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Dean's trip to Le Mans

29th March 2002

Coming up on the BentleyThird time lucky for driving to Le Mans 'sans roof' and not getting wet?

Indeed it was although the dismal British summer almost got us as we set off from Scotland in the sunshine and dodged the shower clouds through the North East.

After the shenanigans at the B&B where I stupidly left the camera hanging on the chair and had to go back and wake up the landlord at 5:00am we hopped onto the P&O Princess for a very foggy crossing to Calais.

As we disembarked the little clusters of Porsches Beemers and TVRs gathered here and there discussing routes and stops for the blast down the first leg of the boring A16 motorway.

Bentley Boys get blitzed by RushWe wound the little Dax up to 130kmh and as soon as the sun came out so did the headgear. Of the useful but iffy-looking khaki bucket hat Kev questioned the front to back styles, quoting;

"Coz I don wanna look stupid in this!"

Later as the sun burned holes in our heads and the fuel tank threatened dry-up there was almost a fight over the bucket hat!

Petrol, or the lack of it continued to be a problem as hours later we trickled into Le Mans on fumes desperate for a cold beer. Our planned range and fuel stops strategy went right out of the side screens as soon as the playing about started. The unidentified 60's two-seater that we could've passed but didn't coz the sight of its flat-capped driver heaving the non-assisted Mota-Lita and the glorious sound of the whuffly V12 was too good to leave behind. The 30's 41/2 litre Bentley whose pilots turned out to be willing if somewhat po-faced combatants as we passed, were passed and passed again along the N138. Pretty inspiring to see these beastly motors being used in anger and hustled along as fast as their cross-plies could carry them. The Caterhams… The Lotus Esprit who didn't realize his car was quicker through the bends than it was on the straight bits. A whole load of Brit and Italian Classics and the Griffith who disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared! All added up to seriously having to relax the happy right foot as we desperately tried to eke out the last thirty miles on one choke of each carb…

But we weren't gonna make Indy with the DROC and the beers were in danger of warming up horribly as we pulled into a big Autostop with fuel pumps.

None of our cards worked as it was a special loyalty-card-only station and we would have to rely on our French, which got the point over and managed to blag us a jerry can but it turned up empty and we wondered if we were being had. Across the central reservation a Renault main dealer turned out to have plenty of petrol, accepted our cards and provided the cold drinks!

A quick top-up and after over an hour wasted we were off but just as I was leaving full of confidence that my school Franglais had worked a treat I asked for those cold drinks… For those of you who know French cold boissons is easily interpreted as cold poissons! Sorry no cold fish here!! But the rapturous laughter was well worth the humiliation.

Our trusty colleagues of the DROC had the cold beers waiting when we arrived at Houx Annexe and they'd even saved us tent space.

The evening went off superbly with a trip into town for a walk round the Driver's Parade and a very civilized dinner at La Vie en Rose in the Old part of town. Eddie Jordan's twin brother look-alike cabbied us home to Houx I swear!

As part of our deal with Motor Racing International we had tickets to the hospitality tent and in view of the enormous National effort behind the England football team we thought it only fitting to persuade Radio Le Mans to put on a live commentary for the match against Denmark giving us all top seats to enjoy some satisfying pre-race entertainment!

However it faded away to obscurity the minute the racers took to the track. Spines tingled, hairs stood out on necks, eardrums rattled and the onslaught of man v machine begun. Within five laps the Audis had caught up the slower GT cars confirming what everybody already knew. They were here to win again.

For a full race report it's best to go to a back issue of Motorsport News but by way of a change this year it was the race into the dark and through the night that we got hooked on. Cars strung out as dusk fell and when the lights came on that totally unique atmosphere opened up.

Cadillac Northstar races into the night

Trudging round the highways and byways of the Sarthe countryside in the middle of the night doesn't appeal so we took the bus to Indianapolis and it was well worth it. Shortly after we arrived there was a safety car spell as the Prodrive Ferrari combusted itself and joined the list of retirees. However during this time the cars slowed enough to see more details under the lights, they were getting dirty now, front splitters were getting cracked on the high kerbs and the speed smears and dead bugs were building up. The drivers must be glad of these little let-ups in the furious pace with still a night and day to go…

But when the safety car went in it was race-on. On the same approaches to Arnage it sounded like the Devil himself was trying to get the hell out of the back of the LMP class racers. Flames spat and snarled out of the pipes and not only did the discs glow amber-white but bits of engine manifold glimpsed through ventilated bodywork looked like they were melting with the strain. One after the next they rounded the very tight and slow right-hander at Arnage and dragged their speed up as they headed off into the darkness towards Porsche Curves. A lonely place in the dark.

A hard race and hard luck tooPlenty of vin rouge and and several hours later the dawn appeared to lift the spirits of the weary drivers. Tents beckoned but they offered no noise insulation against camera helicopters hovering several hundred feet above for minutes on end!

By the time we surfaced and struggled round to the circuit again there was only 30 minutes to go. Morgan had departed with an engine failure. MG went out with engine and transmission failure. Many other teams have also had disappointing nights. Bentley however had come through to take fourth position, despite a spin and lengthy session in the pits.

The applause for them was fantastic. A sole EXP Speed-8 had done it this year and that must be testament to how good it is. Maybe they'll be back with two cars next year, here's hoping.

For the Rush Owners some were already heading off home but we had the unique treat of an open invite into the MG garage and even though it didn't finish, it was still impressive.

But your steering wheel would fit my Rush for sure

The team's enthusiasm is infectious and we'd love to see them back again. Souvenir photo packs and pictures were freely handed out but the team kept a firm grip on the 15K steering wheel that Kev was keen to keep!

Celebrating another great race on hallowed groundThere was plenty of wine left to celebrate the end of another epic race, to see off some more of our accomplices and to plan next year's event over a spot of grub in downtown Arnage.

Tangerine cuts a dash with the Big BoysWith the travelers packed off we partied into the small hours, Monday was a lazy day with a late start. The journey home is always less exciting than the journey there and this trip was no exception. We had planned to travel back in convoy but once underway it proved too tricky to get three Rushes, two sports cars, one saloon and a camper through the traffic so we said "Au revoir" and buggered off!

The sun beat us to bits on the way back, the traffic was pretty heavy too as we struggled up the N138 but it all changed when we hit Blighty and the long drive through the night became a battle to stay awake and fight against the cold! The instruments glowed away as we ate up mile after mile while I slept and Kev drove!

The long night that seemed to never endV8 YOB, D4X RS, UJN 382V, E790 FUR, HEX 470Y and G370 VUT all made it home with no problems, no tickets and nothing else to report except for an unhealthy thirst for unleaded petrol!

Our thanks to all those who turned up, to the Friends with the motorhomes, tables, chairs, generator for camera charging and other creature comforts, to Steve Mellor's mate who cooks a mean brekkie and not least to the Dax Rush Owners Bob Green, Lennie Hutley, Mark Fitzsimmons, Paul Buckley and Steve Mellor.

Oh and we couldn't forget Colin with the C*terham coz he's promised to mend his ways and buy a Rush…

This report and photographs © Dean Heatley, 2002