2002 saw the largest ever
Tourist assault upon La Sarthe. With 14 of us signed up, we knew
that life was going to be just a little bit cramped in the 15-seater mini-bus which
Ian had once again borrowed for our weekend's transport!
The nucleus of our 2001 team
remained unchanged, with Ian, Martin, Alan, Robert, Chris, Howard and myself
returning in 2002. Joining us this year were Nick (first visit since 1996),
Richard (1994), Jeff (2000) and John (whose last trip to Le Mans was
in the year of my first - 1986). Joining us were three new Tourists, Mike,
David and Peter.
As in most years, the trip began
with the rendezvous at the home of
Chief Tourist Ian, where I was able to distribute the now famous
Le Mans t-shirts to all of
the team members!
An uneventful crossing saw us
soon on our way into France heading for our evening destination of Le Grand LucÚ,
where we would be spending Friday and Saturday night at Le Hotel Restaurant Le
Cheval Blanc. Unfortunately, due to a later start to the weekend than
usual, there was no Friday pits walkabout for us this year.
(And, unfortunately, not a
lot of early photos either. I was alternating between still and video but
on Saturday at the circuit, I managed to ruin my first reel of film - hence no
pics at all until during the pre-race festivities).
On the Friday evening we had
another excellent meal at Le Belinois before touring around the area, watching
the fireworks from the campsites and so on.
On raceday, my prime concern
was to locate Fab, my French "correspondent" and after the Tourists
had entered the circuit and headed off in various directions, I made my way over
to the grandstands to find him. Even though Fab and I had known each other
for some time, this was to be our first meeting.
Thanks to Fab's kind
generosity I had a seat in the grandstand with him for the pre-race festivities and the
start of the great race.
The pre-race atmosphere was
as good as ever this year and the big bonus was the marvelous weather.
parade is always one of my favourite parts of the pre-race action, but my
photographs seemed to be spoiled more than ever this year by the angle of the
debris fencing from my seat in the grandstand.
long, the grid was cleared of the "pretty people" and the 2002
Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans was under way.
was obviously a lot of support for the singleton Bentley this year, but
even from the opening few laps, it was pretty obvious that the Audis
were going to run away and hide (although a puncture for the No. 3 car
on the "green flag" lap did give us all false hope for a
even if we knew in our hearts that this was going to turn into another
Audi rout, we were at Le Mans once again, sitting in the sunshine
watching the world's greatest motor race. Even a foregone
conclusion on the track couldn't take that away!
first casualty of the race (as some predicted) was the Autoexe of
Terada, Downing and Fergus, which managed only 5 laps.
car which had problems was the Ascari of Lupberger, Collins and Bell
which was immediately retired after a huge accident after it had
completed 17 tours.
long it was time for me to say a temporary farewell to Fab and to wander
off in search of the rest of the Tourists.
usual, we had fixed several possible rendezvous points and one of those
(inevitably!) was the champagne stall on the inside of the circuit, at
the top of the Village.
like the Grand Marnier crepe stall, the champagne "tent" is
one of the favourite meeting places for the Brits at Le Mans, and they
certainly know how to enjoy their champagne!
met up with the other Tourists there as I expected, but I also met some
other yellow-hued Le Mans fans, whose banners I had seen in the crowd
(both this year and in earlier years), but who I had never had the
chance to chat with before. It was, of course, the T.W.A.T.S.!
there are so many groups of Le Mans fans who either travel to Le Mans
together or meet up at La Sarthe each year, the use of
"corporate" colour-schemes has become quite popular.
Even the Tourists were be-decked in my 24 Hour t-shirts (so dubbed as
they very nearly lasted 24 hours from the time I made them!).
you can imagine, as with all of the rest of the Tourists I was well and
truly twated by the various members of the T.W.A.T.S. who were certainly
enjoying the champagne (and any other alcohol they could lay their hands
guess by now the race was between 3 and 4 hours old and, like all good
Tourists I was beginning to think of my stomach.
it was time to find our way back to the minibus and return to Le Cheval
Blanc at Le Grand LucÚ for a meal.