May 24, 2006

The Road Trip to the Le MansGP, France

So last weekend I managed to get to the Le Mans GP in beautiful France. It was my first time 'officially' entering France, so I wanted to be ready. Thursday night was a fun-filled evening with a fabulous dinner with Barfers, Endo and MrsPeebles. We went after some traditionally seasoned (read heavily salted) dishes at one of my favorites, Vino Tinto. One of the neat things I've noticed about Spain is that you can get a fried egg on just about anything! This includes, but is not limited to, sandwiches, pizza's, and French Fries (get it? Prepping!). Delicious!

More pictures of this fantastic road trip in the extended entry!

A nice walk through the neighborhood brought us towards the Gracia area, and a chill little bar called Gusto. Endo and MrsPeebles had to stop and check out this Gaudi building - don't tell Mr. Peebles.

Thursday night ran longer than I expected, but no worries, it's Spain, and nothing ever seems to happen on schedule. By the time I got home that night, I was ready to start packing for the road trip up to Le Mans, which is about 200KM outside of Paris. What to pack, what to pack. No, I did not bring obscene amounts of cologne! Originally, I was going to drive up with my friend, Little Nacho, but he got a phone call from a team and ended up flying out on Thursday to work the race! Instead, the back-up plan was to get in a van with the
Sete Gibernau Fan Club and take turns driving all the way to the circuit. I figured it would work out perfectly, because then I could sleep in the van, on the road and at the track. I managed to stay awake for my morning rendevous, and walked about thirty minutes with my luggage to get to the Sants Estacion (Sants train station) where we would all be meeting up. On the way there, I ran into an old friend named Frank, who coincidentally is one of the head managers in charge of sponsorship for Movistar. Seriously, this was a weird coincidence. We spoke about my summer plans, and we'll see if anything interesting develops. . . . .
Anyway, I continued on my trek, and arrived at the station about 20 minutes early - just in time to get some reading done. It feels like I don't have the free time I'm used to, so I need to schedule things like reading around travelling! I'm a self confessed Sci-Fi junkie, and as one special friend says, Sci-Fi is junk food for the brain. Whatever. I like it. Twenty minutes into my book and I get a text message that the kids will be an hour late. Right . . . .so I just keep reading. It wasn't until they were more than an hour and a half late that they showed up. Traffic. Uh-huh. Spain! Imagine my surprise to find it wasn't a van at all, but a Citroen something or other. If you can figure out what this is, let me know so I never rent one! On the plus side, I almost finished the Hammer of God, by A.C. Clarke. It's an extremely well written book, with small chapters and lots of social and religious subjects tackled in the course of humanity's future. Or something like that.

I won't say it was a trial in frustration, but the kids got lost trying to exit the city and we spent an hour alledgedly looking for "Sete's house" before we made it to the freeway. It was already mid afternoon, and I knew we had a long way to go before we made it to Le Mans. I guess I was antsy, but stopping on the Autopista for lunch just soaked up too much time. Not to mention paying 6 Euros for a ham and cheese sandwich that looked like this really got my goat! Be careful of the Ham and Cheese in Spain.

This was the perfect opportunity for me to grab the keys, and let them know how Liam rolls, and oddly enough, there was a switch on the dash which disabled the traction control. Left to right, me, Noelia, Cris, and Sebas. The girls are 19-years old, and Sebas is recently 21. I don't think I've ever spent that much close quarters time with a bunch of obsessed moto-heads. In Spain, one way to express your ideas with passion is not to get overly eloquent, but simply to raise your voice. If you can imagine three shouting kids all the way to France, you have an idea of what I went through - and it was all Sete this, Rossi Puta that, etc. On and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. . . . .

I recieved a small measure of satisfaction knowing that I was with the Sete-heads wearing a Yamaha shirt.

I gotta admit, driving through France was awesome. Getting through the Pyrenees wasn't so bad, but the way the climate and foliage changed the further north we got was incredible. I never realized how lush and green the French countryside is, with rich colors and white accents on the forests and fields lining the freeways. It was truly amazing, and not something I'm likely to forget anytime soon. If you get the chance, go for a spin in the country.

It wasn't all joy ride though, because Le Mans is approximately 1100 KM from my house, which would take roughly 11 hours of driving, not counting the stops. The winds were high and the sun dipped in and out of the clouds the whole way. The car wasn't very fast, but in all that time driving, I didn't see a single 5-0, just radar signs and ticket cameras. I think the camera idea is horrible, and it makes you paranoid.

After that stellar lunch, I had to rely on my emergency supplies. My latest addiction are these phenomenal cherry tomatoes that I can get for next to nothing in the open markets. SCORE!

Around 9PM, we pulled into Bordeax, France. It was a beautiful little town/village and I really enjoyed the time I spent there, about two hours. The sun was just barely starting to set, and we found parking near some government buildings. Many of the cars here parked up on the curbs, but not the way you're thinking. I'm talking about either the front wheels or the back wheels up on the curb!

Here's Cris showing off her Spanish flag at one of the cathedrals lining the town centre. National pride is strong in Europe.

Stumbled across this very nice Harley Dynaglide outfitted with Buell wheels and nice suspension. A rare sight anywhere I would think, but French bikers are a different breed, and I'll explain more about that later.

The largest structure in Bordeaux is this huge tower in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by Morrocan sandwich places. We took some time to recharge the mobile phones, eat some dinner, and catch up on the local scene. There is a definitely a clear separation here between French, and not French.

I really wanted to get a move on, because I knew we still had four or five more hours of driving before we hit Le Mans. We piled in the car, and drove through streaming rain before we got in the vicinity of the track. It was nearly 4AM at this time, and rather than pitch tents in the dark, we opted to crash in a little chain motel, the Formula 1. It was 35 Euros for three people to share a queen size bed, with a single bunk bed up above. Bathrooms and showers down the hall, pretty standard. What was tricky was distracting the counter girl so I could get up into the room! Four people shoved into a tiny place, and just when I thought we'd get a couple hours to sleep, the girls just wouldn't be quiet! On hindsight, I would've been the same way at 19, excited to be away from my hometown and ready to party with the notorious L.I.A.M.

We "woke" up at 6, everyone showered up, and by seven we were back on the road to drive the final 100KM to the track. We pulled into a little gas station cafe to get some coffee, and, naturally, Croissants! They kicked ass, and if one was good, two was even better! Even at the gas station level, the croissants were heads and tails better than most I've come across - soft, moist, fluffy, buttery goodness!

The French version of Yoo-Hoo is Candy'Up! Go on, Candy'Up yo-self! It was also good.

Driving in towards the circuit, my heart started to pound when I saw this. I felt like I knew some of these corners, and after three turns, I knew exactly where I was.

This track is HUGE. I'm not talking about the motorcycle section, I'm talking about the big version, that cars capable of running 400 KPH run on. If you've ever played Gran Turismo 4 and have used the Nissan to go after the 235 MPH mark, the turns after the main straight are also the inlet roads to the circuit facilities. Rad!

Apologies for the shakey shots - it was a long night and a moving vehicle!

We drove past several huge campgrounds, which looked like refuge camps. Bikes everywhere, tents lashed down to anything, and large mud-puddles on every path. The bikers were predominantly wearing dark, sport touring gear, rainproofed and miserable looking. There's a neat "walk" in France, and it reminded me a little of a mime. Now picture a burly biker type, in black cortech head to toe, walking like a mime. I kept getting flashbacks of Mad Max for some reason.


Actually, I ended up circling the complex twice, looking for the Media/Welcome centre. It might not look like much, but immediately following the entrance, there are tunnels that split off to take you to various spots around the track, like parking or the paddock area. Also, there is a well stocked museum onsite, with amazing four wheelers and motorcycles that have made it through the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance races.

The Welcome Centre was well guarded, but my broken English managed to convince them that I was picking up something there. Once inside, I was a little blown away by how big it was, because from outside it just looked like some little offices. Everyone was very, very polite and I felt lucky just to be there. Managed to catch the Anglo flags up above, and the guest hospitality booth is in the background.

There's a different vibe at this race than any of the others I've been to. It's darker, more intense, and a little scary. Everything seems a little more "hardcore" here, and it's difficult to get around the track. Maybe the weather had something to do with it, maybe it was all the security guards everywhere, and maybe it was the fact that the whole circuit was lined by barbed wire!


In the end, it was all worth it.

It was an adventure just getting to the track, and by Saturday morning, the real fun hadn't even begun!

I have some other business to take care of today, so I won't be updating more for a little while, at the minimum. Sorry to those people who have been emailing me lately, I just haven't had the time to get around to replying to everyone, but I know you're out there and I'm sure to respond shortly.

This is probably less than half the semi's at the race. Not to mention the huge amount of personal motorhomes and hospitality trucks that go to the European rounds. In fact, this isn't even the full contingent of MotoGP paddock trucks, so adding the 125, and 250 semi's, plus everything else - WOW!


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