Monday, 15 July 2013

Le Mans (Part 2)

We arrived in Le Mans around 10. It was another 90 minutes before we had negotiated the traffic jam. And what a traffic jam -- Jaguars, Bentleys, Porsches, Aston Martins and so on. Not many Ferraris or Lamborghinis but, being either built or driven by Italians, they had all presumably either broken down or crashed. Just joking, my Italian friends... We know that you work to the highest standards of engineering and never ever exceed the speed limit.

Moving swiftly on, unlike the scarlet 458 steaming, bonnet up, by the roadside, we dropped anchor at the far end of the coach park. Mercifully even the Chuckle Brothers had paced their morning drinking and had not even touched on the subject of immigration. They were last seen heading, with determined bearing, to a bar by the Dunlop bridge. They had their sleeping bags.

The good old days of Le Mans, when the race began with the drivers running across the road to their cars, passed in 1969. Nowadays it takes a couple of minutes to get a driver in and out of the car, so precise and snug is the fit. In the 1920s you simply jumped into the car and hoped you didn't castrate yourself on the gear lever. And there was no point reaching for the seat belts. It would be another 40 years before they were in use.

Today it's a rolling start. One lap behind the pace car and, bang on the hour, they are away, accelerating in a blaze of colour and deafening noise towards the first bend. Fortunately Alan McNish decided that, in 2013, common sense was a better strategy than his infamous 2011 attempt to slide the Audi through a narrowing gap past a Ferrari. In fairness the Audi did manage to get through the gap. Well, most of it did, the remainder being distributed along the Armco.

But even with common sense in the ascendant, motor racing is still a dangerous sport and it was only one more lap before Allan Simonsen crashed the number 95 Aston Martin into the barrier of Tertre Rouge, a 175 mph corner. The only vague consolation I imagine was that he would have known little about it.

The biggest absence this year was the Peugeot works team. In the last few years they had given the Audis a run for their money and, although they had only won it once, in 2009, French automotive pride is such that this was touted as a national triumph. Then in January, Peugeot decided to pull the plug on their motor racing aspirations across the board. Not a single Peugeot engine started in anger on the grid anywhere. Ostensibly the decision was taken on grounds of cost but less generous rumour suggested that the 2013 Audis were even quicker than the previous year and that the nightmare scenario of an Audi 1-2-3, crossing the line like Panzers, was more than likely.

So it was left to Toyota to try and spoil the Audi party. And they almost did. Certainly they were competitive throughout the race and although they didn't win it, they took second and third. The French crowd was certainly cheering them on. In fact they were cheering on pretty much any car that wasn't an Audi, even on occasion accidentally cheering the British.

Alex and I watched until 2 AM, even having to endure a concert by Earth, Wind and Fire. I didn't know they were still around. In fact I didn't even know they were still alive. But, living monuments to Botox and liposuction, as one wag suggested, they were indeed still around. Their set started around 11:30. An hour later they were still around. And an hour after that, although that could have been just a bad dream.

You will probably have gathered that I'm not a fan. I'll take the exhaust sound of the 2013 Corvette over "Let's Groove" any day. The Chuckle Brothers, peering out of their sleeping bags like beer swilling pupae, thought they were brilliant. Enough said.

By late afternoon the following day, and even with a late surge from Toyota, Audi had won the race. Tom Kristensen, dedicated his victory to fellow countrymen Allan Simonsen and for a moment, caps were removed and everyone thought of the young Dane who had lost his life.

At least he was spared "Boogie Wonderland".

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