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Le Mans Trip 2003.
Saturday June 7th.
What an incredible day!!
Its half past one in the morning and I am sitting outside my hotel room under a clear sky having just got back from the Puy du Fou.
Still, I suppose that I should start at the beginning.
I finished packing the Forty early this morning, closed up the house and went off to get some fuel for the car. Then went back to the farm where Ken Saunders and Margaret Osborne were just finishing packing. The farm is north of Limoges near a town called Bellac in the middle of France. Ken and Margaret went in Ken's Forty and the luggage went in mine. We said goodbye to Mike Osborne (who volunteered to stay at the farm to look after the animals) and set off about nine. We had a pleasant drive for just under three hours to St Laurent sur Sevre and the Hotel La Chaumiere where Geoff Masters was already waiting for us. He had come over from England with his Forty on the Friday night ferry.
We were allocated our rooms - Ken, Geoff and I have three rooms off by themselves with a large terrace outside (where I am sitting now). Margaret's room is just round the corner.
After an extremely good lunch (including a brilliant starter with sardines and a sort of peach sorbet - delicious) we went off to the Puy du Fou "Theme" park.
The theme park is historically based with six large set piece shows that run during the day. Most of the shows run for about 30 minutes. There is a Gallo Roman Stadium, a Viking raid at about 1,000 AD, a Medieval City, the medieval battle of Dunjon, an 18th century village and the newest attraction is a ballet of birds.
We started at the Battle of Dunjon Keep in which, it appears, the locals beat the hell out of Richard the Lionheart and the English soldiers. Much rejoicing (both in the crowd and on the stage set) as the English soldiers bit the dust. It was a lavish spectacle with knights on horseback, jousting, trick riders, horses doing dressage as well as the final battle - which included two huge 10 metre seige engines trundling across the arena and a 15 metre high castle that moved forward into the arena, backed up again and then slowly turned round to reveal its other side.
From there we wandered through the 18th century village and then on to the medieval city. In each case there were people in each building doing typical crafts and local skills appropriate to the period (as well as selling the end results). The Puy du Fou (which means beech trees on a hill and has nothing to do with being crazy) has been going for 26 years and, in addition to donating vast sums to charity, now includes an educational college that trains students in all the skills used in the park - including equestrianism, animal training and husbandry, all the medieval skills as well as the skills necessary for the evening "son illumiere" including lighting, costumes, music, drama etc.
This filled in the time until the Gallo Roman show started. This spectacle is slightly longer than the others and is only done twice a day. They have built a typical provincial roman stadium. It seats 6,000 people (and was close to capacity) and the arena is 115 metres long - so to start with the setting was really impressive. The show opened with the arrival of the provincial governor who introduced a triumphal procession. This included Legionnaires on horseback and foot, christian slaves, vestal virgins (figuratively speaking I'm sure), a leopard, ostriches, a gaggle of geese (all following their mistress), as well as a float dedicated to Baccus, the God of Wine.
The idea was then to sacrifice the christians - but the leading centurion declared that he too was a christian and what is more he was in love with one of the captives. This really annoyed the governor who said a lot of nasty things in French about christians - although it was very clear that he did not have the sympathy of the audience. He said that as the man was a centurion he would give him a chance. If he could beat the governor's gladiators then he could go free with his christian friends.
He then introduced four very large, very mean looking gladiators. There followed a loud and quite bloody battle with four christians pitted against the four gladiators. At half time it was two all - with the bodies being dragged out of the arena on a flat sled drawn behind a large horse. By full time the centurion was victorious, although his three christian friends didn't make it. Final score four three to the christians.
Of course the Governor didn't keep his word - the crowd booed loudly, they were getting into this by now.
No the centurion could not go free - but he could go free if he won the chariot race.
Enter four chariots, each pulled by four horses. The traditional teams of Green, Red, Blue and White. The centurion was given the White chariot. The race was certainly choreographed but Bernie Eccleston eat your heart out - it beat Formula One into a cocked hat! Sixteen hoof, two wheel drifts round the ends and all sixteen horses going at a flat out gallop.
The first casualty was the blue team, whose wheel came off and he skidded round on one wheel for a lap before retiring.
Then they put a "sleeping policeman" out, about 20cm high. They hit it at a full gallop, the Green and White chariots survived (the riders did very well to stay in the chariots) but the Red chariot broke in half with the wheels and body parting company with the front part and the horses. The charioteer stayed on the front part and retired at the end of the lap.
Of course the White team won - but the governor decided to throw all the christians to the lions anyway. The Centurion was put into a cage to watch and his girlfriend was tied up in the centre of the arena. Enter a large lion as the other christians all climbed into a large covered wagon. This did not appear to be a very good tactic as the lion followed them into the wagon. Loud shouts and screams - indicating that the lion was enjoying "meals on wheels".
Four more lions then entered the arena - and miracle of miracles they sat down on their marks instead of eating the centurion's girl friend. The governor then ordered the soldiers to kill the centurion and his girl - but the centurion made an impassioned speech to the gallo roman troops (and the audience) - the result of which was that the governor was chased across the arena (by a hyena!!) and the centurion and his girl were reunited.
It seems that everyone lived happily ever after, except all the other christians - who reappeared at the end all dressed in white symbolising something to do with being dead is OK if its for a good cause.
Finally we made our way to Le Bal des Oiseaux, which is set in small arena surrounded by the remains of a ruined castle. This show has grown out of the fact that the park has a falconry school and rare hunting bird breeding program. Again in a medieval setting, the show consisted of hunting birds being flown around the arena. To start with they used about 10 eagles flying to and fro across the crowd to four trainers who were walking through the crowd. The trainers would crouch down behind people and put their arms out just behind their heads - so that the eagles would fly inches over their heads. As the arena was shaped like a shallow bowl, the eagles would swoop down one side, across the middle at head height and then up the other side.
Before they started the announcer warned people not to stand up or raise their hands or they would get hit. They were not kidding - at times the birds were flying only a foot or so above the people.
They also had a large tethered balloon about 100 metres up that had bird cages with remote doors to release some of the larger birds - including a couple of huge fish eagles that swooped down over the crowd.
The largest of the birds were the vultures, some with a two metre wingspan - again flying back and forth across the crowd to and from trainers on both sides. At times there must have been twenty or more birds in the air at a time. Like all the displays and shows it was really impressive and very well staged
After the show it was 19:00 and so the park was closing. We went back to the cars and started back to the hotel.
Unfortunately we got lost and managed to drive some 25 miles although the hotel was only 5 miles away! As a result we were a bit late for dinner - but the hotel is obviously used to getting guests in and out in time for the evening show - so we were finished in good time and drove back to the park. The evening show, or Cinescenie as it is called, is held in a separate area next to the theme park which has a dedicated stand for 14,000 people overlooking a lake and the ruins of the Chateau.The "stage" covers an area of 26 hectares (about 60 acres).
The show traces the history of the Vandee region by following the fortunes of one particular farming family from the Fourteenth century up until the end of the second world war. It started with a country fair and jousting practise for the knights and then went through a series of tableau illustrating the highlights of historical events in the region. The cast (and crew) are amateurs drawn from 15 local villages and included many whole families from grand parents through to babes in arms - acting out the parts of families through the ages. At times there were nearly 1,000 people on "stage" at a time - plus dozens of horses, oxen, goats, pigs, geese and enough pyrotechnics to start a large war. In total over 2,700 local people are involved two nights a week. The show included laser effects, fireworks, massive fires (at one point the whole chateau was engulfed in huge flames reaching high into the sky), explosions, projected images and huge pieces of moving scenery.
The scale of the production has to be seen to be believed.
A couple of things stood out. The first was that the poor peasants were obviously struggling hard to eek out a living - but every major conflict decimated them. All they really wanted to do was survive and have an occasional feast - but they kept on getting beaten up, killed, maimed and going through depressions. The celebrations changed little over the years - they were just happy to have survived the latest troubles. The other thing that stood out was the attitude to the French revolution. Far from supporting it, it seems that as a strong catholic region, the Vandee was ruthlessly supressed by the revolutionary council based in Paris and over 300,000 men, women and children in the region were slaughtered by the revolutionary blue-coats. As a result the local populace revolted and defeated the revolutionary troops - but then, as good catholics, forgave them and let them go. The second world war was pretty much glossed over - with the main problem that was highlighted being the flood of refugees that were driven into the region by the German advance. Not a lot was said about the final victory - although the victory celebrations formed the show's huge grand finale.
The enormous cast received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.
As usual the organisation was excellent and we were in our cars and on our way home in a matter of minutes despite the need to get 14,000 spectators and 2,700 participants out of there all at the same time.
Sunday morning came all too soon and after breakfast we sat down outside our rooms in the sunshine to relax. After a while we began to hear unmistakable sounds of car engines being driven at competition levels. We enquired and were told that there was a race being run for the day at a local grass track circuit that was just a mile down the road on the other side of town. So, after a break for morning coffee and tea, we took the three Forties across town to the circuit. Initially we parked in the offical car park (field) but when we walked the short distance to the circuit we saw that it was all open, with no barriers or tickets or entrance fees - so we went back, got the cars and drove right in through the front gate and parked the cars in a row. Immediately we were surrounded by a few dozen enthusiasts.
The racing was on a very hilly grass track with either modified production cars - mainly small hot hatches - or purpose built specials that were a lot faster. They were doing one timed lap each - going out five at a time at about 30 second intervals - presumably qualifying for the afternoon's racing. We wandered round the paddock and chatted to some of the owners - they varied from obvious amateurs to quite professional outfits, with the standard ranging from a very proffessional "bunch of bananas" exhaust system to a plastic bucket bolted onto the carburettor inlet as a dust trap.
After about an hour everything stopped for lunch - so we returned to the hotel for our lunch and a siesta. Lunch was again excellent and afterwards we decided to have a siesta before returning to the race track. However things did not go quite as planned as we were all suffering from a lack of sleep the previous night - so no-one actually woke up until the afternoon was almost over. Instead of going back to the track we ordered a bottle of rose and four glasses and sat chatting until it was time for dinner. It was so nice just to relax and know that there was nothing else we really should be doing.
We had a leisurly breakfast, paid the bill (very reasonable - given the excellent quality of the food and the quantity of wine) and packed the cars. We left around 10:00 and headed north to Loheac. The plan was to stop off at a Supermarket to buy some bits and pieces - but we found that it was a bank holiday and everything was closed so we just drove straight there. It took us about 2 hours and we arrived around mid-day. As it was a holiday the hotel was closed, so we went to the nearest bar, Le Manivelle (The Starting Handle or Crank Handle), and had an excellent lunch. The bar was full of car and racing memorabilia - and we found out that the whole town's economy is based on cars and racing. A whole group of people arrived for lunch wearing racing overalls - they had come from the local racing circuit that runs a racing school.
After lunch we wandered over to the automobile museum and ended up at the race track where the people we had seen at lunch were doing circuits in some very nice, very quick, little single seat saloons made by a local company "Exess". This circuit is the one where we are due to drive on Wednesday. We watched them for a while and then headed off to find the go-kart track to see if we could arrange to do a bit of driving.
The go-kart track was only just down the road - and when we arrived there were several private karts doing practice circuits, setting up their karts. As usual, we attracted quite a lot of attention and were shortly introduced to the owner and the chief scrutineer. The owner said that it was the chief scrutineer's 50th birthday and he would really like a ride round the track in a forty! The track is about a kilometer long with some good straights - but it also had some very tight bends. Neither Ken nor I thought that we would get round the tight bends - but Geoff was up for a try. They duly waved a red flag at the karts and Geoff and the chief scrutineer went out for a few laps in Geoff's Forty. Geoff had it on the rev limiter in second - about 60 mph - which was very good going considering how tight the circuit was.
When they came back in everyone was very happy - and we were invited up into the control to see everything - and for a glass of champagne. At some point the owner asked if we would like to try some karts - so we all went downstairs - they found us some helmets and off we went. The track was fantastic - I had a great time. These were standard karts (the private ones - which are serious racing machines - were going past us like we were standing still) but it was still great fun.
We swapped addresses and have been invited to come down for one of their major meets next year with the Forties.
Finally we wished them all good-bye and returned to the village, where the hotel owner eventually arrived and gave us our rooms. Because it is a holiday the hotel is officially closed - but he showed us the rooms and said he would see us in the morning for breakfast. He also showed us the bar and said to help ourselves and just leave a note of what we used. We have four rooms here. Geoff's is FULL of racing memorabilia, including many things relating to Senna (Geoff's wife's idol). One other room has a full casino in one corner and a Jaccuzzi in the other!
One thing about these trips is that you do get to meet some wonderful people and do some great things!
Later on Monday evening we went back to the bar/creperie for supper as it seemed to be the only one open in the village. While we were eating we heard the familiar noise of a pair of Forties and John and Jill Edwards and Mike Quee arrived. They joined us for a drink while we finished our meal and then we went back to the hotel to get them into their rooms. When they were settled in we all went down to the bar for a drink. We managed quite well - although we couldn't find any light switches anywhere so we had to serve ourselves by torchlight. So the evening drew to a close.
When we came down for breakfast our host Pascal Lecoguic was there with his partner Michel Hommell - together with Jacky Morell they own the largest private publishing house in France as well as the Museum and a car manufacturer - Automobiles Michel Hommell. Michel very kindly invited us to his hospitality suite at Le Mans and said that we could go to the museum's private race track any time. Their kindness and hospitality was outstanding.
After Breakfast we headed out for the track with Pascal and spent a happy morning driving round the circuit. It was quite tight in places - one chicane in particular required full left lock followed by full right lock. But it was an excellent technical circuit with a wide variety of bends and complexes. It is designed for training rather then racing - so it was quite challenging.
All went well - although Ken lost a core plug from the block at the end. Luckily we found the core plug inside the chassis - so we were able to put it back when the engine cooled down. In case it happened again, we called Mike at the farm and got him to post a spare to the Hotel at Lohaec and a couple more to the Hotel in La Fleche (in case the one didn't arrive at Lohaec before we left).
During the morning Pascal came back in a bright yellow Viper and took Geoff and John for a quick circuit or two. It was very quick and - as an ex-racing driver - he really knew how to handle it. Unfortunately at that point he got low on fuel, so had to go back to the hotel.
We followed him back a little later to the hotel where we had an excellent lunch sitting on the terrace with all the cars lined up in front of the hotel for a photo. After lunch we went to the local supermarket to re-fuel and stock up on essentials (including the odd bottle of giggle juice).
In the afternoon we went up to the museum and spent the afternoon wandering round their fantastic collection of cars and memorabilia - over 300 cars including 18 fomula one cars and a whole gallery of formula one bits and pieces. The collection includes everything from old farm implements, an old threshing machine through horse drawn carriages then very early cars and a huge collection of racing and road cars all through the twentieth century.
Tuesday evening, Jacky Morell arrived in his Forty from Bordeaux with his son Stephen while we were having dinner. We met Jacky two years ago at Le Mans where he was an entrant for the Viper driven by Vannina Ickx. After dinner we repaired to the bar for a nightcap or two....
The morning was a slow start - everyone was tired from the night before. When we had got it all together, we went back to the Museum with Jacky Morell and had another wander round their fantastic collection. Many of the cars had belonged to Michel Hommell so Jacky knew them well and had driven many of them and knew their history.
After lunch we went with Jacky to the Michel Hommell Automibile factory where they make the Berlinette RS2. This is a two seat sports car with a much modified Peugeot engine developing 195 BHP in a car that weighs 950 Kg. The car has a tube chassis and is produced in road and race versions for between 30,000 and 45,000 Euros depending upon the specification. They are the last small car manufacturer in France. They have made about 300 cars in the last 5 years but they are struggling because of the French legislation which: a) is constantly changing, which means they have to keep updating the car and re-applying for approval; and b) requires them to meet exactly the same requirements as the big manufacturers - with no allowances for small volume production. As a result they have cut back on the staff and reduced production - as usual the government putting small, inovative employers out of business.
Won't it be nice when we have a true European Union and you can transfer cars fron one country to another with no hassle.
Wednesday evening we dined at an excellent local restaurant in Lohaec, La Gibeciere, sitting outside as the sun set and the stars started to come out. Beautiful.
After breakfast we packed all the luggage back into the cars, settled the bill and set off. John, Jill and Mike Quee went directly to La Fleche in their two Forties while Ken and Margaret, Myself, Geoff and Jacky and his son Stephen headed to Le Mans - where Ken had to pick up the passes for the Friday Parade.
After about 40 minutes the four Forties were blasting past a couple of trucks - quite high revs were being used by Ken who was leading - when a core plug came out of Ken's engine. All the water in the engine was blown back all over Geoff's car behind him.
Luckily within coasting distance was a roundabout with a large car park on one side (for some kind of tourist office) and a bar on the other side.
We looked in vain for the core plug - but couldn't find it. We had checked the post that morning at the hotel and one had not arrived from Mike at the farm - so without a spare we were stuck.
Eventually Jacky phoned the museum and spoke to the manager, who is an old colleague of his. It turned out that he had a spare set - and he very kindly offered to drive out and give it to us. We went off to the bar for some lunch while we waited - and about 45 minutes later he arrived.
Getting the plug back in was very difficult because, with the engine in the car, it is very difficult to get at it. Eventually we got it in although it was not quite square (as it should be) but was at a slight angle. Anyway, it didn't leak when we re-filled the car with water.
So we set off at a very gentle pace towards Le Mans. It was now past mid-day and getting very hot indeed - well over 30 deg C. Our slow pace - combined with two large sets of roadworks - meant that our pace was very slow and the cars - and us - were getting hotter and hotter. You could tell this by the fact that each time we stopped - all the car doors would open together and the hands would be held out to cool - like a synchronised swim team.
When we finally arrived at Le Mans we drove down to the Blue car park which is about a mile down from the museum. Poor Ken had to walk all the way back up to the museum to get the passes for Friday. Jacky Morell had a Gallic eruption at the officials that we had not been put into the more secure (and closer) car parks for which we had applied.
While this was going on we noticed that Ken's front left tyre was flat - so we started to pump it up but discovered that the air was leaking out of the wheel rim.
Eventually Ken returned - very hot and bothered and we pumped a bottle of sealer into the tyre and set off for La Fleche.
At La Fleche we parked the cars by the Quay and went to look for the Hotel - as John had phoned to say the car park was full. When we found the hotel the car park was almost empty as everyone had left since John's call. So, we returned to the cars - to find the hotel owner waiting for us - he had seen the cars and stopped to check if we were his new guests. He led us to the hotel where we were able to get all the cars into the small car park quite easily.
After a welcoming drink with the owner we all retired to our rooms for a very welcome shower - because we were all suffering from the heat.
At 20:00 we left the hotel and walked down past the Quay to the Restaurant Quatre Saison, which had been recommended as a Restaurant Gastronomique. It certainly lived up to its name and we enjoyed a delicious and leisurly dinner (again out in the open air) - arriving back at the hotel at about midnight.
In the morning, after having breakfast and getting ourselves organised we left for Le Mans in convoy. We arrived at the Blue Parking and walked the long distance into the circuit. The ACO was closed until the afternoon - so we headed off to the pits and walked up and down looking at the cars in their garages in various states of dis-assembly as they prepared for the race on Saturday.
Being with Jacky Morell was an experience because he knew so many people and so many people knew him - so our progress was slow, but fascinating and very informative. Jacky then took us up to the Michel Hommell Publishing suite on the second floor overlooking the pits - where we were introduced to the staff and given yellow wrist bands and were invited to the suite any time we wanted.
Then we headed to the "Legends" pits were all the historic cars that were taking part in the Legends race on Saturday morning were being got ready. The Legends field included four original Forties. Initially they would not let us in - but after some impassioned French from Jacky we were finally let in to wander round these great historic cars. Two of the Forties were in bits - so I was able to get some good photos of the working parts.
Eventually we headed back to the cars and drove into the centre of Le Mans. Ken had given each of us a "Parade" sticker and when we arrived in the Cathedral Square they directed us into the large car park - not only checking the stickers but also checking our names off a list. Very efficient for a change!
We parked up and let the cars cool down a bit and then walked off across the square to find some lunch. We picked up a couple more members of the GT40 Club who were there without their cars and had a light lunch overlooking the square.
Soon after we got back to the cars we were asked to clean my car and Ken's. As we had been driving for a week round France, the white cars were showing the dirt a bit. So Ken and I each washed our cars with bottled water supplied by the organisers. We were then asked to drive to the final marshalling area where we parked up the cars again in a line with all the other cars that were taking part in the parade.
The assembly of cars was quite impressive with retrospectives for Lotus, Bristol and Corvettes as well as a Ferrari Enzo (lovely front end, HORRIBLE slab sides but gorgeous noise...). There was also a contingent of three MG T-series cars from the MG car club in Perth, Australia who had come over to Europe for four months - bringing the three cars in a 40ft container (just!). I spoke to them in case they were the ones that my brother Chris stayed with - but they said that there were three different MG T-series clubs in Perth alone.
At one point the Hawiian Tropic Girls came round and we got some great pictures of them drapped over Jacky Morell's car - as well as other exotoc cars in the marshalling area. The girls loved the Forties - and they were taking pictures of our cars as we were taking pictures of them!
The parade was due to start at 18:00 but was delayed by about 15 minutes because the Mayor had not arrived. Eventually it started with a cavalcade of Le Mans classics followed by the Le Mans trophy and then each team of drivers, each team being driven in a classic old car - mainly more than 60 years old. Interspersed with the driver's cars were marching bands, batton twirlers, Hawiian Tropic Girls, a convoy of Harley Davidson Bikes, mini racing cars (half scale copies of Le Mans racers built and driven by 12 year olds). Then the "Performance Cars" started to go out. This year they controlled the rate at which the participants started round the "tour" (which was about 1.5 Kilometers round). This meant that you actually got round the tour in about half an hour. We started off about 20:00 - so by then the parade had been going for nearly two hours. Each car went over a ramp with a red carpet and the car and driver were introduced - then we went off down the road through the crowd of over 100,000 people. As usual, progress was slow - with three more places round the tour when we were stopped and again introduced to the crowd. At one place they grouped the seven GT40s together in two lines and then did a countdown - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - to rev the engines together - a very impressive noise.
As ever, the crowd were so enthusiastic and cheered and clapped as we went past. All seven cars got round without major incident - although John and Jill in the car in front of me caused quite a stir when the carburettors got so hot that they burst into flames - twice!
Luckily John has a built in extinguisher (this is not the first time it has happened to his car) and a quick burst put each fire out - but the marshalls and the crowd were VERY impressed. John's is the only car that does this because he does not have a heat shield over his engine to protect the carburettors - he really needs it!!
My car got very hot - but behaved impeccably. I also got very hot and was dripping with sweat at the end - but it was worth it. The atmosphere is so fantastic and the crowd so wonderful that it is a really emotional experience.
After the parade we returned to the marshalling area to cool off. The public was let in to mill around the cars and you are surrounded by people who love the cars and are so enthusiastic. One man and his wife introduced himself and said that he lived in Le Mans and had always loved the GT40s since he saw them for the first time in the sixties. "This is the first time I've had the chance to see one close up," he said, "they really are beautiful." When I asked him if he would like to sit in it - his face was a picture. He could hardly believe it - and sat in the car clearly going down the Mulsanne straight at 200mph in his imagination. One of the biggest pleasures of the weekend is to give real enthusiasts the chance to sit in the cars and to see them close up.
One young lad in a wheelchair was asking all sorts of questions about the cars and was clearly an enthusiast. Margaret asked his Father if we could lift him into one of the cars - he agreed, so he was carefully lifted into Jacky's car. His face shone as he sat behind the wheel. That has to be one of the most satisfying moments of the week.
Eventually the cars had cooled off - so we set off back to La Fleche where we had reserved a table at the Quatre Saisons. There were supposed to be 9 of us but after Geoff, Ken Margaret and I arrived, one of our friends brought news that John had clipped a curb with his back wheel coming out of Le Mans and broken the wheel. Luckily they were fine - but the car was going to have to be put on a trailer and taken to a garage - they would follow on by taxi later.
There was nothing that we could do to help - so we had dinner (again excellent) which went on until well after 1:00am. As I had promised Ginger, we raised our glasses and toasted to Carroll Smith, who died recently, and his fiancee Ginger. We sat and reminisced about the wonderful time we spent with both of them last year - and how much we missed them and our love and support for Ginger. Race Tech magazine, for whom Carroll used to write regularly, had printed a wonderful two page spread about him - and his colleagues had paid for a one page advert in his honour. Truly one of a kind - who will be sadly missed.
Carroll Smith & Ginger - Le Mans 2002
An early breakfast (after far too little sleep) and we left for the circuit - arriving at the stand with a few minutes to spare before the beginning of the "Legends" race at 10:15.
The first part of the race was dominated by a battle for the lead between Nick Mason's Ferrari 512 and Willy Green in a Ligier. They were obviously enjoying themselves and the lead swapped back and forth as the Ferrari was faster on the straights but the Ligier had the advantage on the twisty bits. Unfortunately a half-shaft gave way on the Ferrari about half way through the hour so Willy Green was left unopposed at the end. The four GT40s ran well although Jacky Oliver spun out and retired towards the end. It was great to see these historic cars being raced hard - as nature intended.
Afterwards we went to the ACO building in the village to sign in and for Geoff to renew his membership. Each year we go to the ACO (Ken and I have been members since 1996/7) we meet the office staff - and one lady in particular who has been kind enough to remember us. This year she had a special surprise for me - it seems that she collects postcards - and had found one with a picture of a GT40 and had saved it specially for me. I was very touched that out of the thousands of people with whom she deals - she had remembered us. It was a very sweet gesture and much appreciated.
We had a sandwich lunch at the ACO and then went back to the stand for the pre-race show and the start. It poured with rain at mid-day, but by the start it was hot and dry.
As ever, the start was incredible. The pace car peels off the front of the line of cars and 47 cars accelerate down the pits straight - an awsome sight and sound that batters the senses. From the start, Bentley were out in front and actually led the race 1-2 for all but about 5 laps of the race. I was also supporting Audi UK - the team in which a friend of mine, Richard Allen, was working, although because of ill health he was not there on the day. Unfortunately after only just an hour, Frank Biela ran out of fuel on the circuit and had to retire. They said that he tried to do an extra lap because he was baulked coming into the pits and didn't have enough fuel. Seems a bit suspicious to me for someone so expeienced - but it was later confirmed that he was baulked.
We watched the first couple of hours from the stand and then Ken, Margaret and I went back to the Hotel for dinner and a realtively early night. Geoff, John, Jill and Mike stayed at the circuit and slept in the cars overnight.
In the morning I watched the race for a while on Eurosport - confirming that the Bentleys were still 1-2 with a two lap gap between them and Audi were 3-4, two laps behind with a two lap gap. The fifth car was some 10 laps behind.
After breakfast we re-fuelled and headed back to the circuit arriving at about 11:00. We returned to the stand and settled in to watch the end of the race. Apart from the obvious nervousness to see if the Bentleys would have any problems and a few battles down the field, the last few hours were fairly uneventfull.
The finish of the race, like the start, is always very emotional. Bentley came in 1-2 with Audi 3-4 - so much cheering (and singing) when they played the British National Anthem at the end.
We wnadered back to the cars in the car park and sat down to wait for the rush to subside. It usually goes quite quickly - and after an hour or so we were able to get moving and left the circuit without too much delay.
When we got back to the hotel we watched the Canadian Grand Prix on the TV for a while (more racing!!) and then had dinner on the terrace. Monday we all go off in different directions - so Sunday night is always a sort of "End of Term" celebration. Our final act was another toast to the memory of Carroll Smith and to send our love and best wishes to Ginger.
Its been a great week - we have met some wonderful people, made some excellent contacts for the future, eaten some exceptional meals, drunk some very good wines without breaking the bank and had a lot of fun and laughter. The cars have behaved very well, the parade was brilliant, Bentley won the race (after 71 years) and all's well with the world - for another year.
Tomorrow its slowly back to reality - tired, but with superb memories.
A leisurly start. A pleasant breakfast and then packing the car and settling up the bill. John and Jill were still waiting to sort out their car and the ferry home tonight - I think that John will get a new wheel and bring it out next weekend and then drive his car back. Mike was going with them in his Forty (John and Jill have a Peugeot 106 rental). Geoff is staying another night and going back Tuesday. He is planning to go and see Patrick today at the chateau where we stayed the last three years.
Ken, Margaret and I headed south - quite slowly because the left front tyre of Ken's car is still not holding its air properly. The plan was to go to Saumur for lunch and then go to Ackerman's to get some wine and Champagne - they make a spectacular rose champagne - and I have almost run out.
But.... the best laid plans.... I am now writing this by the roadside just north of Saumur. Ken's tyre finally gave out and split - so we are stopped by the roadside waiting for Mike Osborne to drive the trailer up from the farm to pick up Ken's car. It will take him about 2 hours to drive here - so we have a fairly long wait sitting here in the sunshine.
Mike eventually arrived with the trailer and we loaded up Ken's car. Then we drove to Ackerman's and bought lots more wine - because we had the Citroen (towing the trailer) to put it in. See - there is a silver lining in every cloud!!
The last half of the journey home it got thundery - still very hot, but now very humid too. It had clearly been raining as the roads were wet but we managed to avoid the rain proper.
Finally we arrived back at the farm at about 18:30 - I went home to Lavaud, unpacked, filled the washing machine with dirty clothes and then went and stood in a cool shower for 20 minutes before going back to the farm for dinner.
Altogether a memorable week - wonderful people, great food and wine and some fascinating places.
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