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Le Mans 1991 - The Tourists' Story


1991 was a big year of change for the ACO.  Like many others, I suspect, I was gobsmacked when I arrived at Le Mans and saw the new pits complex and grandstand.  I had seen pictures of it of course, but the sheer size of the new complex still came as a surprise at first sight, having been so used to the old overcrowded pits and pit balconies for so long.

As several times before, the Tourists stayed at St. Symphorien on Friday, travelling to the circuit after lunch at the Hotel de Paris in Cilez on Saturday.  The 1991 team (no photo this time!), consisted of Ian, Martin, Alan, Richard, Mike, Robert (Ian's son) and myself.

We didn't get onto the tribunes until near the end of the driver parade, but I was (subsequently) very pleased to grab this shot of the drivers of the 31 Mercedes.  Note the cheerful wave from a rather youthful looking Michael Schumacher, who was sharing the car with Fritz Kreutzpointner and another F1 driver-to-be, Karl Wendlinger.  (Whatever happened to Fritz? - I'd love to know!).  (N.B. I now know what Fritz was doing - he was racing a MAN SuperRaceTruck in the European Championship - I know because he told me when he signed my guestbook on 3.10.01!!).

This was a race in which Schumacher showed just how good he was, and while car problems (and a spin into the barriers under the Dunlop Bridge for Wendlinger) saw the Mercedes finish 7 laps adrift in 5th place, I well remember Ian Titchmarsh saying on Radio Le Mans that it surely wouldn't be long before Michael made the move up to Formula 1.  Little did we know what was in store!


1991 saw the beginning of the new sports car engine formula, running with 3.5 litre normally aspirated engines.  The two new Peugeots didn't exactly cover themselves in glory in the race, but their day was still to come.  It was quite early in the race, while we were still watching from the tribunes before moving off elsewhere, that I heard the French commentator shout "feu!" - I quickly turned and took the shot below of the fire in the Peugeot pit.  Not quite in focus, but not a bad "grab" shot.


The disappointment of 1991 was the performance of the Jaguars.  Running bigger engines, they couldn't match the pace of the Mercedes, and although they eventually finished 2-3-4, it was the reliability of the splendid orange and green 55 Mazda of Herbert, Gachot and Weidler which won the day.  (It's interesting to note that, even though the weight regulations were in favour of the Mazda (rather than the Jaguars), the winning Mazda actually covered three laps more than the winning Jaguar from the previous year.  No room for sour grapes there!).

As it happens, the Mazda victory seemed to go down particularly well with most people.  Yes, it would have been great to see the Jags win again, but it also seemed that, for some reason, most people (except the German fans, I guess!) seemed glad that Mazda had managed to put one over the mighty Mercedes team.


1991 brought with it another special moment for us.  During the weekend, Mike (a Le Mans newcomer, who has never been with us since!), kept telling us that he had an invitation to some hospitality event.  He produced a rough looking piece of photocopied paper as evidence of this, and the rest of us (seasoned Le Mans veterans, of course!), thought it was dubious, to say the least!

Nevertheless, Mike persisted, and more to humour him than anything else, we wandered around to the outside of Tertre Rouge on Sunday afternoon, only to find that he had been absolutely right!  We were welcomed into the garden of a house a couple down from Tertre Rouge corner itself (you will recognise those very familiar trees - a Le Mans landmark in themselves).  After being plied with champagne and bacon croissants, we were then able to watch the race while leaning on the armco at the bottom of the garden!

It was great stuff, and although the marauding gendarmes moved us away a couple of times, I was able to get some good shots of the cars as they came around Tertre Rouge and headed on down the Mulsanne.  It was a brilliant opportunity and we were all very grateful to Mike for it (if feeling just a little sheepish for doubting him in the first place!).  If anyone can get me an invite back there for this years Le Mans, perhaps they would let me know......?!


A very good Le Mans was had then by all the 1991 Tourists and we finished it off with a good meal  (and sleep!) at Concale on Sunday.  Little did I know then the problems that I would face in getting to Le Mans in 1992!