When I woke up around 7.30 on Wednesday morning it
became obvious fairly quickly that something I had eaten at Del Arte was
disagreeing with me in the 'traditional' way (that I don't necessarily want to
go into too much detail about here!). After waiting a little while longer
than usual to get myself up and ready, I rendezvoused outside with James and
Tony, only to discover that James had been similarly afflicted, however we
weren't going to allow this to put us off our breakfast! So it was off to
the bar again - the first time for Tony in 2017.
After breakfast we took a trip to Auchan to enable
Tony to buy some items and I also stocked up on a few things. Once again
it was a blissfully sunny and hot day and we were all very conscious of the need
to keep stocked up on fluids as it was going to be a long day as well.
After going back to the hotel to stow away our purchases and sort out our gear
for the circuit, we set off for Parking Blanc at 12.40. On our arrival we
were delighted to be welcomed by our old friend 'Bicycle Man' (see the 2015 and
2016 stories) who dutifully checked that we had parked correctly. It was
ironic as we discovered later that we had actually got it wrong, parking one
space back from where we were supposed to be - not that it really mattered
today. Despite losing out on our grandstand seats we had managed to secure
our usual parking spaces which was good. By 1.20 we were heading into the
circuit, going through a more significant bag searching routine than we had
There was no action on track today until the free
practice session began at 4 pm so we decided to do our usual early arrival
activity and check out the shops behind the grandstands. It really was
incredibly hot by now, certainly the hottest weather we'd encountered during the
week so far and it was actually quite hard to summon up the enthusiasm and
energy to walk from stall to stall. Ordinarily we would have gone inside
the circuit and made our way down to the Espace Club to join the queue to sign
on and obtain our ACO armbands however the ACO's club stall behind the
grandstands was open and we were able to sign on there straight away, which was
a huge bonus as it saved us a slog down to the inside of the Dunlop Bridge in
the blazing sunshine.
Having signed in we took the decision to watch the
start of the free practice session in the very welcome shade of the Durand (T17)
grandstand. It was good to be back in 'our' grandstand again and it was
strange to reflect on the fact that we wouldn't be watching the start of the
race from here on Saturday, the first time since 2011 for me. The ACO were
typically late in opening the doors and we had to wait for 10 minutes after the
advertised opening time to get into the building whereupon we made straight to
the cafe for our baguettes and drinks before taking up seats in our usual
practice spot at the top of the stand opposite the Audi pits, now occupied by
GDrive and TDS (not Rebellion as was initially misidentified by Radio Le Mans
several times during the week). It was really very good to be up there out
of the direct sun but the heat was still everpresent and the cafe was an even
more valuable resource to us than usual for cold drinks.
As is customary on Wednesday, the number of
spectators seemed quite low and as practice began the grandstand was quite
sparsely populated, although it did fill up a bit more as the afternoon wore on.
In fact the attendance was increased by one 'freeloader' - a small bird that
spent quite a long time flitting between the roof supports of the grandstand!
It's at this point of the story that you get the
first of my traditional 'ropey photo' warnings. I try every year and my
offerings these days rarely improve! My excuse is that taking photos from
the grandstands opposite the pits is always difficult as a result of the fencing
and the loudspeakers on top of the fencing, but this year's offerings from free
practice are a pretty poor bunch, I'm afraid.... I think my photos of the
bird were the best I took all afternoon!
We ended up watching the whole of the four hour practice session from the shade
of T17, leaving the stand just after 8 pm to head back to the car.
Normally we would have gone to Arnage and Indianapolis on Wednesday evening for
the first qualifying session, however Allon (who would join us tomorrow) had
particularly asked if we could do Arnage on Thursday evening instead, so we
chose to watch the first qualifying from Mulsanne Corner instead.