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Race Report for Le Mans 2002
By Ian Johnson.


Well, here we go - the last ramblings for 2002 and, with some family commitment early next year (I forget the exact details) possibly the last for some time. I feel sure Pieter will have lined up another volunteer - what about Waddington? This "I've got a house to build" excuse can't last forever.

The whole Le Mans weekend for me seemed a little flat. The distance is about the same as Dijon or Magny Cours so that wasn't it. The torrential rain and spray spoilt what is usually a pleasant drive but it wasn't that either. The need to find shelter meant we were spread very thinly in a vast paddock, not ideal. Both David and myself broke gearboxes and three cars sustained large amounts of damage. Well that's racing. I suppose this and the fact that next season is looking uncertain all took its toll.

We did have some laughs though. First game of the weekend - how fast can you erect an awning to keep dry. Second game - how fast can you dismantle said awning before it blows away. David, Jeff and myself were debating whether the awnings were anchored sufficiently. "Look at Peter Hiley's" said Jeff, "It's only held down with a couple of water containers and that seems OK." You see, that's what our team needs, somebody who can stay calm, read the situation and decide what relevant action is needed. Perhaps this prospective son-in-law will be an asset. Almost immediately another gust arrived and Peter's awning passed us heading East at 30 feet! So much for Jeff's assessment - I always thought he was a tosser!!

The weather Friday morning was just as nice, so we decided to visit Le Mans rather than splosh around in the paddock, and forego free practice. A few brave soles apparently did venture out. Simon Page, who also decided to give the wet free practice a miss, said that as it had stopped raining the track conditions were nearly good enough to give it a go.

Friday night was Conker Night. A brilliant idea by Mad Dog Racing - possibly the brightest moment in a wet weekend but definitely the social event of the 2002 calendar. I believe some sad git has written a report somewhere!

Saturday lovely warm autumn sunshine; perhaps the storm had blown over - or perhaps not! 12 o'clock onto the track we went. The first time I selected third gear I thought "that doesn't seem right". It wasn't and it got worse so I pulled off and was towed to the paddock, not ours but the one next door - still it was close. Richard Evans also managed to break his gearbox. He splashed some cash and walked away with a lovely Jack Knight box just like mine that had just gone "kaboom".

Spinning seemed a popular pastime. Simon Page nearly spun at the first corner, tried a little harder and spun at the second. Michel van Kooten spun, Jean-Michel Guermonprez had to be towed out of Virage de la Chapelle. Hans Dullaert had to be towed out of Virage du Chenin Aux Boeufs. The paddock was soon to have those attractive little pile of stones under various awnings! Pieter Bakker was on pole with the top six within a second. Richard Evans, although setting second fastest time, was now changing his box a job he definitely would not have managed had it not been for the help of many of the FISC grid, including Mark Dols who was not happy with just helping Richard, but had loaned me his spare box. Dave Shannon seemed hard at work under the bonnet of David Gibson's car.

Everybody made it out for qualifying 2 except John Moon who had been unable to source a piston and had headed off for home. Mark's spare box, although noisy in first, had four gears - much better. I took three seconds off my lap time; sadly most of the mid-field were going quicker. Once again Pieter set pole time with Ian Whitt second, and it wasn't even raining! Simon Page was getting used to his new springs and he had stayed on the tarmac and lapped 4 seconds faster. Once again he had qualified 18th though - still it's the taking part that counts. Michel van Kooten tried a variable rear track width. However traction and handling were impaired as his wheel and half-shaft disappeared out of the wheel arch and he ground to a halt at Aux Boeufs.

Mark Dols tried straight lining the Courbe Dunlop, he didn't however feel his car was set up for rally cross so decided to stick to the black stuff where possible. John Hopwood was feeling more confident so he pushed harder and fell off! Dr Rob had engine problems - head gasket - no ! - unbelievable ! That surely must be 20 this year.

Saturday night Willem excelled, a four-course meal out of the back of a lorry for nearly 100 covers. This quiet gentle giant, assisted by his team, is a genius. I would like to offer Willem, on behalf of all the FISCies, the very best for his forthcoming operations (he's getting new knees).

Also Saturday Jane and myself were presented with a cake and Simon Page rambled about my past and also had some nice things to say about the race report, which I appreciate. This was to celebrate our 29 years of marriage. When I look back is it really 29 years - it seems so much longer! No lets be fair, Jane is always there to help me. For example - spraying. Not only is her hand small enough to clean the gun reservoir but also I can shout at her when the paint runs and we all benefit from the fact that she can type and use a computer.

Le Mans Pre-start collection
Le Mans Pre-start collection

Sunday morning race 1, 8.40 a.m. The clocks moving back an hour helped getting up but not the tyre choice - that was a teaser. Most changed to wets, some brave or foolish stayed on slicks. David Gibson left his decision to change to about 8.35 a.m. The track was slippery, Garage Vert was like ice. Although the amount of water was negligible it was just bloody slippery. Pieter Bakker was the first to go! He had led us round for two sighting laps but on the way to Courbe Dunlop, the first corner of the race, he carried out a perfect 360, rejoining in front of me. Cars were going off in all directions. I feel sure someone was off at Virage de Chapelle, and I definitely saw Dr Rob. We entered Virage du Garage Vert - he touched the brakes, the car flicked sideways! Midfield, first lap, more cars heading to the gravel in avoidance en masse. Richard Evans was convinced Ian Whitt had punted him off, the b...! (that's a direct quote). Ian said Richard had fishtailed, his rear light cluster hitting Ian's passenger door - I'm saying nothing!

Dave Shannon led to complete lap 1. In fact the whole grid managed to complete lap 1 spewing copious amounts of gravel around the circuit. Antonio Bertini took the lead by lap 2. Dave Shannon said he had spun, 6 times in total which I think was the record although many tried to beat it. Ian Whitt had 3 spins and on one occasion had had to stop because Dave Shannon was stationary across the track in front of him. Mark Dols and Hans Dullaert had spun twice at least; Michel van Kooten was looking to beat Dave's record but his diff broke, halting his progress.

John Faux had gone missing on lap 6. He was upside down at Courbe Dunlop when I saw him last. However the lap chart shows him back in the race on lap 7 - clearly no British marshals at that post! Antonio Bertini led until lap 8 when he too spun, rejoining in fourth place. This moved Jean Michel Guermonprez, our local hero, to lead the race. Dave Shannon, second on the road, with Ian (I never touched him) Whitt in third.

The longer the race went on the more people caught me up. I hadn't spun mainly because I don't appear to have been pedalling fast enough!

Lap 14 no John Faux and no Dave Shannon. Circumstances had led to both cars going off. Sadly the Shannon/Hope car was wrecked. Jean Michel Guermonprez took a well-earned win ahead of Antonio and Ian I.N.T.H. Whitt. Everybody who finished deserved a medal (and we got one!).

Race 2, 11.40 a.m. Sunny, warm, much better. Once again Pieter led us round. This time no mistakes - he was flying. Richard Evans was with him and for six laps they fought for the lead. Andrew McGee, on his Yoko's still managed to be first to fall off on lap 1. On lap 3 Jean Michel managed to drop from 4th to 11th place. Ian Wright was overheating so he pulled off on lap 4, his 2002 season ended. Simon Page, although needing some more brakes was running well. Chris Evans was having a good race with David Johnson until David's gearbox failed (shit, that's two boxes to mend!).

Lap 7, Richard and David Gibson went missing. Somewhat bizarrely, Richard and Pieter's fight for the lead had caused Richard to spin. Mark Dols missed the spinning Evans, however Dave Gibson lifted, the thing swapped ends and the two cars impacted heavily, back to back. Freaky!

Pieter was now on his own and off. Mark held second until the last lap when Antonio beat him to the line by 0.2 sec. Jean Michel finished just 8 seconds behind Pieter (what if?). Ian Whitt was the next home - he said he was nowhere near Richard, it wasn't him! And I finished 6th - blimey!

John Faux, despite not finishing, is the worthy 2002 champion. Peter Hiley, despite driving like a granddad, runner-up and I finished 6th in the championship (a free weekend in Holland - damn the rules changed this year - it's only the first three!).

A final thanks to Pieter Bakker for organising the whole thing. Remember you can't please all the people all the time.

To all the helpers and all the competitors you have made these past four seasons great fun and if I can find an unguarded bank I'll see you next year. If not I'll just have to read Waddington's ramblings. Remember to finish first, first you have to finish and the older I get the faster I was!

The best of luck to everyone.