|June again. Time for the pilgrimage to Le Mans. Despite the
fact that 60,000 Brits emigrate for the weekend, what really goes on is a well kept secret
amongst us petrolheads.
From early in the week the advance parties converge on the south coast ready to board the invasion fleet heading for France. Arrival on the other side sees well organised convoys of exotica from the earliest Bentleys to the newest Ferraris with every conceivable motoring step in between, driving en masse to the rendezvous point at Le Mans.
The delightfully smooth and empty roads allow 'rapid' progress. As you hurtle down the péage at a steady 100mph, don't be surprised to be rapidly overtaken by an Aston Martin Vantage Volante pursued by a Lamborghini Countach. Ferrari, Ferrari, another Ferrari... common as muck those dancing donkeys.
In France Pierre Public drives a diesel Peugeot, so there's a good deal of interest in the bizarre machinery that we Brits insist on driving. Bars and cafes en-route are populated by the curious and the enthusiastic. A convivial atmosphere gives rise to the strange phenomenon of TVR drivers waving at Porsche drivers.
No Park and Ride
With the hoards of Brits now donning their badly fitting holiday shorts, gaggles of cars wind their way around the streets of the town doing U-turns at the traffic lights and cursing the French for not sign-posting the track. Eventually by selecting someone who looks like they might know where they're going the lost boys home in on the refugee camp that is the Le Mans circuit.
Snaking into the vast expanses of tents are the groups of cars, seemingly sorted by marque. The communities gradually build up their camps, identifiable by the various flags, cars and paraphernalia that accompany the event.
As you unwrap your mouldy tent, still sporting the dried grass from last year's trip, it's small comfort to witness the logistical feats that have been achieved by those erecting their mess tents complete with fridge freezers and televisions.
Still, with tent erected and some crusty French bread and warm cheese at the ready for breakfast the following morning, it's time to break into the first crate of warm French lager. Second crate...
At this point in the proceedings, your loyal reporter cannot report further on the evening as unconsciousness played a vital part in his part as a professional journo-scumbag.
Saturday scorcher. A quick whiz around what must be the most valuable car park in the world reveals all the wonders of the motoring world and motoring history gathered in one place. You may own a £150,000 supercar, but a tent is good enough for you at Le Mans. It's a great leveller.
It's a 4pm start to the race although with little British participation this year, interest levels are low. Tens of thousands amble over to the track to see the start. It's an impressive sight. The noise and spectacle of the cars screeching through the sweltering heat on the start of their motoring marathon is a joy for anyone with petrol in their veins.
The cars roar around the track and it soon becomes a background noise which you only notice when it stops (safety car out). As dusk descends on the site, similarities with a war zone become more and more apparent. Helicopters constantly whiz overhead, bangers and fireworks join the cars in the assault on your eardrums. Engines are revved in the car parks, fires illuminate the figures running around the campsite and screams pierce the humid night as beers become the first stage in a huge irrigation process. The aural offensive continues throughout the night until a brief period as the sun rises and the last of the overnight watch saunter back to their tents or off in the search for breakfast.
Come 8am and the first of the disheveled beer-weary troops emerge from their sweltering tents to scavenge for water and the remains of the two day old bread.
Two nights of slumming it have taken their toll and the tent pegs are pulled and accommodation is stuffed into the boots of cars as the first drifters leave the camp sites before the race has even finished. Two hours later and a thousand hotel showers are washing the grime off those glowing red British bodies.
Cold beers, cold showers and glowing foreheads sit in the cool night air regaling the tales of the previous nights' exploits with roars of laughter.
Suncream on, roof off, silly hat on, foot down, wacky races back to Calais. Not another Countach?! Keep 'em peeled - Gendarmes in the bushes. It's the biggest exodus since Dunkirk. Home, clean, fresh, tired.... planning next year!
The race? Oh... Audi won.
Link: A great pictorial account is available at www.pikeynet.com