Le Mans 2014 - Ayse's Story
Page 5 - Wednesday
Time for Business..... Free Practice
The beauty of the 4 pm start for free practice on the Wednesday at Le Mans is that there is no need to dash to the circuit at some unearthly hour. In fact, the Wednesday morning was another of my 'lost' periods during Le Mans 2014 when it is a struggle to remember what we actually did.... We certainly went up to the bar for breakfast and I'm also pretty confident that we made another trip to Auchan for Tony. In fact I think it was on that particular Auchan visit that I discovered their heavenly almond tuile biscuits and the fabulous fresh French cherries! They were gorgeous - and so cheap, much cheaper than the offerings at home when I returned, having found that I'd become addicted to them!
Having got our supplies we did need to make a journey close to the circuit so that Tony could pick up some tickets for Andy and Julie who would be arriving on Friday. As mentioned in previous stories, Julie is James' cousin and Andy her husband and most years they come to Le Mans for the race weekend and join us for a meal or two.
For many years the ACO's base for ticket collection has been the 'Rotunde', about a 15 minute walk from the main entrance near the Centre des Expositions. This year however, as I understood it, the Rotunde had been taken over by Porsche (in much the same way as Audi have been gradually annexing more and more of the area's 'real estate' at and around the circuit. So the ticket collection (and media registration) facility had this year moved to the 'Actisud', a large building on the other side of the dual carriageway running alongside the airport, off of the Voie de la Liberté. It didn't take us long to find it and we spent a very pleasant half an hour enjoying the air-conditioned interior (!) while Tony collected his tickets.
From the Actisud we headed off to the circuit itself where we finally managed to access the garage blanc for the first time, arriving just after 2 pm. James had done well with our parking tickets this year, managing to get slots in Row B, excellent for easy access - although of course there was no difficulty today, no big crowds were expected until raceday.
Inevitably, having made our way into the circuit, we just had to make our way up onto the tribunes again, to provide Tony with his first experience of the circuit since 2013. We came down off of the tribunes and had a look in some of the stalls behind the grandstands.
Time was pressing on however ands we were quite keen to get down to the ACOs Espace Club to register and sign Nane in before the free practice session started at 4 pm. Having arrived there just before 3 pm (the time they'd opened on the Wednesday last year), we were disappointed to discover that they weren't opening until 3.30, which was really too close to the start of the action on the circuit, bearing in mind how long it takes to do the registration.
So with nothing much to do for half an hour, we walked back to the inside of the Dunlop Chicane and up to the Audi Fan Area. Last year we'd watched from what turned out to be a fantastic vantage-point during the free practice and although there was nothing happening on track yet, we were pleased to find that we could still access the viewing area and even obtain a bottle of Audi's 'own label' water! Sadly it wasn't cool because the fridge hadn't arrived yet (but it soon did - I have a photo to prove it!).
As 3.30 approached we went and joined the queue for the Espace Club, which I have to say was a pretty painful process - I was pleased I only had to do it once (at least until Allon arrived!). Armbands now in place we just about had time to get up the steps inside the Espace Club to see the cars emerge onto the circuit for the first time.
In terms of photography, I had decided (not for the first time) to try and avoid taking hundreds of photos, all very similar to the hundreds that I took last year (and the years before that), but the moment the cars appeared that automatic process immediately kicked in and I was snapping as if my life depended on it! In due course I resorted to video, as I would do for significant parts of the action, both in qualifying and particularly in the race itself.
The bright and sunny mood changed dramatically when Loïc Duval had a massive shunt in the #1 Audi. The lack of any video replays heightened the fears generally for Duval, as did the news which began to filter from our French friends Bernard and Dominique that the crash structure in the Audi may have failed. Thankfully we found out later that Duval had had an incredibly lucky escape, suffering only cuts and bruises in a violent accident reminiscent of that which befell Alan McNish in 2011. After the tragedy of the 2013 race, it came as a huge relief to everyone to hear that Duval was OK.
James and Nane had gone into the Espace Club to see if they could find out any more about the accident and Tony and I eventually followed. As none of us had eaten for some time we had our first 'traditional' round of ham and emmental baguettes. Following this, the session had restarted so we made our way back to the Audi Fan Area. We had wondered if we would be able to get in now, but there was no problem at all. As before, it was a terrific place to watch from. You have to applaud Audi for providing such a great facility for the 'ordinary' fans, not just pampered corporate guests....
We left the fan area at around 7.10 pm. As seems all too common these days this proved to be another session that had to be halted early.