Le Mans 2015 - Ayse's Story
Page 5 - Wednesday 10th June
And on the Fifth Day, There Shall be Action!
As per habit, I was up, showered and dressed by 8 am. We had reached Wednesday, the day of the first on-track action and while waiting for the sleepy-heads in the team to get themselves galvanised I set about preparing my camera bag for our first trip into the circuit itself this year. By 10 am we were all up and ready to go and set off up to the bar for some breakfast.
After nipping back to the hotel to collect our gear we drove to the circuit and were able to park in our designated spot - X3 -in Parking Blanc.
We were soon into the circuit and as we had loads of time to kill before free practice started at 4 pm we spent some time investigating the shops behind the grandstands. The bad news was that by this time it had started to rain, not particularly heavily, but it was that persistent drizzle that eventually makes you very wet, causing me to press my foldaway waterproof jacket into service. I spent an hour or so over in the Village, both looking into and sheltering in the shops while others made purchases. By 2.30 pm we were all feeling rather peckish so we headed up towards the Dunlop Chicane where I enjoyed a 'sandwich mixte' (ham and cheese) for lunch.
Once at the circuit one of the first tasks to be undertaken as members of the ACO (well, James, Tony and I) is to sign in and collect our wristbands, giving us access to both the Espace Club and of course the members grandstand. These are collected from the entrance to the Espace Club just alongside the Dunlop Bridge on the inside of the circuit. As usual, I'm sorry to say that the ACO had little thought for the start of free practice at 4 pm, not opening the office there until after 3.30. Fortunately we had arrived there in time to be near the front of the queue.
My membership situation had been a little concerning this year. I've been a member of the ACO since first joining in 1997 and my membership runs until the end of May each year, so has to be renewed before I travel for the race. I admit that this year I was a little slower out of the blocks than usual but I still left plenty of time for the card to reach me. By 29th May nothing had arrived and with only a week to go before we departed, I phoned the ACO who assured me that my card was on the way to me, but also promised me that they would send me a temporary card, just in case. By the morning of Saturday 6th June, neither card had arrived but I could see that my payment had been taken on the day I originally phoned to renew, so I printed out a copy of my card statement and packed my (now expired) 2014/15 card. Later that same morning, as my bags sat packed on the lawn and I was about 5 minutes from leaving for Portsmouth, the postman arrived and handed me a letter from France. Yes, my new membership card had arrived, literally in the nick of time and in an envelope post-marked 3rd June! So why didn't they just tell me on 29th May that it hadn't been sent? (And so much for the temporary card!).
We all managed to get through the ACO office and collect our wristbands, including a guest wristband for Tim and after our experience there last year (at pretty much the same time), we dashed to the Audi Fan Area to watch the beginning of the free practice session from the great vantage point overlooking the Dunlop Chicane, where I finally broke out the camera for some shots. We stayed in this excellent location for the best part of two hours, amidst sundry rain showers and sunshine as the weather seemed to struggle to make up it's mind what to do!
At about 6 pm, halfway through the session, we finally moved off, deciding to walk down the inside alongside the Bugatti Circuit to the Esses, where I was able to find a decent vantage-point for some good shots shooting up close and through the fencing.
From there we gradually moved down the hill to the viewing area at the entrance to the Esses and then up on to the banking on the inside of Tertre Rouge, bumping into Tenthers Simmi and Rich there. Unusually, we didn't stop there for very long but as we walked back up the outside of the circuit, right up alongside the Tertre Rouge campsite, we spotted another Tenther, Nobby, who was putting the finishing touches to his set-up there.
Time had raced on by now and it was closing on 8.30 by the time we got back to the car. The free practice session was finished and the first qualifying session was due to start at 10, so we got into the car (we had only brought one to the circuit), and drove out to Arnage to watch the qualifying from there.
We arrived just before 9 pm and were able to have a leisurely dinner, which had to be a sandwich Americaine merguez for me! We had brought our chairs with us and set up at the top of the bank near to the big screen. This is one of my favourite points of the weekend. I love the atmosphere at Indianapolis/Arnage, especially as the cars set off for that first lap. You can hear them approaching from miles away, all the way down the Mulsanne and then from Mulsanne Corner before they burst into sight from Indianapolis. It's something I like to capture on video as one of the real highlights! It was really good - we were well-fed, comfortable in our chairs (the rain had long gone by now) and it was just the perfect place to be.
We watched the full session from here, but in truth, all of the explosive action occurred in the first two laps for Porsche. I hadn't even got my headphones on to start listening to the commentary, but when I saw James and Tony exchanging incredulous looks I knew that something spectacular was happening. Porsche had of course turned the wick right up from the outset, setting out their stall immediately with an astonishing 3m 16.887 lap by Neel Jani in the #18 car. Although an Audi did eventually get into the high 19's, I think we all realised at that point that the battle for pole in LMP1 was already pretty much done and dusted.
The disappointments, even at this early stage in the proceedings had to be the two Japanese teams, Toyota and Nissan. After clearly being the fastest car last year the Toyotas were left struggling to even get near their 2014 times, while the Audis and Porsches had already totally eclipsed Toyota's pole time from last year by a massive margin. Nissan by contrast, were uncompetitive, struggling with a brand new car - and a brand new concept - with little (if any) hybrid power available and which appeared to have all the handling of a house brick. By the end of the session all three Nissans were propping up LMP1, beaten by the leading LMP2 car, their best effort over 20 seconds off of Porsche and even 7 seconds behind the slower of the two Rebellions. I'm honest enough to admit that I really enjoyed seeing the Nissans out there as they brought something completely different to the race, but even at this early stage it was looking like a pretty grim uphill battle for them to take anything at all from the experience, no matter how well Darren Cox talked up their performance.
The session ended with Porsche 1-2-3, Audi 4-5-6 and Toyota 7-8. And the overwhelming feeling was that even though we still had another 4 hours of qualifying to go tomorrow, this order of things probably wasn't going to change much, if at all. At the end of the session we made our way back to the car for the journey back to base, getting there at about 1 am.