It's time once again to play
the annual episode of the all too familiar game - called 'This time last week'.
Familiar because I play it at this particular time of the year and have done so
every year for the last 32 years! I also have a sneaking suspicion that
I'm not the only one who does it. As I begin to write the story of my 2017
Le Mans trip, 'this time last week' I was briefly away from the circuit having a
quick refreshing shower and change of clothes back at our hotel. It was
9.45 am on Sunday 18th June and after a night which to my dismay saw almost
total capitulation by the Toyota team and Porsche 'trundling' to yet another
victory, the feeling was bittersweet to say the least. We had just
experienced the most magical night of the year but it was now over, our hopes
for a Toyota victory dashed again, but we had to lift ourselves for the rest of
the race - after all, there were still over five and a half hours left to run.
So press on dear reader, we will return to this point in due course....
To adopt a by now familiar
saying for fans of the 24 Heures du Mans, what had happened in the year 'from
June to June'? Well, I'm still working for a living and the daily grind is
definitely getting no easier. In fact I have a massive project to return
to after my Le Mans holiday to which I'm going to have to devote most of my
attention in the months to come, a daunting prospect, but one that will
hopefully bring a lot of satisfaction if I can emerge with my sanity largely
unscathed when everything settles down. I am in my 42nd year in the same
employ and I also turned 60 in May. The hardest thing for me these days is
to see people around me taking retirement, including several who are younger
than I am, and it serves to make me think more and more often about calling it a
day. Maybe next year....
The family are doing OK, all
in decent health, although our house and garden continue to acquire cars and
bits of cars at an alarming rate. The two boys have however acquired very
nice girlfriends in the last year and Toby has 'semi' moved out, although he
still needs to sort out the Evo that remains on the drive and the countless car parts
which scatter the back garden. We have enough car parts to be able to
start up in competition with the local breaker.... He also moved changed
his work this year, transferring his allegiance from Ferrari to Porsche and
both boys are keen to 'do' Le Mans.
After 2016 it was very much
the plan for Toby to be part of the team again in 2017 and tickets and a room in
the hotel were duly ordered by James for him. I kept on at him for weeks
about sorting out his ferry crossing. He had decided not to do the whole
week and a bit and to go instead on Wednesday or Thursday. I was getting a
bit concerned as we got into February that he still hadn't booked a crossing for
himself and the mate who was going to join him and his options were becoming
limited - and expensive. In the middle of February he finally decided that
he was going to have to cancel his plans as it hadn't been possible for him to
get out of working on the race-day Saturday, so he was completely scuppered.
So James cancelled his hotel room (and therein lies a tale - see Thursday's part
of the story). Fortunately, Allon was prepared to take Toby's general
entry and grandstand seat off my hands, so I was only a small amount out of
pocket in the end. In fact, as late as mid-April, my other son James
raised the possibility of going in Toby's place, however by that time the
tickets were already sold to Allon and it would have been difficult to start
trying to change our room arrangements. But as far as as I can gather,
both are seriously thinking of going in 2018.
So it was determined that Team
DoT this year would consist of James, Tony, myself and self-described
probationary member Allon! As always James was onto the arrangements at an early
stage and ferries were sorted as soon as the bookings became available. It
was in October 2016 that we had the first inklings of potential problems however
with our grandstand seats. We had sat in the same seats in the T17
(Durand) grandstand for several years however we all somehow missed the date on
which ticket bookings opened for ACO members. Before long it became clear
that we would not be sitting in T17 in 2017 as the ACO insisted that all of the
seats in all of the grandstands along the straight were sold. After
several days liaising with the ACO, James secured seats for us in the grandstand
at Maison Blanche overlooking the Ford Chicane (the stand is known these days
somewhat uninspiringly as 'Raccordement'). The seats were only in the
third row so I was a little concerned about my ability to take photographs from
there, but at least we now had our seats sorted out and in a sense I was looking
forward to the change, having previously sat in that stand as long ago as 1992. We
would find out how good the view actually was when we got there in June.
As has been the case for
several years now the 'mini dress-rehearsal' took place in April when the WEC's
2018 campaign kicked off at Silverstone. James, Ramona, Tony and I were
there for the full three days at Easter. Allon joined us for the Saturday
and Sunday and Toby came up for raceday. It proved to be a very enjoyable
long weekend with good action on the track and the weather wasn't all that bad
for Silverstone in April - a bit damp and cold around the edges at times, but
perfectly bearable. A good win for Toyota put us all in good spirits for
what we hoped would lie ahead in June.
By this time of course the Le
Mans trip was only eight weeks away and the time passed surprisingly quickly.
As I left the office on Thursday 8th June I was in my customary ecstatic frame
of mind at the prospect of eighteen days off work with my 32nd visit to La
Sarthe about to happen. So what was in store? Some decent weather
for a change? The long-range forecasts were certainly encouraging,
suggesting long spells of sunshine with the prospect of some quite serious heat
- after the last few years, we felt we deserved it! And hopefully we had a
great race in store with a win for Toyota to make up for the massive
disappointment of 2016. I was seriously looking forward to finding out....