Le Mans 2003 GTOUK Trip
My brother-in-law Mike Hughes flew in from the States to join me and other members of the GTOUK club (14 cars total) on a pilgrimage to the world famous 24 Heuers du Mans in France. Thanks to Andre for organizing the trip and to Brendan for putting us up at his house on Thursday night.
We met up with Mark at a rest stop on the M1 on our way to Brendan's house. After an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, we grabbed a few hours sleep before departing at 4:15 am on Friday morning. We stopped at a gas station rest stop to meet up with others on the way to Dover and made the 7:00 am ferry to Calais as planned. The drive through France was a little tedious, but everyone managed to find the campground at Le Mans by early evening.
Our campsite was inside the circuit near the Dunlop bridge. The first evening Mike and I enjoyed watching the antics of drivers and spectators at the adjacent roundabout, where drivers were encouraged to perform smoky burnouts and do power slides around the circle while being blasted by super-soakers. The gendarmes were surprisingly tolerant and the participants fearless!
There was activity in several pits throughout Friday night. Mike and I scoped out the track and identified vantage points for watching the race. Saturday morning we enjoyed the race between classic Le Mans cars, with close racing between GT40s, 916s, Cobras and other legends. There was plenty of competitive racing and it was fun seeing the really old cars (pre aerodynamics) go around. There was one wreck, very unfortunate.
At 10:45 am, we attended the race introduction in the MRI hospitality tent, which included interviews and talks with three drivers, very interesting to hear accounts from that perspective. We grabbed a sandwich from the caterer and ascended the hill at the Porsche Curves just in time to catch the checkered flag from the classics race. After the track was cleared, about 100 Corvettes lapped in a parade celebrating its 50th anniversary. We made it back to the campsite just in time to take shelter in the GTOUK marquee during the only rain we saw all weekend.
At 4:00 pm, we joined a number of GTOUK members at the Tertre Rouge to see the start of the race. The cars rounded the corner only feet in front of us and were incredibly loud as they accelerated hard down the Mulsanne Straight. Outstanding! We spent the rest of the evening watching the race from the Ford Chicane and the Esses. The Ford Chicane is a great place to witness glowing brake rotors, and the area inside the Esses offers a long, unobstructed view of cars carrying amazing speed through the corners.
According to our GPS, we had walked nearly 25 miles, and at 3:00 am we headed back to the tent, utterly exhausted. It isn't surprising that we managed to fall asleep to the sound of wailing engines lapping the circuit. Fantastic! By Sunday morning, several teams had dropped out due to mechanical problems, but the works Bentleys remained in the lead followed by the privateer Audis. The Corvettes were unable to catch the Ferrari, which proved reliable enough to stick it out for a win in the GTS class.