Le Mans 2020 - Ayse's Story
Page 1 - The Prologue
Before you read on..... I started writing this just a month or so after Le Mans 2020. I then decided that I just didn't have the inclination to finish it. 2020 would be left on the cutting room floor where it deserved to remain. But one or two people on Tenths said that I ought to write something. After 34 years of stories, it actually deserved some recognition, if only for the fact that the race involved my son but also for the strange and unfortunate times that we're living in that caused me to miss it. So, many months later I decided to quickly finish it. It is intentionally very brief. Consider it just a marker for what was 2020....
I normally start a new story with reference to how long I have been back home after the race but.... Who would have thought when we returned from France in June 2019 what was going to happen between then and now? I decided that I would write a story for this year's event despite not being able to attend, for a variety of reasons which include both sanity and simple continuity - I don't care too much for gaps! So here it is...
As always, I was happily making plans and beginning the countdown as usual as the rest of 2019 meandered to a conclusion. The major event for me in 2019 (other than Le Mans...) was my retirement at the end of October. It had been a long time coming and I'd been thinking about it for several years. My working life had got a lot harder, for a variety of reasons. I wasn't enjoying it very much any more and it had become unrewarding and stressful. I just had to get out. You can only stand so much of being worked into the ground and being taken for granted by organisations that don't seem to really know what they're doing until you reach a point where you just can't face doing it any more. So on 1st April 2019 I made the decision to retire on 31st October 2019. It was like a lead weight being lifted from my shoulders. I had a incredible last day thanks to all of my work colleagues and then settled into a much more relaxing routine.
On the Le Mans front, it looked as though the 'team' for 2020 would be much the same as in 2019, with the addition of Tim, Tony's son, who came with us in 2011 and 2015. Lauren and James were both well up for another trip and Lauren joined the ACO (that was quite a saga too!) so that we could make sure that we would be able to get the tickets we wanted. James F duly made the bookings. After experiencing T34 again in 2019 I had decided that a return to T17 was in order so with Lauren on board as an ACO member, we were able to book seats, although Tony, Tim and Allon passed on that.
Like many I suspect, the first news of Covid-19 went in one ear and out the other. Yes, we knew that China had a problem but I didn't think for a moment that it would affect us at all. How wrong can you be?! Before long it had 'escaped' from China and initial cases here and there across the world soon turned into a flood and the realisation dawned that something unprecedented, certainly in living memory, was occurring. I don't intend to dwell too much here on Covid and it's tragic consequences, however I will emphasise one thing in particular. Writing about my annoyance and frustration at not being able to go to Le Mans this year will sound pretty trivial to most people and wholly unimportant in comparison to the issues that we've all had to deal with, and the tragic consequences for so many. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to this awful pandemic. The fact remains though that you can't live your life totally at that 'level' and I can only write about how I felt (and still feel) about something which has been such an important part of my life for so many years....
When 'lockdown' began in the UK, officially on 23rd March on the announcement by Boris Johnson, we already knew that Le Mans in June had been postponed. That announcement had been made by the ACO on 18th March. Up to that point we had still hoped that it would be able to go ahead. It was at least a relief to have some certainty and we could plan for the new dates in September. So ferries were rescheduled and our 'booking' with our good friends Jose and Flo at the hotel was confirmed. It was then a case of watching for news, either from the ACO or from information gleaned, primarily from Ten Tenths, where the membership (particularly those who use the Le Mans subforum) is so well-informed.
It seemed as though we might be lucky. With James F, Lauren and myself as members of the ACO we hoped that we would be towards the front of the queue when decisions were made about who would be allowed to go. The ACO were working on a plan for groups of spectators (up to 5000) being allocated to specific parts of the track, in large 'bubbles'. This was far from ideal as it meant that we were likely to be very limited movement-wise, but if it meant that we would still be able to go, we were prepared to put up with it. By the time the 10th August came around, things had deteriorated in France with infection rates increasing, especially in Mayenne which is not very far from Le Mans. We knew that the ACO would have been working very hard with both the local Sarthe prefecture and the government to make something work.
When I posted to my blog on the morning of 10th August, I did so in a fairly pessimistic tone. Just an hour or two later came the official announcement that the race would take place 'huis clos', behind closed doors. It was the announcement that I guess most of us were expecting but it was a wholly deflating moment. I had said on Tenths that I would rather see the race cancelled than taking placed behind closed doors. At least that way my run of 34 years at Le Mans wouldn't be broken, but alas, it wasn't to be. So, it was to be Le Mans on the TV for me and also for virtually everyone else - but therein lies another tale.....