DIARY OF A BACK-UP DRIVER
by: Steve Davis
from: Fortification - November 1996

Fortification is the Club Magazine of the GT40 Enthusiasts Club
Copyright: GT40 Enthusiasts Club 1996

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DIARY OF A BACK-UP DRIVER.

Saturday
We arrived at Ken's house to find that he had lost his grip! (or more correctly he had no clutch). An hour's frantic work saw the clutch bled and working. We were off. Fifteen minutes into the trip and we are on the M4 - Volvo, trailer, Gail and I rolling along ahead at a steady 65 mph as requested. Ken Saunders and Richard Craven with respective passengers Adrian and Steve in their 40s supposedly just behind.
Look in the mirror - no GT40 in sight. Slow down to 50 then 45. Starting to panic now. What has happened? I knew back up drivers should be at the back. Relief as two 40s blast past us. They had been going slowly waiting for us to catch up after Ken thought he saw us take a wrong turn at the motorway junction. Obviously another case of clutch fluid poisoning affecting eyesight!
We stop at services and join up with Mike and Margaret Osbourne and family in their 40 and Volvo, having already lost Richard and Steve after they failed to come off the M4. Hope they keep going OK Continue along designated route and suddenly see a blue 40 stopped on sliproad. Unfortunately we are going too fast to stop quickly but luckily help is already at hand for them from Robert Logan driving his Scimitar (broken fan belt).
We get to the other side of the same junction and horrors - Ken's car has stopped as well with the engine cover up. Managed to pull over this time but all the tools we have were to be of no use because Ken has lost all the drive to the back wheels and the sad decision was made to have the car transported back to Leighterton. Ken and Adrian decided to continue on in the Volvo with us and we eventually arrived at Rouen Campanile about 9.30 pm to great cheering from all the others which certainly helped to lift Ken's spirits a little.
If every day is going to be like the first all I can say is HELP!!

Sunday
Should be easy today. just a run down to Le Mans Campanile. Problem. Rouen has roads going IN only and we can't get out. After passing a camel on the side of the road three times (honest), we eventually emerge on the correct route. This was to be the first of many such interesting navigational exercises or cock-ups caused by assuming that the French know where their roads go. At least the back-up car is at the back and we all arrive safely. John's fan belt is still slipping but he fixes it easily at the hotel. We drove over to the circuit in the afternoon and almost caused the Viper Team mechanics and marshals to have coronaries due to getting over excited at the sight of so many GT40s. They didn't care if they were replicas Noel - they were true enthusiasts.
We drove along to Arnage where we parked up under some trees and had a well deserved break at a cafe. No other problems today thank goodness.

Monday
Le Mans to Tours. It is hot even as we start the day. The plan is to run down to Tours stopping for a picnic at one of the many (?) sites along the route. Probably around Chateau-du-Loire, about half way. There was a possibility of exploring the area around Vouvray afterwards. I ought to mention at this point that Ken's Vouvray was Vouvray-Sur-Loire and not the well-known (to me anyway) Vouvray nearer to Tours. Yes that's right, cock-up potential rating out of ten - TEN.
We never did find a picnic site, any GT40s or Vouvray and the back-up vehicle arrived at the hotel first complete with three hot, starving occupants only to be told by the hotel manager that they didn't know anything about a party arriving from the GT40 Replica Club. We finally convinced them that they did have a booking for our group and reluctantly gave Adrian and I keys to our rooms.
First priority - get those beers in a bath of cold water. The 40s began to arrive with several of the drivers suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. Thank goodness for those cold beers. Richard Craven, our esteemed Editor, provided some amusement when he arrived from a totally different direction from anyone else. We watched him stop at an Information Centre, obviously to ask where the Hotel Campanile was. The kind lady pointed to her left and Richard was greeted with the sight of a dozen or so club members waving to him from about 50 yards away! We didn't need to see the look on his face - isn't body language a wonderful thing. This day also provided the only rain of the holiday. A very heavy thunderstorm and guess who had decided to take a walk around a large lake nearby.

Tuesday
Tours to Poitier and Val de Vienne racing circuit. The 40s left one by one and we followed last of all. Gail noticed that Richard and Steve had pulled into a garage for fuel so we drove in behind to wait for them. Lucky that we did. Richard managed to get the most fuel ever into a GT40 tank. Unfortunately it also came out again through a hole in the bottom and flooded the forecourt. Frantic scratching of heads, pulling of beards (not Gail) and sucking of teeth ensued and we eventually managed to remove some fuel into the other tank. The rest went into the Volvo (Thanks Richard!).
By now we were very late and after leaving luggage and trailer at Poitier Campanile we all went down to Val de Vienne in the Volvo. After a super afternoon at the track we were made very welcome at the Val de Vienne Hotel for afternoon refreshment but I am sure Ken will want to say more about that himself. It was a lot quicker on the way back without the trailer - er, excuse me but where were the tools, oil and spare fuel. Er, in the trailer.
Oops please don't let anyone break down. I said it out loud but obviously Mike Osbourne was not listening because he suddenly pulled out of the convoy of GT40s with no fuel pressure. We decided that fuel was required in the n/s tank to overcome the fuel evaporation caused by the heat. No trailer = no spare fuel and as official back-up drivers we had to find some so Gail, Richard, Steve and I zoomed off in search of a garage. I explained in my very best French that my friend needed some fuel but couldn't seem to get across to the little old lady that we needed a container to take it in. I tried different words that I knew. Box didn't help much. We were by now at a stalemate until she finally uttered the immortal phrase "Avez-vous le jerry can?".
Brilliant, why didn't 1 think of that. We eventually got back to Mike (alright so it was the long way round but the other three navigators might have been wrong!!) and after taking "le jerry can" back to madame we returned with Mike to Poitier with only one minor navigational problem.
Everyone else was back OK and after an interesting meal of raw meat (steak/frites) a very pleasant evening followed, sitting on the grass outside the hotel, playing boules, chatting and drinking anything that tasted vaguely alcoholic. Except Gail who doesn't drink alcohol.

Wednesday
Today was to be quite a long drive to Angers. We were looking forward to a stop at Sarnuur to see the chateau and have lunch in the town centre. This was later followed by a tour round a local Champagne producer. That evening was also to be the only planned evening meal at L'Hoirie Restaurant in Angers. Apart from getting lost a lot the day passed without any problems and the excursion, although enjoyed by only a few of us, was very entertaining (I never did know where everyone else went).
The evening meal was superb and once again there was a lengthy photo call session outside the restaurant. Despite the heat there were no breakdowns requiring our attention that day.

Thursday
The "raison d'etre" for the GT40 trip was approaching - the Le Mans 24 hour race and we were headed for Laval which was to be our base until Saturday morning. We set off at the back and fortunately could enjoy the drive. The cars seemed to be behaving themselves - or so we thought. Pulling into a super roadside complex for a coffee stop (the best we tasted in France) we were surprised to find Robin Sundt and his passenger Richard with engine cover off and bits of carburettor around them. From the mummified exhaust system, which certainly kept everything cool, to the purpose built luggage boxes Robin's car impressed us. He was also very self sufficient in the breakdown department as the only tool he didn't appear to carry was an engine hoist although thinking about it I didn't actually ask him! Robin's problem was one of dirt in the carb - French fuel seems to be full of rubbish - and he continued on to Laval, as did everyone else, without further problems.

Friday
After breakfast we all travelled to the Le Mans circuit again because our tickets included admission to the pits. It was very interesting to see the cars stripped down. Even the man putting on decals seemed to be working to fine tolerances. A beer at the Chinese Cafe on the Mulsanne Straight followed and then it was time to meet back at the car parking area before driving to the centre of Le Mans.
The Club had been invited to join the pre race celebrations. This involved driving round a planned route behind numerous open topped vintage cars carrying all the drivers in the 24 hour race. I was lucky enough to get a ride with Ron Farmer in his GT40 video car. We started the parade second behind Mike and Ken (Ken's consolation prize) and ended up last but one - but that's another story. After this we were meant to go on the official reception but Mike's fan switch burnt out (everyone's fan had been working overtime during the parade) and by the time it had been sorted out it was a bit late when we finally arrived. We must have looked a motley crew all dressed in well-worn casual shorts and trainers etc, so much so that at first they wouldn't let us in!
A French official quickly put the guy on the gates right and we went in and had a very enjoyable time playing with the exotic machinery on display; Lambo Diablo, Porsche GT1 etc. I am sure the French lady in her best frock was convinced we were a gang of robbers trying to steal the cars. We arrived back at Laval weary, happy and (some of us) very hungry.

Saturday
The day of the 24 hour race. We had already sussed out the parking spots for the day and Ken suggested that, as we had a spare parking space, the Volvo with trailer full to the brim and beyond with everyone's luggage, should park in places 1 and 2. Well what do they say about the best laid plans?
When we arrived some dope in a Cavalier had parked in the wrong row and we couldn't fit 25ft of Volvo and trailer in. Much cursing and liaising with officials ensued and the net result was that the back up crew missed the opening ceremonies. In particular the re-enactment of the 30 year old 1-2-3 victory of the GT40s in 1966 so if anyone has any good photos of this 1 would love to have a copy.
The rest of the day - especially the anticipation of the 3pm start - was great. To get out of the intense heat for a while Gail and I decided to have a look round the museum. We hadn't been in there long before a familiar sound was heard - a V8 engine which turned out to belong to one of the original GT40s coming into the museum. We couldn't believe our luck at being so close to this piece of motoring history and when the other two original cars also pulled in we were over the moon. The owner of the black GT40 Number 2 (1046) noticed the logo on my polo shirt and beckoned to us through the glass holding up a badge - did we want it?? You bet we did! We had a long chat with him while he asked about the GT40 Replica Club and showed a real interest in our cars. A very genuine chap.

Sunday
Yes, well, Sunday started early! By now we had got used to the howl of the cars as they flashed by at high speed. We were back in the car park drinking champagne and beers at about 1 am. (Incidentally the back of a 40 makes an excellent picnic table/bar). An hour or so later we decided to go back to the circuit. The sight of Ken, Richard, Mike and Margaret all holding hands walking across the car park was certainly one to behold. We had a problem trying to watch the race because while we had been away someone had blurred all the numbers on the cars. Come to think of it the cars were blurred as well so we gave up trying to focus and made our way back to the Volvo for a few hours sleep.
At about 8 am Gail and I made our way over to the village for an "English" breakfast. The bacon was OK but three almost raw eggs very nearly beat the hungriest spectators. The remainder of the day was spent watching the race from various view points and walking around the many shops and stalls on both sides of the track. The Club was booked into the Le Mans Campanile and so after the race we made our way there in convoy. Being at the back of this lot was certainly exciting and just watching the faces of people as more and more GT40s went by was brilliant. To say that we stopped the traffic is no exaggeration. Can you picture a four lane ring road, a set of traffic lights and more than one GT40 in each lane with a gap of about 20 metres between them and the bravest of French drivers? They must have thought they had strayed onto the circuit!

Monday
All loaded up we set off for the long journey home via Rouen to Calais and the "Chunnel". After a couple of hours travelling we came across Robin's car on the side of the road, back up and n/s rocker cover off. Apparently a push rod had flattened causing a misfire. After much deliberation it was decided to remove the errant rod, thus reducing Robin's engine to a V7, and hope that the lifter would stay in the bore. Everything back together again and off we set.
This delay mean that traffic had started to build up as obviously lots of people had thought to return home on Monday, like us, making the journey a slow one. Then we came across Robin again. The lifter had finally popped out of its bore and Robin had called it a day electing to have the car transported back home. After assisting in the loading of Robin's car onto the flatbed and seeing him and Richard on their way we set off yet again resigned to the fact that we probably would not make it to Calais in time to catch the designated shuttle. We didn't, but the beauty of the shuttle is that you just hop onto another one - they leave at about 20 minute intervals.
For us the holiday was absolutely superb. We weren't sure initially how it would work out being back-up. I think sometimes we fussed too much. I heard the term "Mother Hen" mentioned more than once but that's OK. At the end of the day we were there when it mattered and we enjoyed being there in every sense of the word.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the group for their enjoyable company and especially Ken for organising the trip and making it all possible.

Steve Davis


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