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To the Dark at Indianapolis - 1st Qualifying
Wednesday 13th June
We watched out the whole of the free practice
session in T17. Its astonishing how quickly four hours can pass when
you're having fun watching racing cars at Le Mans in the sunshine. We had
to make a decision at this point where to watch the first qualifying session
which would run from 10 pm to midnight. We had a bit of time in hand as
after the free practice there was a half hour break before the Road to Le Mans
cars came out for an hour of free practice. Unlike some, I rather like the
category as I'm a bit of a fan of the LMP3s, the cars actually look the
part, race reasonably closely and make a pretty good noise. The GT class also provides a bit of
extra variety over and above the cars in the main race.
Here was my first test as a 'new driver' at Le
Mans, finding my way around from Parking Blanc out to the car park at Arnage.
It was easy of course as I just followed James, but the route was very familiar
and I had no trouble at all getting to the car park and parking up. The
weather was still very good but I expected it to get a bit chilly by the end of
the qualifying session so I took a jumper with me. We also took our
folding chairs so that we could be comfortable while spectating.
There was a decent crowd on the 'new' banking at
Indianapolis but we stopped off at the 'rip-off' eaterie there first. It
was the same place as we ate on the Thursday evening last year and their
generosity with their portions was as poor this year as last. We had our
usual sandwich Americain merguez, however we got a roll half the normal size
with a smattering of fries. It tasted OK, but it just wasn't as good as
elsewhere at the circuit (notably down between the Esses and Tertre Rouge).
Having just about satisfied our appetites, we
moved up onto the banking and set up for qualifying. The Road to Le Mans
free practice was already under way and I took a few shots of those cars as they
(and I) warmed up. After that session ended we had just half an hour to
wait expectantly for the Le Mans cars to emerge.
At the risk of excessive repetition, I was waiting
for one of my favourite moments at Le Mans. When the clock hits 10 pm and
the cars are released from the pitlane, in the relative quiet of Indianapolis
you can hear the cars as they head around the circuit, pretty much all the way
from the acceleration out of Tertre Rouge. The volume of the cars
increases steadily as a hush descends on the spectators as we hear them reach
Mulsanne Corner and then blast towards Indianapolis. Then, in the slowly
fading light they burst into sight out of the final right hand kink before
accelerating through and late braking for Indianapolis itself. A truly
magical moment and, as you'll hear James say on the video, it was almost
'eerie'.... Or at least it would have been, if the bloody French commentator
hadn't prattled for the entire time! Little things have a tendency to
annoy me and this was bordering on sacrilege..... At least the noise of
the cars eventually drowned the muppet out.
If you only watch one of my videos - this should
be the one!
The racing in darkness is, for me, the most
special part of Le Mans and being there for 'the whole thing' means that I get
to see it for a while on both Wednesday and Thursday evening as well as during
the race. The night settled in quite quickly and from recollection (now
many months later), I don't recall it bringing the bitter cold that night at Le
Mans sometimes inflicts. James and I went and watched the second half of
qualifying from the run to Arnage and lost contact at this point with James F
And so to the videos....
So at the end of the session we made our way back
to the car. It was at this point that I made what would prove to be my only
navigational mistake of the week. I turned the wrong way out of the Arnage
car park. The roads were familiar and the satnav seemed happy but as it
took me down the road towards Mulsanne Corner I finally twigged what it wanted
me to do - it wanted me to drive back down the Mulsanne Straight....!
If I recall correctly, the road wasn't opened between the Wednesday and Thursday
sessions and wouldn't have been opened that quickly anyway, so I had to retrace
my steps, losing about 20 minutes in the process. Having got my bearings
though, the rest of the journey was straight forward and we arrived back at the
hotel exactly an hour after the end of qualifying, which wasn't so bad.
Unfortunately the car park was completely packed and I ended up having to park
on the grass.
It had been a great day. Really good
weather (bearing in mind rain was predicted for Thursday). The Toyotas led
the timings of course, in the low 3m 17's with the leading Rebellion and SMP
just over two seconds adrift. We wondered if we would get to see another
banzai Kobayashi lap tomorrow like last year.... Perhaps the most
astonishing time of the session was that of the 'Rothmans' liveried Porsche in the hands of Gianmaria Bruni
who set a lap of 3m 47.5, a second and a half
faster than anything else in GTEPro. But, right now, it was time for