Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plan B at Le Mans

Depart Lewes at 06:05 for Little Common with Nigel Lewis and Richard Banks in a Ford Mondeo 2 litre Zetec estate. Listening to Terry Garoghan, with his Brighton comic songs; magpies and rabbits by the roadside. Arrive at Jack Kellett's and transfer to 2003 Mercedes 'V' Class diesel. Quick look at Porsche 911/964 Targa in the garage. Pick up Tim Pepper at Bexhill.
Arrive at Channel Tunnel at 07:25 after 50 miles with the sun trying to break through. Avoid the Cheriton Services rip-off, with juice and croissant kindly supplied by Jack. Listening to Dave Edmunds "Sweet Little Lisa" with Albert Lee on guitar. Depart 08:25 with more music - Willie Nelson, Steve Forbert, Danny Gatton as we emerge from the tunnel. Lose an hour, watches forward.
Lunch at Restaurant Le Berbère in Neufchatel-en-Bray. Set lunch €11.50, total bill €84. France seems diminished without the Franc.
A serious navigational error has us going round in a circle and back to where we started. We then get the hammer down via Rouen on the motorway to Gacé. Heavy rain sees us abandoning plans for camping and we check into a Chambre d’Hôte, Castel Morphee, at 2 rue de Lisieux. Beer in the sun at the Bar de La Poste in the Place de la Libération after supermarket shopping. I chose a Pinot de Charente to start the picnic. We sat under a balcony at the hotel and had a jolly meal, despite the intermittent rain. We withdrew indoors when it got cold to play pool with coffee and calvados. The boys drink Irish Paddy Whiskey and are regretting it next day. In bed by midnight. The rooms in the quaint hotel had names - mine was Reverie. Splendid continental breakfast in the Salle a manger, looking forward to the France-Ouest newspaper. Gacé, a traditional stop on the tour: the more we stay here, the more we get to like it.
The 'V' Class has suffered from a pneumatic failure in the rear suspension. We call out the emergency service via England which arrives promptly at our rendezvous in the Place de la Libération. Arnaud, the driver, rapidly transfers us to the M-B dealer in Alençon. So no Folding-Bike Tour de Normandie or blow-out lunch at the Restaurant Tahiti. Quel chagrin!
We take lunch at McDonalds in Alençon as Dave Roadway, tour counterpart, catches up with us in his Toyota Avensis diesel. He presents our apologies at the Restaurant Tahiti, on a quick pitstop prior to meeting us in Alençon. We are delayed at the dealers by the French two-hour lunch break at Normandie Etoile Automobiles but the wagon is fixed by 15:30. I photograph the new smart car and Renault Twingo while we wait.
We fill up with diesel in Spay and head to the campsite. By good fortune we are offered a chalet called "Mimosa" which is cheap but very cheerful. We get organised in time to cycle to Guecelard, to see old friend Pete Webber and the Kyla Brox band. The runners and riders are:

Jack Kellett, Brompton titanium 6-spd 2007, blue [Owner J. Kellett]
Rupert Lloyd Thomas, Brompton 3-spd 1997, red [Owner J. Kellett]
Richard Banks, Brompton 5-spd 2007, green [Owner J. Kellett]
Nigel Lewis, Pashley Fold-It 5-spd 1997 [Owner J. Kellett]
Neil Turpin, Raleigh RSW16 folder/compact c.1964, silver/grey, owner/rider
Bryan Hurt, Haro DX 2007 21-spd folding mountain bike, owner/rider
Dave Roadway, ancient Universal 3-spd, 1 gear working, red
Tim Pepper, Toreador 6-spd c.2006, black & red [Owner J. Kellett]

The cycle ride substitutes for the cancelled event in the morning - Nigel Lewis is man-of-the-match for his powerful efforts on the Pashley Fold-It, Dave Roadway gets best efforts on the Universal, while Jack Kellett and Richard Banks carry off the new teamwork award. Kyla Brox is already in full flow when we arrive and the live music is the best yet seen at the campsite. Kyla gives me a CD to play on Rocket FM.
Saturday morning we take breakfast at the Café Le Physa'lis in Spay and then we head to the track to meet Matt Baile and Colin Marsh who are supporting Matthew Marsh in his first Le Mans attempt in the Ferrari 430 #83. There is last minute angst over who gets to drive the car first.
We retreat to the Bar Le PN Restaurant by the level-crossing at the top end of Arnage for lunch prior to the start of the 24 hours. We are the only occupants of a large dining room in the back and we wonder where all the punters are. We cycle to Arnage curves for the start of the race where a bumper crowd gets first sight of the cars. After about ninety minutes we return to Spay for a barbecue on a brilliantly improvised stove consisting of bricks brought from England along with Woolworth's trays and some square drainage pipe scrounged at the site. The Thomas brothers appear in the red VW Lupo after a two-week camping trip. I'm bushed so retreat to the bar in Spay and watch the race on the big screen while the younger element return to the track. Richard Banks comes a cropper on his Brompton in the notorious culvert in the lane running alongside the garage bleu. While rather battered thank goodness there are no broken bones.
On sunday we derig and take the truck to Arnage where we unload the bikes for the Porsche curves. No sign of the Ferrari #83. Rain is ever threatening and we sprint back to Bar Le PN Restaurant just before the heavens open. We sit under the awnings outside while prodding the canvas periodically as gallons of water pours from above. The race goes under the safety car at the end and we abandon any idea of returning to the track. Audi win the race once more but without the crushing superiority of years gone by.
We drive through the centre of Le Mans and take the A28 north to Brionne. We search for a hotel without success until a stop at the Restaurant du Havre for drinks turns up digs at Le Coeur de Lion run by a young Scottish couple by the lake. €21 each including breakfast, highly recommended. We reserve a table for ten at the Restaurant Don Camillo, known to us from years past. Next morning via Bourg-Achard and the Pont de Brotonne to the motorway, listening to Kevin Ayers and Françoise Hardy on the road to Calais. Lunch at Flunch at Cité Europe at Cocquelles and the train through the tunnel.

Plus points: Good digs, cycling, live music, camaraderie.
Downsides: Lousy weather, no cycling in Normandy, no Restaurant Tahiti, Cheriton prices [again], Radio Le Mans [again].
Overall: Weather failed to dampen our spirits.

1 comment:

andy said...

thomas bros red car was in fact a VW Lupo (smaller brother of the Polo), with tent by Caranex;
bikes: red brompton 5 speed and yellow Bugatti royale single speed (owner J. Kellett).