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Le Mans 2006 - The Tourists' Story - Page 1

Introduction

 

As I sit here to begin my Le Mans story (for what seems an incredible 21st time), Le Mans 2006 is just under 5 hours short of 9 weeks in the past.  In fact, as is sadly the case each year, it is all too quickly becoming a distant memory.  And now that I'm getting older, I find that I can't rely quite so much on my memory to bring back the events of the weekend, so I really need to break some records this year and get the story done and posted a bit quicker than usual.  In fact, to save a bit of time I intend to break the habits of the last 5 years and put it up page by page.....  (I actually wrote that 4 weeks ago - but I did have the best of intentions......:-)

If you've read my 2005 story, you'll know that we did things rather differently last year, but in 2006 The Tourists were pretty well back to my favourite Plan 'A'.  As always, our travel arrangements were made with customary efficiency by Chief Tourist Ian and although the essential game plan was much the same as in previous years, there were just enough tweaks to keep up the excitement!  And, for me, excitement was very much the word.  I don't know why, but I definitely felt a lot more excited about the trip this year than I'd felt for several years.  One of the reasons was that I knew I was in for a hard time when I got back to work, with my close colleague of 8 years retiring a week later and the knowledge that I'd be doing both my work and his for several months before we got a replacement.......

As has become my custom over the last 4-5 years, I took a full two weeks off work for Le Mans.  Extravagance, I know, but it means I can wind down fully from work before the trip and then wind down again from Le Mans after it!  I had to make a relatively pointless trip to Birmingham on the train on my last day at work, but at least I was able to amuse myself by reading the superb Le Mans guide from Club Arnage on the way..... 

Our itinerary for the weekend called for a rendezvous at Ian's home near Southampton at 6 pm on the Thursday evening.  By the time I arrived, all bar one were already there and the other soon arrived.  The 2006 team was actually rather unique (if you can have something that is rather unique....).  For the first time in 20 years, the team was the same as the year before - Ian, Robert, Martyn, Alan, Jeff and myself.  Of course, this year Le Mans competed (for some more than others) with the World Cup and as we drove to Portsmouth to catch the 8.30 Brittany Ferries sailing to St. Malo, England scraped the two goals that beat Trinidad and Tobago.....  Fortunately, as England didn't play again until the Tuesday after Le Mans, the World Cup wouldn't prove to be too much of a distraction for the remainder of the Le Mans weekend! 

We were back to cars this year as well, the good old bus having had its swansong in 2004.  Martin and Robert would be our main drivers for the weekend.  It was also the first (and only) time I'd been to St. Malo since the Le Mans trip as long ago as 1989.  It meant for a longer trip, but as we had cabins, it wasn't too much of a worry and we'd be that much closer to Le Mans by the time we actually reached France. 

We were soon through the check-in and into the queue for the ferry and unlike some years, the wait was fairly brief.  We could have no complaints about the time it took to get onto the boat and to be off in search of our cabins.  As it happened, we found ourselves right down in the bowels of the boat - it seemed as though we would most definitely be sleeping underwater that night!  I was sharing with Martyn and Alan while Jeff would be joining Ian and Robert.  Martyn, Alan and I made our way back up to the main decks and found that Jeff had already done the important job of bagging a table for six for dinner.  It was just a case of waiting for Ian and Robert to join us.  Soon we were all tucking into the buffet meal - and what a buffet it was!  I think I can safely say in 21 years of ferrying to France, that was by far the best meal I've ever had on any ferry - well done Brittany!

Our meal kept us going for a good two or three hours and it was then time to retire to our cabins for a few hours shut-eye.  Well, I was OK, but I gather I kept Martyn and Alan awake with my snoring! 

Having disembarked about 7.30 am, the first item on the agenda for the Tourists was inevitably food!  We made a plan as we were getting ready to go to the cars to go to Dinan, a few miles into France - not to be confused with Dinard which is a stone's-throw from St. Malo.  (I Iearned after the event that Dinan was the capital of medieval Brittany with a substantial historical significance - see http://www.revivalclothing.com/articles/FranceTrip.htm - about half way down the page for detail and some excellent photographs).  After a quick walk around the town in the sunshine, we settled down for pain and croissants and loads of coffee to get us ready for the journey to Le Mans! 

                 

It was a really nice way to start the Le Mans weekend - breakfast in the sunshine.  It was still early and we had plenty of time in hand. 

                   

That being so, after breakfast we went for a walk around the delightfully picturesque town, enjoying the superb stained glass in the XIIth-century Saint-Sauveur church and snapping away a load more of those photographs that are taken every year but, for most, never ever see the light of day again - particularly the digital ones! 

         

It was then back to the cars for the 150-odd kilometre drive to Le Mans.

I guess we arrived in Le Mans somewhere around midday.  Once upon a time I was sufficiently "anorakian" to note down these times and details but as the years pass, the attention to detail has slipped a little - especially when you start writing the story weeks (oh alright then - months) after the event!  Ordinarily we drive straight to the circuit, but on this occasion, we still had some Le Mans "prep" to do! 

As regular readers will know, since 1990 we've invariably taken our evening repast at MoncÚ-en-Belin, not far from Arnage, but it had been decided that perhaps a change was in order for 2006.  In all my 20 previous years at Le Mans we had never actually been into old Le Mans town - can you believe that?! - and we therefore thought it would be a good idea to see if we could book a restaurant in town for that evening.  So we drove right into the heart of Le Mans, into the Place Saint-Pierre (where the Hotel de Ville is situated) and abandoned the cars while Martyn took his excellent command of the French language off to try and find us some dinner.....

                   

To be quite honest, I hadn't expected success - after all, this was the Friday night before Le Mans and the place would be absolutely packed after the driver parade but in less than 5 minutes Martyn came up with the goods, having apparently managed to book the last table for 6 in the Restaurant Le "1930" and little did we know just how good that decision would turn out to be! 

So, after that success story, it was finally time to go back to the cars and head off to the circuit.