Saturday, 28 June 2014

Le Mans 24 Heures 2014...

Well ... what a weekend...!

Everyone knows what the Le Mans 24 hour is...so I'm not going to reel off facts, figures and other easily obtainable snipbits of information here. Google it... This is an account of what I got up to.

My friends departed for the ferry early doors on Thursday, hoping to get there sometime in the afternoon.  I was let off work at 8pm, quickly jumping on my bike and hooning the 300 miles to Le Mans, and the campsite, like an expectant father to be who's just got the message 'it' is coming...

When I got to Le Mans around midnight the roads were grid locked. It took me 45 minutes just to navigate to our campsite, only trouble being I didn't know which colour sign our campsite had been designated. The majority of the 24 hour track is made up of normally public roads... roads that my new satnav app wanted me to take.

There was a particular road that looked a 50 meter jaunt to another road, but it was barricaded off with some 5 foot heras fencing except for a little gap that the workmen had just made, so I shot through and up to the end of the road. That's when I realised I was now sat smack bang in the middle of a huge race track straight. Parked up every 20 meters or so were flat bed trucks and mobile work lights illuminating a huge army of orange clad French dudes setting up armco barriers. One passing flat bed had an oompaloompa on the back just pointing at the barriered entry I'd just blatantly ridden through!

I eventually got to the roundabout with a drunken Ross standing on it waving his torch beam in every motorcyclists eyes. The campsite was just as much a dilemma, with Alex threatening to violently show me how many beers he'd drank earlier that day. So after a few cold ones myself we all retired by about 1:30am.

Alex, myself and Ross partying hard
After a late breakfast that morphed in to Lunch we headed to a small village on the outside of the track called Arnage, 2km down the road. It lends its name to a section of the track, and has some nice bars, restaurants and a notorious section of the high street known to host all manner of tomfoolery with fans and their cars. It was also convenient that there was a bar showing the Netherlands vs Spain game in the World Cup Competition. For some reason though the morning beers had been flowing too well and we ended up walking back to the campsite for a reason I can't remember. Getting hacked off with walking the same unpathed road some of us ended up hitchhiking with relative success.

The Dutch game was a belter by all accounts. Netherlands wooping their arch rivals Spain 5 - 1. I say by all accounts because I soon got a bit bored and instead took my beer outside to egg on the cars and bikes on the road outside the bar. It's such a mad environment to be in. There's motorheads everywhere and all they want to do is spin up their wheels or get their engines to hit the rev limiter, yet the police seem to tolerate it. Its brilliant!

After another, hop skip and a jump back to the campsite a few of us went out hunting for more tyre smoke, getting to the front entrance of the campsite and being met by a huge crowd of people all encouraging the passing cars to get those rear tyres spinning like a yoyo. We got fully involved and ended up pushing the older cars back and spraying water on to the roundabout road so they would lose traction. There was a diverse number of vehicles too, with sports cars, motorbikes, old bangers, mums out in their zafira's and one notable 7.5 tonne truck that I'm glad I didn't fall under when trying to hold it back.

It's not all about the cars... they just happen to be there!
This is all at around 11 or 12 o'clock at a vague guess. It was dark anyway. And then suddenly out came a red flare that lit up the crowd as everyone cheered and engines roared. I'd probably had waaaay too much to drink at this point and before I knew it I was stood in the middle of the road holding aforementioned flare aloft screaming "WHO ARE YA!" at the top of my voice, turning around and thrusting the flare up in the air. For some reason the entire crown seemed to instantly quiet, just leaving the mouthy Englishman screaming something at the top of his voice while waving a flare about. Phil later said they probably didn't know what to expect from me next. Until I casually put the flare back on the floor and walked back to where my mates were standing.

As with any crowd there was a few who wanted to spoil the fun. It was when glass bottles were broken on the makeshift burnout pad that we all collaboratively decided to leave. The cars that were entering the area had no idea there was glass underfoot and would then try and spin up their wheels to impress the crowd, presumably causing some damage and potentially 4 flat tyres. We couldn't take on everyone and get through to them they were spoiling the fun, so chose to abstain and leave.

Not that leaving was a particularly bad idea. We stumbled across a very noisey and lively party hosted by some German or Dutch blokes. There was a good gathering of about 40 - 50 people all mooching about and dancing to the music. We all got our groove on to classics mixed with the austin powers theme tune!


Saturday saw us all taking the tiny land train up to the start straight for a spot of hat shopping as everyone was getting burnt scalps. I woke up to a badly burnt hand from the previous nights shenanigans. Meeting the Michelin man was a pivotal point in my life. As with the French version of Asterix, I tried my best to explain that I couldn't speak French... in French. He didn't care anyway, he just wanted a cuddle.

We continued North a bit and decided to plot near a chicane for the start and followed the race quite religiously for about an hour and a half, listening intently on the radios to the commentary. There was even a little mention about the Dutch rave in the campsite! But as the afternoon wore on so did the consumption of beer and interest soon faded in the race and became more about going to the toilet every 5 minutes, chatting with people from various Scandinavian countries and relishing in the brief rain shower that cut through the otherwise sweltering weekend for 20 minutes.

I think all of us had a quick alcohol induced sleep around 3pm on one corner. Quite how I'll never know as over 50 unsilenced sports cars hooned round the track meters away from us. That evening we watched some live music on the stage and enjoyed England being thrashed 2 - 1 by some Italian people in the World Cup. Kick off wasn't until 12 at night and the temperature dropped dramatically leaving only me, Phil and Alex left standing at the end, wrapping the three of us in the foil lined rug I'd brought along.

Recovery beer at Indianapolis
Sunday was a bit of a nightmare logistically. The 6 of us were all struggling with life, as comes after a few days full of beer. Getting on the bus to one of the other corners of the 8 mile track seemed like our best bet. Getting on the bus was fraught with French favoritism that I've witnessed in the Alps before, so, when no one was looking, I popped the rear doors open and Ross and I lept in just before they closed abruptly behind us, shutting everyone else out.

When we got to the Indianapolis corner, Ross and I went in to the ticketed arena next to the track and waited for a while, cold beers in hand, to see if the others had made it on to the next bus. An hour went by and it became apparent that they weren't coming and we spent atleast 30 minutes waiting in bus queues, walking a bit, thumbing with no luck and ending up back in the bus queue for a 45 minute ride around the track's Western perimeter until we got off at the start straight.

Up at the start straight we had a walk around, checking out the jam packed stadium and eating some much needed food. The other chaps decided to stay down near the campsite so after watching the end of the race on a big monitor in the Nissan garage Ross and I made a leisurely stroll back.

After what appeared to have been an absolutely quality weekend we all decided that we'd splash out on a big meal together as a kind of closing ceremony... You know, a quite one.. ready for the drive home in the morning. Well.... I know we went back to Arnage, and I think I had some sort of sea food, but after that I have total and utter blankness except for a raging fire billowing out of our BBQ back at the tents as we burnt all of the remaining fuel.

I woke up the next morning in a dire condition. Packing away my tent so the others could take it back home before I rode the 300 miles South and back to Moto Camping Dordogne. I made it 2 miles out of the campsite before I had to sleep with my head on the kurb of a McDonalds car park for 2 hours, eat two big mac meals and ride for 5 hours cursing that 'quiet night' we'd just had.

Le Mans isn't just for car enthusiasts.... It's not for the faint hearted.... It's for anyone who enjoys having fun... And I'm going to have fun at this place for years to come!

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