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  3. Camping At Le Mans - Petrolhead Paradise!

Camping At Le Mans - Petrolhead Paradise!

Andy our warehouse manager has just got back from his first trip to Le Mans. Here's his lowdown.
An awesome time had by all, by the sound of it.
Oh, and if anyone knows who the "Danish Chas 'n' Dave" might be, let us know!
 
After  weekends away camping at Silverstone for the Grand Prix, Santa Pod for top fuel drag racing and Goodwood for the Festival of Speed, we decided to venture further afield (no pun intended) and head down to Le Mans for the legendary 24 hour race. Thursday 9th June at 5am and I’m up rechecking my kit (again) making sure I have everything we need for our five days in France. An hour later and we are drinking coffee at the Eurotunnel services at Folkestone, admiring exotic supercars and chatting with likeminded petrolheads whilst waiting for our call to board. After a quick 35 minute trip under the channel we have made it onto foreign soil, a first time abroad for me. We set the sat nav up ready for our 350 mile drive to the ultimate racetrack. The journey including “pit stops” took us just over 8 hours, eased by the sounds of Ferraris, Corvettes and other supercars screaming past us in our van. CampingLeMans We arrived at Bleu Sud; our campsite, one of many around the circuit, mid afternoon. The campsite was about half full and we were directed to our pitches by security. A quick stretch of the legs and a tin of beer and then it was on to setting up camp. An hour or so later and we were done; tent, gazebo, shower tent, and wind breaks all up and we were ready for the drinking, partying …. oh and the race. Opposite our pitch was a large marquee, with a huge sound system, a bar and around 30 Danish blokes. They had been there since the Monday and were having a very loud party. No worries we thought, they’ll turn it down a bit later. We headed into the circuit to watch qualifying.  Thursday evening, standing in the grandstands at Le Mans, a track I have seen on TV a thousand times, with my old man and my uncle. Watching and listening to the cars roar by put a big lump in my throat. Le Mans is cool… After quali, we headed back to camp to cook some grub and have a few beers. The campsite had filled up quite a bit and the Danes were still partying. We fired up the stoves, cooked up some pasta and sat down for our late evening meal.

We decided to call it a night by 1, we had a long day travelling and we still had a 24 hour race to stay awake for. What a wrong move that turned out to be.

The Danes weren’t going to allow anyone on our site to sleep that night. The music was thumping away till gone 5 and they decided to have a rugby match alongside our tent. The Danes are definitely 24 hour party people! Friday morning, fry up time. We shopped in the UK for all of our food for our trip before we left. All loaded into one Coleman coolbox with four 2 litre bottles of water frozen inside. We have always frozen four bottles and find that it stays frozen for a good 3 days minimum. A meal that took a while to cook was demolished in minutes. 2   Bellys full, we were ready for the madness of what’s called Mad Friday. A day of not a lot happening on track so the campers take it upon themselves to create some fun. The Danes were still going from Thursday, fired up the sound system to play what I can only describe as Danish version of Chas 'n' Dave. The sun was scorching, the music was blaring and the beer was flowing. Outside our campsite a large crowd gathered alongside the road, encouraging others to do burnouts in their cars and make as much noise as possible. Not usually our cup of tea, it was a bit like watching boy racers in seaside town car parks, but these were businessmen abusing cars we can only dream of owning, somehow it seemed more acceptable. The Danes were still going, so we decided to join them and the rest is a bit blurry.. Saturday morning the pit lane is open to the public and you can wander along watching the teams preparing their cars for the biggest endurance race going. We wandered down there for an hour or two, then decided to find a good spot ready for the start of the race. 3

 The start of the race was unbelievable, it’s hard to describe the atmosphere as 60 cars thundered past us at the start of the race with 250,000 spectators cheering and clapping. Another lump in throat moment for sure.

We stayed for an hour or so watching the field spread out, and were just about to head back to camp for some food when we heard the unmistakeable sound of car hitting the gravel trap. The leading Audi had hit a back marker and spun backwards into the tyre wall. It was a sickening thud and the car almost came into the crowd. It went silent as the marshals ran to the driver’s aid.

It was only a few minutes but it felt longer while we waited for a sign of the driver. An almighty cheer erupted as British driver Allan McNish emerged from his unrecognisable car and gave a wave to the crowd. How he survived that is a testament to the safety of modern day racing cars. We headed back to camp for some dinner and some much needed sleep. The Danes were still at it, but their numbers had diminished and the sound system was being given a rest. So after another pasta meal we got our heads down, falling asleep listening to racing cars being pushed to the limit in the background…perfect! We got up about midnight Saturday and headed back to track; Le Mans at night is fantastic, we were soon learning to recognise cars by headlight shapes and exhaust notes. Chairs out and wrapped up (was a chilly night) we sat at the Porsche Curves for a few hours watching the cars and drivers put in lap after lap. Several kips, trackside and back at camp later and it was an hour 'til the end of the race. We headed to the track to get a good position by a big screen and the track. Audi were leading fierce rivals Peugeot by just 14 seconds after 23 hours of racing. The French cheered every time the Peugeot came on screen and the Brits, Danes and every other nationality booed. The director cut to the leading Audi and we all cheered and the French booed. All in good spirits and it brought the spectators together. Audi went on to win the race and we had witnessed one of the closest finishes at Le Mans in its history. Covering 4,838 km in 24 hours, 4 and a bit hours behind the safety car with 31 pit stops, yet only using nine sets of tyres…interesting for a geek like me! We followed the crowds onto the track after the race and managed somehow to get underneath the podium for the celebrations, getting covered in champagne and soaking up the atmosphere. What a way to finish my time at Le Mans. 4

Back to camp for our final meal in France, pasta with baked beans (all we had left) and an evening to waste before our trip home. A few quiet beers with some remaining campers on our campsite who just happened to have the Canadian GP on TV in their marquee. The Danes had left and the site was a lot more relaxed. Apart from a firework competition between campsites and a Chinese lantern setting fire to a tree on our site, Sunday night passed by uneventfully.

Up early on Monday, we packed up in light rain said goodbye to the remaining campers and set off for Calais. A quiet journey back, no stops and all feeling worn out took just 4 hours. We managed to get an early crossing back and were home by mid afternoon. My first time at Le Mans and abroad was awesome. Friendly campsite, amazing motor race and with my old man and my uncle. We will definitely be returning to Le Mans….
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