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Le Mans 1997 - The Tourists' Story

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As a year, 1997 didn't start so well for me, as my father died in the March after a long illness.  He was a very intelligent man, a gifted musician and artist, but he wasn't what you would call a motor racing fan, although he did take me to Goodwood as a small child and we were BARC members during the early 70's.  As it happens though, my father was the first member of the family to go to Le Mans, and I'm just a little envious of the year he chose - 1970.  OK, the weather was pretty dismal (you only have to watch the Steve McQueen film to see that), but he did get to see some glorious cars in action.  Somewhere I'm sure I still have the 3 or 4 tiny black and white photos he took at the race.  One day I'll find them and post them.

Not surprisingly we had a tough few months and I guess I was looking forward to my Le Mans break even more than usual.  Our team of Tourists was to be seven-strong this year, all bar one of whom had already earned his Tourist "wings".  Regulars Ian, Martin, Alan, Jim, Peter and myself were joined by Geoff for the 1997 trip.  

Our Le Mans weekend commenced as always with a rendezvous at Ian's home on the Friday morning, before we headed off to Portsmouth to catch the 8 am ferry to Le Havre.

A spot of lunch for Peter, Ian, Geoff and Jim on the Pride of Portsmouth.  (Martin, Alan and I had opted for simpler fare in the self-service cafeteria!)                We stopped on route to Vendome to take a look at the famous cathedral at Chartres (and managed to lose Martin and Peter in the process!).  I took this picture of one of the stained glass windows (zoomed whilst hand-held), while trying to find them!

Having driven to Chartres, where we stopped for coffee and a quick look in the cathedral (followed by a long look for Martin and Peter!), we then journeyed on to Vend˘me, where we would again be staying at the Auberge de la Madeleine.  I was pleased at the choice, having taken quite a shine to Vend˘me last year.  A very pleasant and picturesque place - particularly when the sun shines.  And good food in the auberge too!

Alan, Geoff and Jim ponder whether to wait for the others before getting the beers in.  (No, we didn't wait!).            I guess there's always going to be a shot which you don't necessarily want to post, but you feel you ought to - and this is it!  The Tourists, moi included, all dressed up ready for the lobster in whisky sauce - and yes, it really was good!!            Picturesque Vendome on a reassuringly sunny Saturday morning.

After heading into the town itself and enjoying the music from an Irish folk evening (!) in one of the local bars (oh yes, and several glasses of calvados for me!), we finally made in back to our beds by about 2 am, with no sleep in prospect for yours truly until after the end of the race on Sunday afternoon.  

We finally quit Vendome and headed off to Le Grand LucÚ (after a flying visit to Chartre sur le Loir), where the rest of the Tourists would be sleeping that night (as always, at the Hotel Restaurant Le Cheval Blanc).  After a couple of beers it was back into the cars again for the relatively short journey to Le Mans, where we arrived in the garage rouge at around 1 pm. 

The arrival at the circuit after a whole year away is always one of my favourite moments.  Here Peter, Alan, Geoff and Ian make their way towards the entrance.

Although it wasn't exactly sunny when we arrived (the jackets in the picture suggesting that it wasn't very warm), it was dry, although the spectator areas still bore the clear signs of the heavy rain which had fallen there on Friday.

As usual, we plunged headlong into the tribunes and managed to get quite a good spot for what remained of the drivers' parade.  I managed to take some reasonable shots of this, some of which you can see below.

Jorg Muller, Martin Brundle and Wayne Taylor.  Nissan R390 No. 21.  Qualified 7th by Brundle.            Emmanuel Clerico, Henri Pescarolo and Jean-Philippe Belloc.  La Filiere Courage C36 No. 8.  Qualified 21st by Clerico.            Jyrki Jarvilehto, Nelson Piquet and Steve Soper.  McLaren BMW F1 GTR No. 42.  Qualified 4th by Lehto.

 

Massimiliano Papis, Giampiero Moretti and (a very happy) Didier Theys.  Moretti Racing Ferrari 333SP No. 3.  Qualified 9th by Theys.            Hans Joachim Stuck, Thierry Boutsen and Bob Wollek.  Works Porsche 911 GT1 No. 25.  Qualified 2nd by Boutsen.            Eric van de Poele, Riccardo Patrese and Aguri Suzuki.  Nissan R390 No. 22.  Qualified 3rd by van de Poele.

Despite the presence of the debris fencing, I was quite pleased with the shots I was able to take before the race.

A thumb's-up from Rheinhold Joest to his great pal Aysedasi as he spots him on the tribunes.  (Well, maybe not....).  But this was a man who was hoping for a repeat of last year's result.  Herr Joest escorts the winner's trophy as it is formally returned to the ACO, ready for the 1997 Le Mans winners to receive.                "Now, where on earth did I leave that helmet?"  Thus might David Brabham have said before getting into his Panoz for Don "Paperbag's" first attempt at winning the great race.

                        

And so to the race.  There was a good battle in prospect with the Joest LMPs, the works Porsche GT1s, the various McLaren F1s and the splendid new Nissan R390s.  But I guess the reality was that few would have been betting against a works Porsche victory.  

We enjoyed the opening stages of the race, making our usual way off of the tribunes after an hour or so for a beer, before I departed to pick up my programme and list des engages from the ACO, together with my "Welcome" ticket, which gave me access to the "Welcome " area and the building at the end of the straight, from where I was able to take a lot of pictures from what was, for me, an entirely new vantage point.