missing out on the Le Mans trip in 1998, Ian and the rest of the Tourists
were keener than ever to renew their
acquaintance with Le Mans in '99. In fact,
comparing '98 and '99, it was a case of our smallest team to
our largest, as the Tourists were 12-strong in 1999. In fact,
Ian nearly had a problem to start with as
he had to be home on the Monday after the
race to go on holiday with his wife Carol for
their 25th anniversary. In order not to
cut the week-end too short, we decided to travel over on
evening, instead of Friday morning.
it was that 11 of the 12 met up as usual at
Ian's home near Southampton on Friday
evening. There were of course the
regulars, Ian, Martin, Alan, Pierre, and
Jim. Ian's son Robert joined us, for
the first time since 1991. Back also
for their second trips were Jeff and Mark,
leaving three places for newcomers, Clive,
Richard and Steve. Richard had been a
last-minute addition when Jim's friend
dropped out. Steve was not
starting the trip with us, but would be
meeting up with us somewhere in France!
traveled from Portsmouth to Le Havre that
evening, arriving in France at about 7
o'clock. We were soon into the three
cars (driven by Ian, Martin and Jim) and on
the way to Honfleur for breakfast.
had an excellent (if rather leisurely)
breakfast before setting off for Le
Mans. We were well into the journey
when we realised that Jim's silver Audi was
no longer at the back of our little
convoy. We slowed down for a while but
there was still no sign of him.
Eventually we pulled over and waited......and
waited.......but still no Jim. We were
getting just a bit worried now, thinking he
might have had an accident, but suddenly he
appeared - he'd been stopped for
speeding! He'd been stuck behind a few
lorries and finally got the chance to put
his foot down and catch us up
and....... It cost him (or rather Jeff
who had the cash!) 600 francs. The
gendarme who stopped him kindly pointed out
that another 8 kph would have meant 5000
francs! In 14 years of Le Mans trips,
this was our first speeding ticket!
continued on to Le Mans traveling on through
Bernay, Broglie, St. Evroult de Montfort,
Nonant le Pin, Sées, Alençon, Fyé, Juillé,
Beaumont sur Sarthe, St. Jeanne D’Assé and
St. Saturnin. (Don't
French towns and villages have wonderful
names?!) and arrived at Le Mans at about
12.30. Having persuaded the marshal in
the garage rouge to let us in without a
ticket, we wandered into the circuit and down
through the Village. This was the first
time I had got to the circuit before Saturday
and I marveled out how empty it
I'd taken a few obligatory pics from the
top of the Welcome building, we made our way
from the back of the pits into the pit road
(courtesy of a gate to Hugh Chamberlain's
garages!) and I then wandered the pit lane
photographing every bit of car and bodywork
the Panoz pits, David Brabham, Johnny
O'Connell and Jan Magnussen were out signing
autographs and I was lucky enough to be able
to get a few shots of them. (As it
happens, I missed out on the autographs, but
luckily Jim had managed to get some others for me -
snapping away, enjoying every minute of this, my first venture into the
pitlane at Le Mans. I was surprised that so many of the drivers seemed
to be about.
mentioned Panoz already but it seemed that most of the ORECA drivers
were on show too, apparently practising some routine, as they were
helmeting up for the purpose. Also out and about were a few of the Audi
much enjoyed my wandering up and down the pit-lane, but all too soon the
time came for our rendezvous in the Sebring bar up at the back of the
Richard, Mark, Clive and Alan had long since given up on the pits
walkabout and were already into the serious food and drink business.
After we'd all had our fill we left with the intention of heading off to
our overnight stop at Vendôme, but before we left, I picked up my
programme from the ACO offices (although the list des engagés wasn't
available at that time).
stopped off on the way back to the garage rouge to look at the static
displays of Mercedes, BMW, Chrysler and others, but were soon back in
the cars, heading through Parigné L'Evêque, Le Grand Lucé, St. Vincent
du L'Orouer, Brives and L'Homme on the way to Vendôme.
expected to head directly to Vendôme, but we ended up taking a detour to
La Chartres sur le Loir, to take a very welcome beer in the famous Hotel
de France, a veritable shrine to all things Le Mans. It's always a
great place to stop, if only to look at the exotic machinery which is
invariably parked outside!
carried on via Poncé sur le Loir, Pont de Braye, Troo, Montoir sur le
Loir, Les Roches L'Evêque and Varennes to the Auberge de la Madeleine at
Vendôme, where the Tourists had stayed previously in '96 and '97.
quite a tight squeeze to get all 12 of us in, as our original booking
had only been for 8 people, but, with the help of one or two camp-beds
(!), we all eventually found suitable berths.
quick shower and change of clothes, it was down and outside into the
brilliant sunshine for a few more beers.
unusual to reach this far into a Le Mans story and to mention a Tourist
almost for the first time, but you'll remember that we were still one
member short. Steve, who was making his Le Mans debut, had already been
in France (on business not pleasure, I believe), and had caught the
train to Vendôme the night before. We eventually got to meet him when
he got back to the hotel after doing a spot of exploring in the town!
then it was time for dinner.......