans for the rest of the race.....
I suppose its at times like these that you pray for a spot of luck and, just occasionally the Gods deliver.... Except in this case it wasn't the Gods at all but predictably it was my good friend Fab who delivered! He had obviously been wondering what had happened to me, as I'd not only missed the Ten Tenths meeting but most of the driver parade as well. We exchanged a few text messages and - manna from heaven - his brother-in-law had a spare garage rouge ticket. Talk about relief! Even now as I write this many months later, I know we didn't express our gratitude sufficiently to Fab or his brother-in-law, because they really saved our collective Tourist bacon, and its important to me that Fab in particular knows just how grateful I was (and still am).
So my blood pressure had eased slightly by the time I bought my enceintes generale and we hurried into the circuit. Time had flown on from our initial arrival and the drivers parade was long over. I left the rest of the Tourists to find their way onto the tribunes while I dashed off to the pits grandstand to find my seat and my friend Fab. Luckily for me, knowing that I could end up very tight for time, Fab had kindly sent me the grandstand ticket, so after grabbing a quick bite to eat and some water, I was soon at my seat with him, very hot and flustered indeed.
So there I was, doing my best to calm and cool down (I don't think I've ever felt quite so hot!) and along came Adam Ashmore from Ten Tenths. Not quite the pre-race meeting I had in mind before I went to Le Mans, but nice in the circumstances......