Le Mans 2019 - Ayse's Story
Page 20 - Sunday 16th June
' Staying Awake on Sunday - Quite a Task!'
So at 9.15, feeling considerably refreshed (even though I knew that feeling was only temporary), we jumped back in the car for the final journey of the week to the circuit. It turned out to be probably the easiest drive of the week with very little traffic to contend with and we were parked up again in Parking Blanc by 9.35. After heading into the circuit we failed to resist the lure of the crêpe stall just inside the entrance, which made for a rather nice breakfast.
Despite feeling OK at this point, I was keen to keep moving as I knew that sitting down for any length of time now would be fatal, so we walked on down to the Ford Chicane. Despite the fencing there (and to be honest, that applies virtually everywhere), its a good view and a rather different one of the cars as they complete the lap and accelerate up the straight. We had of course completely lost touch again with the other members of Team DoT who we assumed were either still at Mulsanne Corner or were on the way back to the hotel with Allon.
After half an hour or so at the chicane we walked back through the tunnel into the rear of the paddock where we stopped for a drink before heading into T34 to take up our seats. We were there by 11.40, a little early really, but the desire to sit down was just too much. This was when the real struggle (for all three of us) to stay awake started! It didn't help that after a rather drab and cool Saturday, Sunday turned out to be bright and warm, the perfect weather for a quick (or long!) nap... As always I busied myself in the only way available with the camera.
With two hours to go the two Toyotas were predictably still running 1-2, the #7 still holding the advantage over #8 as it had done for most of the race. The #11 SMP was now third, six laps behind as both of the Rebellions had suffered problems. The second SMP, the ByKolles and Dragonspeed were long gone as retirements from LMP1. After problems for G-Drive, Signatech now held a lead of a lap over JCDC with TDS third in LMP2. The AF Corse Ferrari had established itself in the lead of GTEPro followed by two Porsches. The Keating Ford still held a comfortable lead in GTEAm, now from the Project 1 Porsche and the JMW Ferrari.
Although I would ordinarily have seen out the end of the race from the grandstand, I was keen to be able to get out of the circuit and to the car ready for a quick getaway after the race as I didn't want to be stuck for ages in a queue to get out, so with an hour and twenty minutes to go we left the stand and made our way back through the tunnel, taking up a position on the end of the tribunes, pretty much opposite the Toyota pits. It was crammed quite tight there directly under the big screen, in fact uncomfortably so. But it was while we were standing there that a groan went up from the crowd as the #7 Toyota slowed with what was reported as an indicated puncture. It pitted to change the tyre only to get another similar indication on the next lap. A second unscheduled pit stop allowed the #8 Toyota into a lead it would not lose, despite sterling efforts by Lopez in #7 to catch it in the last hour. There were of course cries of 'fix' to allow Alonso to win again, particularly when we learned that the original sensor indication was wrong, leading the team to change the wrong tyre. Why didn't they change them all is a question Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez must still be asking.... It was a bitter blow for the #7 squad who had thoroughly deserved the victory and we all felt that it was a rather disappointing conclusion to the race.
By this time I was feeling really uncomfortable, wedged in the crowd while trying to stay awake so we extracted ourselves and moved down to the outside of the Ford Chicane to see out the last half hour or so. Aside from the Toyota change, there was little movement in the places by the end of the race. SMP took third place with the two Rebellions bringing up the rear of the still-running LMP1 entry. Signatech took the win in LMP2 from JCDC and TDS. In GTEPro, the order also remained unchanged, with AF Corse winning from the two Porsches. In GTEAm though, the ACO seemed to positively conspire to rob the Keating Ford of the win. Firstly the car was brought in to have accident damage repaired (in circumstances where it looked far from dangerous and no different to other cars that had been allowed to continue in a similar state for hours). Then it was given a stop-go penalty for spinning its wheels in the pitlane. This left it at the mercy of the Project 1 Porsche, but it just managed to cross the line ahead. It was much later that we discovered that the car had been initially given a 55 second post-race penalty for a fuel rig infringement and then was finally disqualified when it was found that the fuel tank contained 0.1 litres of fuel more than it should have. Project 1 therefore inherited the win. I know you can say that Keating might not have won without the irregularities, but if any team deserved it for their effort, they did. The fact that they had the best looking car on the grid had nothing to do with this view, of course!
Having watched the end of the race from quite close to the exit (but in a place where I couldn't take photos or video), we were quick to dash as the flag fell and we got to the car to find James F and Ramona already there. The drive back to the hotel was problem free and we made really good time getting back at 15.23. The major task after dumping my kit and having a shower was simply to stay awake for long enough to get out and eat! Falling asleep at this point was not an option as I suspected that I wouldn't wake up again until Monday morning...
We had made the decision during the week that we would return to The Old Wild West for our final dinner in France and it was great fun, with good food, silly hats and terrific atmosphere. A splendid way to round off the trip. We were back to the hotel by 9 pm and after quickly phoning home within 15 minutes I was in bed soundly asleep.