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Le Mans 1996 - The Tourists' Story

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So, what did the Tourists want more than anything in 1996?  Yes, sunshine, lots and lots of it!  Not only had we got pretty wet at Le Mans in '95, but Pierre and I then got well and truly drowned at the Global GT Championship round at Silverstone later in the year.  It was certainly sunny enough when we met up as usual on Friday, 14th June for our trip to Portsmouth to catch the ferry to Caen.

After a standard and uneventful (but sunny!) crossing, we motored on down through Falaise, Argentan, Alencon, Mamers, La Ferte-Bernard and St. Calais, pausing only for a quick cup of coffee on route.  This year our overnight stop on the Friday night was actually about 50 miles south of Le Mans.  Chief Tourist Ian had once again stuck his pin in his Michelin Guide, and had come up with the Auberge de la Madeleine at Vendome.  It was to prove to be yet another inspired choice!  

As you can see from the shot below, there were only 6 of us in 1996.  From left to right: Jim, Alan, Nick, Ian and Martin at the front.  The one in the green shirt is me - wearing a tie for the one and only time on a Le Mans trip!   I think for the first time, there were no Le Mans "newbies" this year.  Sadly, my mate Pierre had to miss out on Le Mans this year, as he was away on holiday and couldn't get back in time to meet up.

The Tourists enjoyed an excellent meal in the garden at the Auberge de la Madeleine.                 The auberge at Vendome was a really nice place to stop and I had little doubt that we would be back for more....

Vendome really is a splendid place and we had time to do a spot of exploring on Saturday morning before we packed up and left for our usual journey to Le Grand Luce, where everyone apart from me would return to the Hotel Restaurant Le Cheval Blanc  for some sleep during the night.  After a couple of beers we were back into the cars again for the final leg of the journey to the circuit.  Boy was it good to arrive in bright sunshine - not only that, it was really hot as well, so much so that Martin and Jim decided to breach the normal rules of good taste and decorum by putting on their shorts!  I'm not sure that the people of Le Mans were quite ready for the overwhelming expanse of lily-white legs!

Time to join the queue for the enceintes generales....

After getting into the circuit, it was time for Ian's mad dash into and along the tribunes.  What I tend to call Ian's annual "annoy the spectators who took up their places hours ago" manoeuvre!  But it was an awful sight which greeted us when we got onto the tribunes.  Awful for me, anyway, as an amateur photographer - the entire straight had now acquired debris fencing.  The fencing itself wasn't an overwhelming problem (you can deal with most of it by using very little depth of field), but the posts to which the fencing was attached were much more of a problem.  Gone was that fantastic view along the straight.  More progress for safety (but then again, it wasn't put up after 1955 so why 1996?).

Nevertheless, we managed to get a great spot on the tribunes just in time for the driver parade.

Paul Belmondo, Eric Bernard and Jean-Marc Gounon were driving the 45 Ennea Igol Ferrari F40, which Gounon qualified 16th.  Belmondo was picked as the start driver, allegedly because the team manager didn't trust Gounon not to thrash the car in the opening stint!            Dominique Dupuy, Perry McCarthy and Justin Bell of the 51 ORECA Chrysler Viper which qualified 44th            The boys of the 20 Mazda-Kudzu, Franck Freon, Yojiro Terada and Jim Downing.  Freon qualified the car 26th

Mario Andretti qualified the 4 Courage he was sharing with Jan Lammers and Derek Warwick in 9th place                With their Newcastle United colours to the fore, the drivers of the 28 Lister were easy to spot.  Geoff Lees, Anthony Reid and Tiff Needell.  21st on the grid

The sun was still very much shining on the righteous and it was a lovely build up to the race.  

                The Lister Storm competed in '95 but had a relatively early exit.  It was looking good in it's Newcastle United colours, even if John Hindhaugh of Radio Le Mans didn't approve!                The 2 Kremer Porsche K8 of George Fouche, Stanley Dickens and Steve Fosset was also looking very smart

As far as the entry itself was concerned, there was definitely some quality there.  After the marvelous McLaren debut win in '95, the F1s were back in force, with entries from GTC (in those glorious Gulf colours), Bigazzi (in effect, the works BMW entries), as well as the return of the West and Harrods cars.  Facing up to the McLarens were the new Porsche GT1s, a host of Ferrari F40s, a strong Courage entry and the Daytona and Sebring winning Riley & Scott..  And then there were the two TWR Porsches, run by Joest.  Built by TWR based on the XJR14 Jaguar, it had been ordered by Porsche for the '95 Le Mans but was moth-balled, from where it was rescued by Joest.  A Dark horse?


And here's the other Kremer K8 (1) of Bouchut, Laessig and Toivonen.  Christophe Bouchut, a winner of course in 1993 for Peugeot, waits for the off

Derek Warwick, sharing the Courage with Jan Lammers and Mario Andretti has time for a pre-race interview with HarryTurner of Radio Le Mans                Anyone want to buy a second-hand pair of marshall's overalls?  Yes please!  Mario adorns this lucky marshall's suit with yet another signature                And here he is again (Mario, not the marshall!), just waiting for the green flag in the Courage

 But there was something else going on that weekend in 1996 - football!  Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy football as much as anyone, but I didn't wait all year to go to Le Mans and watch England v. Scotland in Euro '96!  So after the start of the race, the other five Tourists left to go in search of the Diamondvision screen to watch the match, while I indulged in two of my favourite things, watching the race and eating a merguez!   

My biggest difficulty in compiling the story and galleries from 1996 is that, for once, I took quite a lot of reasonable pics!  As a result, there is a special extra gallery of shots that I took from the Ford Chicane.  Just click on the link below (or go straight to page 2 for the continuation of the story).