As I start to write my 2018
story, it is Monday 25th June, the last day of my Le Mans' holiday. A week
ago I was driving from Le Mans to Caen to catch the ferry home from France.
A week earlier I was at scrutineering in the Place de la République in central
Le Mans. We have no control over time and its rather banal to talk in
terms of it going very fast but at this particular time of the year it really
does seem to 'race' by. There are always two points where I find myself
reflecting on this. The first feeling of something approaching disbelief arises
as the ferry pulls out of Portsmouth harbour on the departure day and I have to
pinch myself to check that I really am on my way to Le Mans again. The
second time arises when I get up on the Tuesday morning after the race when I'm
back home and the realisation dawns that I have to wait another year to do this
all again. Don't get me wrong, its always lovely to be back home again
with my family (even though three quarters of the family were at Le Mans this
year!) but getting back to normality seems to get that little bit harder every
year, such is the 'high' that a trip to Le Mans generates.
The year between Le Mans 2017
and this one seemed to pass unusually quickly. I had been extraordinarily
busy work-wise, with mounting pressures arising from new digital working
procedures and staffing issues only adding to an already hectic and debilitating
time. Having hit 61 years of age in May I confess to really feeling the
pressure and the post Le Mans return to work had been a daunting prospect.
But in the run-up to this years Le Mans trip I was quite lucky as I had a week
and a bit off in May and my long-suffering wife Jayne and I managed to sneak
away for a short break at Center Parcs. I then returned to work for just
over two weeks before taking my Le Mans leave.
The build up to the trip this
year was also different in that we were deprived of our usual WEC 'fix' at
Silverstone in April. Like Audi the year before, Porsche had decided to
run away from the WEC and in the wake of that the ACO/FIA dreamed up the
'Super Season', starting (almost) and finishing with Le Mans in both 2018 and
2019. At first it appeared that the Silverstone race had been lost to the
schedule, only to be reinstated in August 2018. I had my hotel room booked
as soon as the date was announced and the ticket was purchased the day the
ticket office at Silverstone opened.
As is customary at this point
in most of my stories, I digress. I need to go back several months to
September 2017 when James, Tony and I started talking about Le Mans for the next
year. At this time I already knew that the younger of my two sons -
another James - was very keen to go. He had expressed an interest the year
before but too late for anything to be organised. So he quickly confirmed
that he was definitely 'in' for this year and that he wanted to do 'the whole
thing', just as his brother Toby had in 2016. Speaking of Toby, having
missed the 2017 trip due to work commitments and having jumped ship at work from
fettling Ferraris to sorting out Porsches instead, he was definitely going to
join us this year again, but probably only for a long weekend.
It was around this time that a
development occurred which was to add a new and rather exciting twist to my
usual Le Mans planning. James (LM James, that is) let Tony and I know that
his friend Ramona, who came to Le Mans with us in 2014, was very keen to go
again and James soon confirmed that she would be joining us in 2018. With
'my' James wanting to do the whole trip, this created a bit of a issue; although
all four of us could obviously fit into James' car, unless he intended to hire a
trailer for the week (!), our luggage certainly wouldn't. There was a
simple answer of course - I could drive to Le Mans. For 32 years I
had been lucky enough to be driven to Le Mans and I confess I was pretty
comfortable with that. I can honestly say that I had never had a burning
desire to drive over myself. I was actually a very inexperienced driver
abroad however the more I thought about it, the more I became comfortable with
the prospect of driving somewhere that I was very familiar with.
There was another aspect to
this which links to a particularly sad point for me in 2017. In the early
part of September my mother died. She hadn't been in the best of health
for quite a while and had been living in a care home in Hayling Island for about
a year. In the final few weeks she went downhill quite fast and it
was sad to see her in her final weeks and days. I preferred to remember
her in much happier times. The upshot of this sad event was that when
everything that needed to be done had been resolved, I knew I would be in a
position to change my car. I had never quite fallen in love with my
Octavia VRS and I started to look around some something different. I was
looking forward to the prospect of taking another car to Le Mans and in March I
bought a BMW 125i in my favourite 'Estoril Blue' and fell in love with it almost
immediately. (I did actually have my eye on a 135i/140i but Jayne thought
that was all a little 'unnecessary'!).
So our plans were finalised.
As a gift from my mother, I said I would pay for the accommodation, ferries and
tickets for James and Toby. LM James had already booked his ferry, the
customary 2.45 pm crossing from Portsmouth to Caen (and back) and I did likewise
for myself and my James and also booked Toby's crossing on the Thursday to and
from Le Havre. James did his usual great job again organising our
accommodation and tickets. The Le Mans trip seemed to come around very
quickly which bearing in mind an incredibly hard time at work over the previous
few months, was very welcome indeed....