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Le Mans Trip (16th June 2005)
Line up at the Euro Tunnel departure
The 24 Heures du Mans, is possibly the biggest race meeting for British fans and it isn’t held in the UK! This year a group of SD1’s made the trip to experience the Le Mans 24 hour race.

We gathered promptly at the superstore just off junction 10 on the M20 before heading for the Euro Tunnel Terminal and the rapid train journey under the Channel.

Dave gets his Vitesse examined by customs
Once across the water it seemed like the whole population of British sports car enthusiasts, classic and new had invaded the roads of France. The window of Dave’s car was up and down like a yo-yo. The exhaust rumble of TVRs, Astons, Cobras and many other super cars was far too irresistible. I also couldn’t ignore the fact that Dave couldn’t resist the tone that a rather large pipe at the rear of his own car bounced off tunnel walls, down shifting as we approached for maximum effect.

Well, we were doing the same as about 100,000 other British motor racing fans showing the French a thing or two, heading for the Le Mans 24hr Grand Prix. Six travellers in three SD1’s comprised our convoy and without a hitch other than a few unplanned diversions into the odd car park and side road, (straight ahead you expect direction arrows to point up, French signposts point left!) we arrived at our camp site in good time setting up the tents

Our spot on the campsite
and had plenty of time to trot down to the village for a taste of the local French cuisine. It soon became obvious that our planned visit to watch some practice laps that evening would have to be aborted due to the ‘mañana’ approach to restaurant service encountered, assisted by the superb food and al fresco eating.
Friday morning we were all eager to get away and down to the pits to view the race cars being prepared in the garages, most attention seemed to be on the Aston Martins, very beautiful they looked too.

Our hopes were pinned very much on them giving us something to cheer about and a win in their class looked on the cards if lap times were anything to go by. We followed in tow as Dave guided us through the vast network of hospitality suits and stalls, you name it – anything motor racing related was on sale. A must at the circuit is to view the campsite where the majority of Brits, like sheep herd themselves together in a campsite built truly on epic proportions, every conceivable comfort brought with them, paddling pools, drinks bars, sofas, coffee tables and all competing with each other to build the biggest beer bottle mountain.

The route back to our campsite, about 8 miles from the circuit, included an irresistible diversion down the Mulsanne straight, normally a public road, the circuit is over 8 miles long and 2/3rds of it is on roads normally open to the public. We were able to continue round the Mulsanne Corner and on to Arnarge. We didn’t need to persuade Dave, I’m sure he was itching to ‘floor it’ - only thing is the French police were swarming like flies just waiting to catch any boy racers exceeding 60 mph.

The French organisers certainly know how to stage an event, the big day started with last minute warm up for the cars, then onto a ‘Legends race’, with Johnny Herbert romping away in a D type Jag to an emphatic win. Then proceeded what seemed hours and hours of displays, national anthems, car advertising, processions – flag waving and interviews all in French, not forgetting the Hawaian Tropic girls. I’m not sure which was the loudest, the race cars or the tannoy, unfortunately I didn’t understand a word of it.

4 pm arrived and we were all sitting nervously waiting to have our eardrums blown out having decided that a good spectacle is to be witnessed at the start finish line opposite the pits where most off the action takes place – yes, as you might expect they were blown out!! Various positions around the track are available to watch the cars thundering past, over 200 mph. in some places, at those speeds you might be forgiven for missing one as it rockets by. As my eardrums began to re-adjust themselves the distinctive sound of every car was very noticeable and meant that even watching in the dark you could tell which car shot by. I think one of the most evocative moments of the race is dusk till midnight; it seemed to capture the essence of the race, car headlamps weaving and winding their way down the circuit like fireflies in the night. If you have the stamina you can watch the frantic activity as cars are refuelled, drivers dragged out and thrust in mercilessly by their mechanics at pit stops all night, but we decided to head back once again to our quiet campsite and leave the thousands still there to party all night.

Back at the track Sun morning, but this time we headed for the Arnarge corner complex, everyone was tuned into the local radio station for an update on race positions (English speaking !) Heading back to our cars a French registered SD1 drove past.







Next stop was the Mulsanne Corner - here the cars slow down from the fastest part of the circuit, then we headed back to the start/finish area for the race end.

Driving back through Arnarge a display in the village showed it was 37 degrees C, very hot indeed!!! The race ended slightly disappointingly for the Brits, one Aston Martin ‘stopped with fuel problems’ out on the track, the second one finished 3rd in class, 9th overall. The sole TVR put up a good show at the end but did not complete enough laps to count as a finisher. But that’s motor racing and the atmosphere was still brilliant!

Finally, a walk on the track (after the race!!!). As we walked over the start/finish line, all the emotions of racing at this circuit, the history bound up in 24 Heures du Mans came flooding in. At last it was beginning to cool off, the heat over the weekend had been unbelievable, up to 34 degrees in the shade around the circuit.

We headed back to the camp site and another BBQd steak!

With the advantage of Dave’s experience…….10 Le Mans! We decided to leave the boy racers to burn some rubber on their return to the UK and we would return on Monday at a nice leisurely pace on less congested roads. As the channel coast got ever nearer Dave changed his mind! A little unplanned diversion (through a very pretty village, I must say!) resulted in his right foot getting heavier and heavier - those smooth French motorways guiding us effortlessly back to the rail terminal ahead of schedule!!

Thanks to Dave Puzey for organising the trip and guiding us around Le Mans, also travelling companions, Gary and Mandy, Mark and Roger; great companions - love the jokes (…TVRs!!…say no more). Let’s hope on the next trip to Le Mans we can have many more SD1’s. This was my first Le Mans, an event I enjoyed immensely and a must to experience at least once!
Tim Swainson
Mem 2444.
Les Pilotes Les Voitures
   
Dave Puzey & Tim Swainson; Rover Vitesse TP
Mark Collins & Roger Starre Rover 2600 SE Series 2
Gary & Mandy Gooch Rover 3500 Series 1
 
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