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Le Mans 2018 - Ayse's Story

Page 5 - The First Drive and Porsche Fun

Tuesday 12th June



When I write my story each year, I commit it to paper with pen and ink first so that as the memory starts to fade, hopefully most of the noteworthy things we did during the trip make it into the story.  So by October each year, I've normally done that.  This brings me to the problem with the 2018 story.  I didn't do that.....  From this point on, I'm typing it straight into the page largely from memory having suffered from the longest period of 'post-Le Mans malaise' that I've ever experienced!  I do have the benefit of a few notes in my phone, the text messages that were sent at the time and of course the photographs and video I took, but the memories themselves have by now definitely faded a bit more than usual.  So if friends who were there with me read it once its finished and wonder where that hilarious moment on (insert day here) has gone, I obviously forgot it!  So as we proceed to write of  the events of Tuesday 12th June, I am doing so on Tuesday 1st January 2019! 

So to the Tuesday, the 'Day of Rest'.  The day before the on-track action starts with practice and qualifying on Wednesday.  I woke early as usual, had my morning coffee and showered and dressed.  As my first video of the day shows, the weather was a little inclement.....The plan as far as I was concerned was the same as always, to head up to the Bar Havane for coffee and croissants.  Having checked in with James F, it was clear that he and Ramona were going to be a little slow out of the blocks this morning, so having compared notes with James, we decided to head up to the bar on our own before making the trip to Auchan for some shopping. 


The bar was quite quiet and we enjoyed that oh so familiar strong coffee and croissants from the patisserie around the corner before deciding to head up to Auchan to stock up on water, almond tuiles, bacon hula hoops and cherries!  James was quite keen to get hold of some trousers which zipped off to become shorts so we did the rounds of the nearby camping type shops.  At some stage we had a 'foody' conversation with Ramona during which she mentioned carp and how good she said they were to eat.  So having found a tank of small carp at Decathlon (or wherever it was), James and I couldn't resist sending the picture back to James F.  While we were at Auchan, I topped up with petrol, to make sure I was ready for the rest of the week. 


We made our way back to the hotel to find James F and Ramona up and about and it was an easy decision about what to do next.  It was time for my new car to drive the circuit!  James and I followed James F into town and we were soon emerging at Tertre Rouge corner onto the Mulsanne Straight, otherwise known as the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières or the (now) D338 towards Tours.  Thankfully by now (around 1.30 pm) the rain had almost stopped and we parked up at the beginning of the first chicane.  We spent quite a lot of time looking (as we did last year) at the size of the kerbing and also the amount of water that had collected in and around the kerbs after the heavy rain earlier that morning.  We then continued our tour around the circuit, stopping at various places of interest, so the second chicane, Mulsanne Corner, Indianapolis, Arnage before driving around to the entrance to the Porsche Curves where we parked up and walked down the track, close to the point where we had walked to in the other direction last year.  It was great to while away just over an hour on this little tour and for me, it was a joy to be able to drive around the circuit myself, for the first time in 33 years and to justify the 'map' legend that I had put on the back of the car before I left home!










After our circuit tour, James F and Ramona headed off to do non-racing things but James and I were keen to finish our 'lap'.  We decided to park up at the main circuit entrance and take a look at the museum, as James hadn't experienced this before.   We were quite lucky in that we were able to grab what appeared to be the last space in the (apparently) free small car park opposite the main entrance (as Parking Blanc was closed) and we thought we would grab a bite to eat in the little café situated just outside the museum, however when we got there we found that it didn't exist any more and there were just machines selling largely uninspiring refrigerated sandwiches - disappointing ACO!  So we passed up on this meagre fare and took a look around the museum instead. 

For those who have never been, the museum really should feature in your plans.  The reality is that the museum doesn't change all that much from year to year, so annual visits aren't really necessary as the exhibits don't change all that much other than usually a new car or two at the very 'latest' end of the museum walk.  There was however a splendid Gulf exhibition with, amongst other things, a McLaren F1 and the truly beautiful Martini-liveried Porsche 917.  I think James enjoyed the trip around the cars and other exhibits although he didn't spend quite so much time analysing gearboxes, suspensions and engines as his brother did in 2016! 








After leaving the museum we spent a bit of time in the ACO shop and bought a few bits and pieces before taking the opportunity for a quick walk through the Village. 


There wasn't a great deal to see as most of the stalls were still setting up.   We walked over to the steps leading down to the back of the paddock and paused, seeing one or two people in the pitlane.  In 2016, Toby and I managed to get into the pitlane on the Tuesday, however James F and I were turned away unceremoniously when we tried to get in at the same time  last year.  On the basis of 'nothing ventured', we decided to give it a go and to our surprise, we were able to walk straight into the pitlane.  Fantastic!  My boys are clearly good luck charms....  All in all, there couldn't have been more than about 30 people in the whole of the pitlane, rather different to the massive crush that takes place at the official pitwalk on Friday.  We were both in our element, getting close to the cars, several of them being manoeuvred to and from the scrutineering area, and watching the team personnel going about their setting up.  We also had the chance to stand out on the 'hallowed ground' of the track for a while, James helping me out on occasion with my pitiful attempts at selfies! 











While we were in the pitlane, I spotted Khaled Al Qubaisi, the driver of the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche.  I couldn't resist reminding him of the accident he had last year with Roman Rusinov, James F's 'toilet buddy' (see last year's story for that one!), who punted him off unceremoniously into early retirement, by asking him if he would be keeping an eye out for Roman...  He said he would be staying well away from him! 



                    'What's going on down there then?'


By this time a few more people had clearly realised that it was possible to get into the pitlane and up at the Village end, it was getting noticeably busier.  It was as we slowly sauntered along the pitlane that we realised that there was some activity going on that could be of interest.  Some of the Porsche GT cars were being pushed the wrong way down the pitlane towards pit in.  Several media-tabarded people with cameras were walking that way too.  We had no idea why, but we decided to follow them.  As we walked past underneath the imposing ACO administration building that towers over the pit entrance we fully expected to be stopped, but there was no-one there to stop us.  We walked on out to the area on the inside of the Ford Chicane to see that we had lucked into a photoshoot for all of the Porsche GT cars and drivers.  This had obviously been set up as another event to celebrate Porsches 70 years at Le Mans but it was clear that this was strictly a media event to which the public clearly weren't supposed to have access.  Including the two of us, there were only a handful of  'interlopers' wandering around the cars and the drivers.  The light rain did nothing to spoil our enjoyment of this very unexpected bonus! 












As things drew to a close we left the Ford Chicane and made our way out of the pits and back over the to tribunes, where we stood and took a few more pictures.  Always one of those particularly surreal moments, we stood on the concrete there and in the empty grandstands, with barely another soul around, knowing that at 3 pm on Saturday, spectators will be jammed in like sardines at the start of the race. 

We made our way to the car and had an uneventful and perfectly satnav-guided journey back to the hotel, arriving around 5.30.  Having had no lunch at all, it was time to scoff a few Hula Hoops, tuiles and cherries to keep the hunger pangs at bay.  We arranged with James F to meet for dinner outside at 7.15.  We had wanted to eat again at one of our regular haunts, the Hippo Grill, but when we got there we discovered that it had 'morphed' into something called Le Relais D'Alsace.  We decided to give it a try however on reflection it didn't turn out to be all that great an idea.  I had a fish dish with sauerkraut that consisted of a few small pieces of fish sat on a huge plateful of sauerkraut while James, who loves duck, was left pretty unimpressed by his duck dish.  It wasn't particularly cheap either.  I confess I won't be looking to return there next year.... 

We got back from dinner around 10 pm and I had a lovely Facetime call with Jayne before checking out the latest news on Ten Tenths and then turning in.  Dinner aside, it had been a really great day, in fact one of my most memorable in all my years at Le Mans.  James was great company and it really tickled me to see him enjoying everything that comes with a trip to Le Mans.  I think he was beginning to appreciate what he's been hearing me say for so many years - that Le Mans is so much more than 'just' a race....  But now it was time for some rest as tomorrow would be a long day, with qualifying not ending until midnight, so a good night's sleep was definitely called for. 

As you might expect, I took a few videos during the day which you can view here:-