Le Mans 2019 - Ayse's Story
Page 2 - 'Ch.. Ch.. Changes...'
Although a year of waiting for another Le Mans is the same as any other year it always seems longer, particularly in the early weeks and months after a Le Mans. As the 2018 event faded into the distance to be replaced by the various trials and tribulations that followed, the time seemed to tumble away as 2018 passed into 2019 and the days to this year's race fell into double figures. The last few weeks at work seemed to go by very quickly. I guess when you're that busy it's inevitable but we eventually reached one of my favourite days of the year when I walked out of the office knowing that I not only had the best part of two and a half weeks leave, but a trip to Le Mans to boot. I'd had the car serviced at the beginning of May and it sailed through it's first MOT however as I had pulled into the office car park on my last day at work I gained an annoying rattle which appeared to be coming from the exhaust. Following investigation at home by James it transpired that a small clip controlling the exhaust actuator valve had broken and most of it had disappeared. I managed to obtain a replacement the following morning (the Friday before we departed), which after a lot more effort than he or I had anticipated James managed to fit for me later in the day. Not the kind of preparation I'd envisaged, but we got there in the end.
I spent the majority of the Friday packing. Much of my Le Mans stuff spends most of the year stored away ready for packing so it was mostly clothes and other bits and pieces that needed to be sorted out on the Friday rather than the Saturday morning this year. This was as a result of some changes we had made to the beginning of the trip for the first time. After our 'who is going and how?' liaison in September, James F and I had booked our usual ferry crossing to Caen with Brittany Ferries - 2.45 pm on the Saturday and 4.30 pm back on the Monday after the race. Within a few days however James discovered that the Campanile hotel at Alençon, our Saturday evening stopping point since 2015, had put up its prices considerably since last year and we quickly agreed instead to catch the early ferry at 8.45 am on the Saturday so that we would be in France by 3 pm and could drive straight to our hotel near Le Mans and be there in time to go out for dinner. It seemed like a far more civilised way to go about it and we both amended our ferry bookings to suit.
The other major change occurred much nearer the day and primarily affected my James and Lauren. They had also booked months ago to travel over on the Monday evening ferry, to arrive in Le Mans about midday on the Tuesday in time for a motor around the circuit. That plan remained firm until the middle of May when James F told us that he had been suffering a period of illness. I'll not go into details here for his sake however he had quite a severe problem which by all accounts the medics did their level best not to sort out for him. The condition was not only painful but also (initially at least) involved frequent medical input and it became clear that James F might not be able to do the full trip as usual or, even worse, might not be able to go at all. Naturally enough I was very concerned for James F but it also gave me cause to think about my plans should that worst case scenario come about. Effectively I would be on my own at Le Mans until James and Lauren arrived on Tuesday. Now I'm a 'big boy' now, having reached 62 in mid May, so being on my own wasn't an issue as such, however the thought of going completely solo for the first three days of the trip wasn't ideal.... I mentioned the potential problem to James and he immediately said that he would see if he could change their plans, admitting that they had both wished they were doing the 'full trip'. In fact James and Lauren both agreed to do this within a couple of days and all that we needed to do was change their outbound ferry booking. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Changing one outbound crossing from the Monday to the preceding Saturday. Simples? Oh no! I tried to do it online and the system was perfectly happy to change the outbound crossing, however it required me to also rebook the inbound crossing. As the inbound crossing from Caen at 4.30 on the Monday had been fully booked for months, it wouldn't let me re-book it. I tried every way I could to change the booking however I was worried about the possibility of losing the already booked inbound crossing and being unable to book it again. So thought I, that's not a problem, I'll just phone them up. I then spent over two and a half hours just trying to get through, without success. I eventually found another phone number and on the sixth or seventh try I finally got to speak to a human being at Brittany Ferries. After trying unsuccessfully to transfer me to the booking office (I told him I'd been trying to get through to it for hours), the member of staff agreed to change the booking for me, which took about two minutes. So, it was finally sorted but I was very careful to check the booking afterwards to make sure it was correct! This of course meant a change to our room requirements for the hotel that James F had kindly made back at the beginning of the year and he confirmed the changes with Monsieur and Madame without difficulty. As it happened, thankfully, James F did finally get the correct medical advice and treatment for his problem and the prospect of having to cancel his Le Mans trip soon receded. It was obvious though that he would have to be careful and look after himself, but of course he had Ramona on aid to assist, he and she having become an 'item' since last years trip. Ramona had also also been in the wars over the last year, needing much medical help but after her ordeal was now on the mend and would hopefully be able to enjoy Le Mans this year more than in 2018.
Even after all of this there were more changes that are worthy of mention. As Tony's ACO membership had lapsed following him missing the race last year (and it was great to be having him back again), we were in difficulty with our seats in T17 as we needed another membership to be able to buy tickets for the five of us (as Tony had decided to forgo a grandstand seat this year). This left me with a fairly obvious solution - I would get James, Lauren and I seats in T34, the pits grandstand which had been a regular haunt for me for all of the races between 2003 and 2010. I confess that as an amateur photographer I had missed the view from T34, which is unobstructed by debris fencing and provides a great panoramic view of the cars coming along the straight and into and out of the pits. I booked the tickets online with the ACO on the day that members' ticketing opened in October, giving me the advantage of securing the seats I wanted in the front row. I knew that we would fry in the sun if the weather was hot on race day but it was worth it for the view. It did of course mean that we wouldn't be able to sit with James F and Ramona during the race, which was a shame, however we would have that chance during all of the practice and qualifying sessions.
The final couple of things worth mentioning relate to my camera and my car. The last part of the story to be completed each year is the addition of my video footage. For a number of years I took a camcorder to Le Mans until I finally realised that the quality of the video on my iPhone was actually better than that of my ageing camcorder and I had used the iPhone for video for several years. But it still wasn't as good as I would have liked, particularly at night. So after initially toying with the idea of buying a new camcorder, I finally splashed out on a new Canon 80D DSLR camera equipped with video to replace my trusty 50D. I also bought a second-hand 18-135mm lens which appeared to offer much greater versatility for both photos and video. I still had my big 100-400mm lens of course. The purchase of a more modern camera unfortunately also meant different batteries, memory cards and a new vertical grip, so I was hoping for some decent results for what ended up being a substantial financial outlay.
The final change was a 'cosmetic' one for my car and is a story of rather good fortune. When I bought my BMW in March 2018 I had hankered after a personalised registration. (In fact, I'd hankered after one for longer than that). However my parents for reasons which always remained unexplained (I never asked), had blessed me with three forenames making it difficult to get what I wanted, without using the number '4' as an 'A'. I came very close to buying a registration before Le Mans last year, however Jayne's unimpressed reaction when I mentioned it was enough to put me off! But the thought didn't go away and I kept an eye on the various registration sellers' websites and signed up for updates from the DVLA who routinely sell and auction thousands of registrations. By February 2019 nothing had really caught my eye, or at least nothing at an affordable price. The registration I had toyed with in 2018 had long since been sold. In March however, one of the regular emails from the DVLA advised that they were releasing for sale a number of previously unreleased 'L' prefix registrations. I checked these on the day of release and found one I quite liked which made use of the '4' for an 'A'. It also had the number '24' in it, which I thought was apt. It was for sale at the DVLA's budget price of £250 and I thought I'd go for it. I was about to press the button on it but decided to check through the other available registrations that included the number '24' and the letters 'HRS' and was astonished to find 'L24HRS'. I couldn't believe it nor could I believe that it was available at the same price. As 'LM24HRS' won't be available until 2024 (even if it's issued), I bought 'L24HRS' on the spot. I can guarantee (as I've done the searching) that you will not find a '24HRS' plate for sale by the DVLA if you do a search. It was a 'vanity' purchase of course, but I was really chuffed and in a couple of weeks I had registered the number to my car.
So, that's all of the changes I can think of for now. Any others that come to mind I'll incorporate into the rest of the story, as and when. Now - on to the trip!