Jump to content

En Route a Les Vingt-Quatre Heures Classique


Recommended Posts

I'm on my way to Le Mans for the Classic, going the long way round Paris.   And as I'm a tight git, I'm taking advantage of Les Aires, of which France has so many.   These are anything from the same as a UK motorway service station, except cleaner and nicer, to a clearing in the forest.  I'm going for the latter.

Last night was a few miles off l'Autoroute des Anglais, the A26 southeast from Calais.IMG_20220627_172540.thumb.jpg.721a9ad241a113957d9878903a7aa395.jpg

A fixed picnic table in a clearing hacked from the undergrowth.  Intense bird song, but no other vehicles all night.

Tonight, I'm in the Forest de FontainebleuIMG_20220628_193319.thumb.jpg.cba05224c332ec6353c74cd8f4340bc8.jpg

Absolutely gorgeous!

I went this way so that I could visit, again, Le Circuit du Gueux, at Reims. This must be the best preserved original road racing circuit in Europe, possibly the World.    The site of many French Grands Prix, it was also where Fangio first raced in Europe and the site of his last race.    With gearbox problems El Maestro would have been lapped by the winner, Mike Hawthorne, but from respect for the Great Argentinian Hawthorne held back and did not pass him.  Even so, El Chueco told his pit crew, "I'm finished"!

Les Amis du Circuit de Gueux are doing a wonderful job of preserving and restoring the original 'box' pits and grandstands.   If you do visit them, please send a donation to Les Amis!   The last time I was there.the grandstands, Les Tribunes, were in such a dilapidated state that they were fenced off.  But they have now made the posh stand open to the public! It's in a safe state and you can go in and imagine you are the guests of Enzo Ferrari, or Mercedes, and that those featless pilots of the thirties and fifties driving past.

For they needed to be fearless.  Luigi Musso, was just one driver who lost his life there, and has his own. Memorial cross at the old trackside.

IMG_20220628_145927.thumb.jpg.ac64d8e2ace5b0a0e540c1a97f825347.jpg

 

But be warned, if you do visit!   So many idiots have abused the hospitality of the village of Gueux, by speeding and behaving stupidly on the start and finish straight at the Pits, that it is ' No Parking' on the road and the Gendarmes will fine you!

I was lucky!    There were a party in of Aston owners there, enjoying a picnic as part of a tour of the Champagne Country! 

IMG_20220628_144444.thumb.jpg.b6d5711decf23f9b069402d715e862d4.jpg

And two officials of Les Amis were there, including Monsieur Le President de Les Amis!   So I was invited in, and allowed to tour the site.

What a place it is! As well as the pits and Tribune's, the original scoreboard pylon is there and the circuit offices.  You learn some every day, and here I learned that the pylon originally rotated to show everyone the current positions!   I don't think the giant screw still works, but it is still there!

IMG_20220628_141647.thumb.jpg.4da77e8802c35d0aa8905e49512d063e.jpg

And Les Amis have not only restored the racing equipment, but the, er, necessaries!   Les Toilettes d'Epoch are available and functional ( I can assure you so!) 

IMG_20220628_142812.thumb.jpg.ea6530c26b98b13efd2b2428753a521d.jpg

IMG_20220628_143706.thumb.jpg.e0ac9433fd43676c307d8161de765165.jpg

Onwards and forwards!    Tomorrow, Le Man's, and if Tertres Rouge is not open, another wild camp in an Aires!

John

Edited by JohnD
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Was in Normandy for Holiday in 2018 and sneaked away for a day to see classic Le Mans. I had never been in Le Mans before. It was amazing. Enyoing the pictures. Have fun.
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now to pay for it!   By the kindness of the owner, I am garage boy in the Talbot pit!

Six extraordinary machines, six extraordinary technicians to care for them, and me.  I arrived at Tertres Rouge an hour before it was supposed to open but they let me in, I changed into period white overalls and was off to the paddock, leaving the TSSC to set up Hospitality.   Since then, I've been changing wheels, helping cure a wiring problem, fabricating a bracket, all the things that should be done but usually don't in the rush to get away to a race meeting.

If you are here, and have the right tickets, don't miss ALL the paddocks, but especially No.1.  Look out for the Talbot's, right next to some other little old cars called 'Bentleys'.  What did happen to them?

John

16565983913096997011468912132746.jpg

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

 It's night laps!   Only - only? - practise, but the most evocative part of any Le Mans.    After a frantic evening, changing head gaskets on two, three Talbot's are out in the midnight air.  I'm throwing the pit board at 'my' car.

 

16567171826347343372988966448.jpg

Edited by JohnD
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

In some respects more like a nightmare.   After a near alniter, with more work today, one our cars is out, after only practising!

Many of you wil be familiar with straight six engines, Triumph straight six engines.  Here's the top end of a Talbot: camshaft in block, push rods, just like a Triumph, but the valve rockers are free-floating, on a peg, mounted on that wavey bar, that also supplies oil to them.  No rocker shaft. Oh, and down draught SUs!

John

 

IMG_20220702_135031.jpg

Edited by JohnD
Link to comment
Share on other sites

And, I learn, and to my anguish given my recent engine problems, the Talbot has an adjustable oil pressure relief valve!

No picture it wasn't very revealing!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's over.  The beating has stopped.  Not heart I'm glad to say, just the pummeling by time.  I was up at 0900, at the Paddock by 1100.  Yesterday. Regular team members much earlier to continue car prep. 

Our evening race went well @ about 2000, our night race not so at 0300.   Apart from on track, French management was chaotic and beureaucraticc, compared to UK race grid set up, and, possibly as a result the programme ran over a hour late at times.

The Talbot Team did not do as well as in previous years, due to some of those racing incidents I mentioned.  Our driver Mike did a valiant job, after losing time due to two pit stops in the night, and made his way up.from 27th to fourth, but a Bugatti won.   It was this race when we had the Le Mans Start, although any changes in order that result are negated during the ensuing lap, followed by a rolling start.

 

Now, I'm sitting in the shade, making  up for lost beer time with the TSSC, and watching Grids two and three on there last races.   Tertres Rouge has the best racing view on the circuit, but still, it's not the same as being in the frontline!

IMG_20220703_043318.thumb.jpg.b8b0353a4b9ac1a6ddf2f32b2f7c5a45.jpg

Your car must pit in the middle of the night, but you have pit board duties!!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Even better news.  First, next year will be the one hundredth anniversary of the first Vingt-Quatres Heures de Le Mans.   There will, no doubt, be special celebrations for the main event, but to coincide with that centenary and to replace the missing 2020 event there will be a  Le Mans Classique in 2023 as well!

Then, last night at the team dinner to finish off the weekend, Le Patron asked me, would I like to come with them again in '23?   Trying not to bite off his arm, I said yes.  Bit like being proposed to when you are absolutely gagging for it! 

It will mean that I won't be at Tertres Rouge with the TSSC next year, but I couldn't spend spend much time there anyway, and I hope I may pop in for a drink in between races?

WhooHoo!  Vive Le Mans Classique!   See y'all there next year!

John

PS. Quite apart from the racing, I had a lovely week, pottering through France on country roads, visiting Rheims-Gueux, and Rouen-Les Essarts, which I'm off to now.    I know many have lives and jobs, and have to rush to Le Mans and back, but would anyone else like to come along on a track-nostalgia trip next year? J.

 

 

 

 

Edited by JohnD
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 minutes ago, JohnD said:

Then, last night at the team dinner to finish off the weekend, Le Patron asked me, would I like to come with them again in '23?   Trying not to bite off his arm, I said yes.  Bit like being proposed to when you are absolutely gagging for it! 

To quote Monty Python.. "you lucky, lucky, b#####d" :laugh:

5 minutes ago, JohnD said:

PS. Quite apart from the racing, I had a lovely week, pottering through France on country roads, visiting Rheims-Gueux, and Rouen-Les Essarts, which I'm off to now.    I know many have lives and jobs, and have to rush to Le Mans and back, but would anyone else like to come along on a track-nostalgia trip next year? J.

Now that would be the way to do it.. maybe, just maybe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Funny you should say that, Hamish: 

16569450644266758126607156261297.thumb.jpg.c80f60b67ca24385e09f27a4b05e785c.jpg

But the track-nostalgia tour continues!

Rouen-Les Essarts was the site of many French F1 Grands Prix, since the 1950s.  Today, it's little more than a mark on the ground, a ghost of a circuit, but what a circuit!  It was called the Little Nurburgring, because of it's the forest, with great changes in altitude.

Just south west of Rouen is the village of Orival, on Seineside. Head up the steep river bank on D938, and within half a mile you come across what must have been the steepest hairpin in F1!   What's more, the road way was cobbled, really slippery.

But start from the old pits and paddock, at the top of the hill to your right.   Their site is almost invisible now, but the entrance to the pit lane is there as a tiny layby, coned off so you can't park there ( try the layby a hundred yards further up, same side.)

IMG_20220704_144219.thumb.jpg.08409ccffcc7288959c0e7004799cc91.jpg

Walk down the hill and find the exit as well, even smaller, just some tarmac in the verge.  There is a fence on the verge too, but just beyond the exit there is a path into the woods, and only fifty yards in, turn right and get around the end of the fence!   

This gets you into the old paddock.  It's used as a timber yard, and looks like a clearing, but one that happens to be floored by tarmac.

IMG_20220704_144804.thumb.jpg.79914a90501297faf6feebb0104c296f.jpg

Any foundations of the pits and race control buildings are covered by logs and old sawdust, but in a few places, lines do appear.

IMG_20220704_145251.thumb.jpg.71d517b2b3e8cacd9fadaa17dcacfe15.jpg

At the top of of the paddock, a logger's track leads you back to the road, so return to your vehicle, and let's take a circuit!

From the old start/finish line outside the pits, the road drops away steeply and curves down the hill.   It was the third corner here, Six Freres, that killed Jo Schlesser in 1968.    Honda had a new car, but their regular driver John Surtees, refused,  not because it behaved badly, but because it was made of magnesium!    John considered it far too dangerous, and sad to say he was right.   Schlesser crashed at Six Freres, straight into the banking outside the corner's exit.   The car caught fire, and the marshals' attempts to put it out with water just made the fire worse, as the magnesium was burning.  Jo died, and there after the layby there was built, to slow the cars right down.

IMG_20220704_151511.thumb.jpg.6d013f354de198d43033dc0c1312fe1d.jpg

Downhill from there you come to the tightest hairpin in F1, Le Virage du Nouveau Monde!   No idea why it's named for the New World!  That cobbled surface on the corner must have been horrendous in an F1 car, you can still feel it in a modern!

IMG_20220704_151936.thumb.jpg.40b5ec064b4e3030f147b83305075e58.jpg

 

But look across the hairpin to the step banked roadside.  There used to be grandstands on that slope, but all that remains today are some crumbling concrete steps.

IMG_20220704_152107.thumb.jpg.16db448c9fb4061b6ca1faac84a0f2a0.jpg

Now you have to drive steeply uphill again, through left and right corners, until you reach what is today a cross roads, L'Etoile.  Turn right, and Star Avenue lead you back to the start by a right turn at the end.

 

But go straight on for a hundred yards or so, and you will find more of a later course variation.   Another narrow layby on the right is blocked off from a wide curve of tarmac that leads into the woods.     I doubt if it's passable today, but ten years ago, we made it in a 4x4, over the several berms built to dissuade the venturous!

IMG_20220704_152717.thumb.jpg.c3d19e6d78da429bf2d1522022e388f4.jpg

For Schlesser, Les Essarts was fatal, and so it was for several other drivers in an age when life was cheap in Motorsport.    There never was another French GP there after his death but race meetings happened untill the mid '90s.

Go, and remember a dangerous but glorious era.

John

Edited by JohnD
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Organisation at CLM (of the event, not the TSSC camp) was as usual, chaotic.    Races ran an hour and a half late at one point.    Now, the beerless brewery seems to have moved as my ferry is hove to outside Dover, something about their "berth being occupied"!  We should have landed about an hour ago!

And I chose DFDS to avoid P&Os inexperienced and disgracefully paid crews!

John

Edited by JohnD
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Reflecting on Le Mans, it's amazing how transferrable are some experiences.

I posted above a pic of the valve gear of the 1931 Talbot - significantly different to the otherwise very similar 1950s Triumph engine and somewhat more complex.    I took the pic while assisting the chief technician as he changed a head gasket and was reassembling the valve gear and re-setting the tappets.   He had all his tools on a tray on the scuttle and was reaching for them as required.     I went to help by handing them to him as needed, and suddenly realised that I had seen this situation before - in the operating theatre!

A theatre sister does this, has the next tool - instrument! - that the surgeon needs ready, so that the cutter doesn't need to say what they want next, it's just put into their outstretched hand, blunt end first, of course.   So, copying the many theatre sisters I've seen before, I tidied the tool tray, had the two spanners and feeler for tappet adjustment ready and handed my boss the valve components in order.   It was a credit to him and to the value of the procedure, that he immediately took on this different plan,  worked with it and thanked me afterwards.

Even weirder was later, I was chatting to our senior driver and he asked me if I was medical!    He had recognised the "theatre technique" I had used, not from his own experience but from film and TV!

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...