Thursday, 16 July 2015

Le Mans, Spiderman-esque building antics and pepper spray ...

Back at Le Mans again for the 2015 race!

It's always a magical mix of motorsport and festival coupled with lots and lots of beers!

Setting up camp
A group of my friends and I convoyed down, via the ferry, me with the van to sleep in, and the others toting tents. Spirits were high, we'd been before and knew what to expect. This time we were prepared!

After getting settled in we hurried up to the track for a pitside walk around. People were arriving and the arenas were filling up. Beer flows easily at Le Mans and it's only a few waking hours before everything slides in to a hazy stumble between padocks, stalls and bars.

There's no drinking for the teams though, as they have their vehicles in bits, building engines and tweaking the machines to give the maximum performance vs. endurance possible.

Le Mans is famed for it's long running time and experimental technologies. This year Nissan were trying out a whole new, all electric vehicle.... We saw it start, along with the other more conventional motors, and promptly saw it finish as it dipped out a couple of laps in to the race. A bit disappointing if I'm honest as the idea of future tech being successful appeals to me.

The Saturday night is renowned for being a boisterous night out on the public roundabouts near the main campsites of Le Mans.

Beausjour roundabout shares its name with the campsite we were based at, it is at the main entrance, making it ideal for some serious car debauchery. It is, infact, this very roundabout where I made a rooky error and thought I could play with a flare and get away with it.... Quite how I didn't learn my lesson.. I dont know.

Basically after a certain time of the evening the roundabout is surrounded by drunken car enthusiasts who then egg on and coax the drivers driving through to spin up their wheels or perform donuts... It get pretty nuts with everything from Aston Martins to Ford Fiestas all having a go.

I've ambled in to this chaos with a certain degree of dutch courage from too many beers in my belly and instantly wanted to get involved. The crowd spills out of the campsite, on to and around the roundabout with a good number of people in the road stopping and encouraging the rubber spinning. The first vehicle to pull up at the line when I arrive is a crappy old Peugeot. I'm standing on the drivers side of the car with giving it large with the arm waving and making backfiring noises (as you do!) shouting 'Bup bup bup bup!' to get the drivers going. He's revved the engine to the limiter and lets it bounce off it for a few seconds before dumping the clutch... Just as the wheels spin up a hand comes out of the drivers window with an aerosol and I'm hit smack bang in the face with an oily substance.

Instantly I'm blinded by the stuff. My mouth fills with saliva and my nose starts to run. It feels like my face had something caustic on it, maybe bleach?  I grab up the bottom of my tee shirt and try to wipe the stuff off. I thought it was WD40 at first, or some other sort of oil. It doesnt come off and I still cant see. I get very disorientated. I'm fully aware I'm stood in the middle of a roundabout with revellers and wheel spinning cars all around me.

I can't see anything and somehow end up on the floor, scared witless as I can hear the next car's engine roaring in front of me as they prepare to get their wheels spinning. All of a sudden I feel a tug on my rucksack and I'm dragged backwards. I feel the curb of the centre of the roundabout on my back and then the grass. "Are you alright?" comes a blokes voice with a thick French accent. "Yeh man... I'm good... Just can't see anything!", "Here, take this" He grabs my hand off of my face and puts a plastic cup in to it. I go to pour it on my face until he shouts, "NO no no no... It's wine, Drink it" So now I'm sat, unable to see, with a stinging face on the curbside of a roundabout drinking white wine.

Hot chilli sauce indeed
"You can't wash it off, It's pepper spray, just wait a minute" he knowledgeably informs me. "This isn't the French way, this isn't what we are all like, they're just idiots" The guy is pretty adamant he wants to get this across and keeps repeating it as he fills my cup and sits with me for the next 10 minutes.

Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime, I can start to see again. Everything is stinging, like a really bad nettle rash. The guy checks I'm alright again and fills up my cup once more before diving back in to the foray. I'm able to get up and start cautiously staggering around trying to fathom out the chaos that's going on around me and try and find my way to the campsite entrance.

A short walk later and I enter our camp, eyes, nose, mouth all running with various liquids and swollen. "What the fuck happened to you?!" is the response from my mates... "Long story man"

It took the wind right out of my sails. Being a fully abled, fairly fit, 26 year old to a completely defenceless, totally reliant mess on the floor in the spray of an aerosol can. Scary. The plan was to head back out that night but I really wasn't feeling it. It took a good few hours before I could say my face was 'normal' again. I vowed there and then that I would never wish that upon my worst enemy.

The rest of the racing was as good as the start. We ventured out to Arnage corners one evening under the bright track lights. This year each of the cars had distinguished themselves from the others in the night time section with an array of multicoloured LED lights or strips going down the side.

Final day of racing and we were all nursing a hangover so chilled out at at the Ford chicane section just before the start straight. It started to rain a little but we braved it long enough to watch the lead GT3 driver spin out in to the kitty litter right infront of us. After 23.xx hours of driving he'd managed to bin it and subsequently hand the win to the 2nd place driver... gutting

Once the race had finished we all piled on to the start/finish straight for the awards ceremony. A little later we got on the track for a walk up towards the Dunlop bridge just after the start finish line. It felt really weird being stood on the track as it's always very protected during the race. We even walked back to our campsite by taking the track to the Porsche curves! It probably took us a good 30 minutes when it takes the cars a matter of seconds.














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