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Le Mans 2001 - The Tourists' Story

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As usual, our trip began at the home of Chief Tourist Ian.  There were 10 of us on board this year, 7 of whom (Ian, Alan, Martin, Robert, Chris, Bruce and myself) had been to Le Mans before.  Paul, Howard and Simon were the newcomers.  Our choice of transport this year was quite a departure.  It was becoming so expensive to take 2 or 3 cars over that Ian had decided to borrow a minibus!

The weekend started out ominously in pouring rain as we made our way to Portsmouth on Thursday evening for the crossing to Caen, but we were cheered tremendously by the sunshine which greeted us when we left the ferry in Ouistreham on Friday morning.

Arrival in the garage rouge on Friday morning.    

After stopping for breakfast on route, we arrived in the garage rouge at about 11.30 and headed down into the Village.  After pausing for a quick look at the scene down in the pits from the top of the Welcome building, we made our way towards the throng in the pitlane - just as the rain arrived!  

The rather smart-looking 10 Den Bla Avis Dome Judd of John Nielsen, Hiroki Katoh and Casper Elgaard.            I guess one of the saddest stories of Le Mans 2001.  So much effort by the Rowan Racing team to get their 35 Pilbeam Nissan to the grid, only to see all of their dreams blown away in a multi-car pile up with just 3 laps on the board.

The rain shows didn't stop my wandering up and down the pitlane, however, after snapping most of the pits, I had to give best to it.  I also had to give up the idea of a reasonable amount of video footage, as I couldn't risk getting my friend Graham's fancy video camera soaked!

There was a fair bit of British support behind the 76 PK Sport Porsche of Mike Youles, Dave Warnock and Stephen Day.          There's something special about the relationship between these colours, that logo and Le Mans, isn't there?  This is the nose from the Johnasson Motorsport Audi R8.

Eventually, as the rain eased, I left the pitlane and spent some time up in the pits grandstand, wondering just how good the view is from the seats there during the race?  

Its always seemed to me that anyone with vertigo should think very carefully before buying a seat in the pits grandstand!

Not long after this I left the pits and paddock to meet up with the rest of the rather bedraggled crew of Tourists just down from the Welcome area where we drowned our sorrows with a beer.  

Time was pressing on and having eaten nothing since breakfast near Le Havre, we decided to head on to Le Grand LucÚ, where we were again staying at Le Cheval Blanc.  In fact, although we ate in Le Grand Luce, we did so at a restaurant just up the road, Le Normandy.  We didn't leave the restaurant until about 4 o'clock - with the prospect of another heavy meal in about 3 hours time!

Finally, finally, we get to take lunch (at 3.00 p.m.!) in the Restaurant Le Normandy at Le Grand LucÚ.

By the time we had taken lunch and arrived at Le Cheval Blanc at about 4.30 p.m., the rain had finally eased.

We finally reached Le Cheval Blanc and got some rooms sorted out.  Having had very little sleep overnight on Thursday/Friday, it was agreed that we would all go for a couple of hours of shut-eye, although I have up after an hour or so and went for a walk around the town.  I wasn't at all surprised to find Martin, Bruce, Howard and Paul in one of the local bars indulging in a few beers and a few games of table football!

An hour or so later, the whole team surfaced out back of the hotel in the car park and indulged in the annual Le Cheval Blanc Old Boys football match.  Just to get us all in the right mood for dinner!

Even though we had eaten only a few hours before, it was time to head off for more food at Le Belinois at Monde en Belin, one of our most regular haunts.

As the restaurant is located quite near Arnage, we stopped off on the circuit there to wander along the track and have a good laugh at the drivers intent on leaving a substantial part of their tyre treads in this part of France!

As good a meal as I have eaten anywhere in France.  Yes, it was that good.  Le Belinois again.

The meal that evening at Le Belinois was superb, as good as anything I've ever eaten in France and the service too was exceptional.  

To finish the evening off in style we popped back to Arnage to soak up a bit more of the eve of race atmosphere before returning to Le Grand LucÚ for the essential last calvados and bed.  

There were one or two weary faces at breakfast the following morning, but at least we didn't have to rush too much.  That said, Chris, Ian and I were all intent upon reaching the circuit by 10.15 that morning to watch the Legends race and staying at Le Grand LucÚ gave us the chance to get to the circuit earlier than we had ever managed on race day.

Time for breakfast in the Le Cheval Blanc.  Alan, Chris, Simon and Robert ponder what the day has in store.

On our arrival, the weather didn't look too bad, but we were expecting the worst and took our wet-weather gear with us.  Chris and I decided to strike out to watch the Legends race from the Esses, while the rest made their way to the tribunes.

The sunshine on our arrival in the garage rouge gave us false hope of the weather in store for the week-end!

Chris and I thoroughly enjoyed our stint at the Esses watching those glorious old cars, well entertained by Hardman's tail-out slides, a dying Ferrari, a wheel-shedding Alpine and Stirling's courteous waves.  

Sadly, the lovely Ferrari 333 LM Berlinette of Eric Heerema lasted only 1 lap in the Legends race.    Gerard Besson's pretty Alpine M63B didn't make it to the finish either - shedding a wheel at the exit of the Esses.

After the race Chris and I made our way back to the Village, where we indulged in the first Grand Marnier crepes of the weekend.  Eventually we set up camp just outside the Welcome area, to wait the arrival of the others.

Paul makes the most of the attentions of the MG ladies!    "Can I take this one home please Dad?", says Robert (but I think Paul has other ideas.....!).

In a short while Robert and Paul appeared to tell us that Ian had managed to stake a claim to a very nice spot on the tribunes for the start of the race.  Before we could move off though, we were graced by the arrival of the lovely MG ladies.  Paul, Robert (and Chris) couldn't resist in a spot of posing - and why is it always me behind the camera?!!

I eventually dragged the three of them away from the girls and we set off to find Ian and the other 5 Tourists.  Ian had indeed managed to get a good spot and all 10 of us made ourselves very welcome there!  We watched the "pretty people" in the pit road and then the obligatory appearance of the Hawaiian Tropic girls, before the driver parade got under way.  The good vantage-point enabled me to get some quite good shots of the drivers as they passed by.

A cheery Tom Kristensen waves to the crowd alongside his teammates Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela.

The weather was looking pretty ominous by now, with drizzly showers hitting us every 15 minutes or so.  But even this couldn't dampen my spirits before my 16th Le Mans 24 Hours.