OK, nothing to do with the Fury but a few days after getting back from Anglesey it was time for my annual pilgrimage to Le Mans for the 24 Hour race. After staying with my friend Richard, David and I headed off at 5am Thursday to Eurotunnel with Richard and his son Andrew to met the rest of the gang. Joe was in his Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 and he arrived at the Tunnel immediately before us. We were in fact behind him in the queue and his car is truly deafening. It has a ‘sports exhaust’ which apart from looking like being big enough for a family of refugees to hide in it seems to provide absolutely no silencing whatsoever. That combined with the car being pearlescent orange mean it’s not exactly a stealth mobile. The other cars in the convoy were a Jensen Interceptor S, a rebuilt/re-engineered classic with an LS2 V8 engine driven by Steve who co-owns the company who build them, a 911 C4S Cabriolet, an Aston V8 Vantage, an a couple of quick Mercs. And my Cayman S and David’s Civic Type S.
We were being pretty sensible on the way down through France but after a few miles the Cayman developed a misfire. It did it once before when it was cold but it went away straight away. It did again after switching off and on again, but then it came back. And got worse. We were near Rouen so we looked up the nearest Porsche Centre and limped there. One of the nice things about owning a Porsche is the level of customer service you receive. But I wouldn’t buy one in France! To say the service manager was disinterested would be an understatement. After about 30 minutes we saw my car going out, presumably on a test drive, with 2 people in it. After another 25 minutes it returned with just the driver in convoy with an older 911. So it looked like they’d used it to go out to collect a car! After another half hour or so we were told it needed an ignition coil pack and that they didn’t have one in stock and it would probably arrive Monday. Despite the language difficulties we made it pretty clear we would really like it before then and that we had to return to the UK on Monday. He said to ring tomorrow at 11am to see if the part had arrived. So we all piled into the Civic and made our way the remaining 200km to Le Mans to catch up with the gang who were already ensconced in Le Scarron on the beer by the time we arrived. I wasn’t a happy bunny.
Friday we went to Les Hunaudieres on the Mulsanne straight where there was the usual gathering of Brit petrolheads in various machinery ranging from the sheds purchased and painted up specially for the trip to the exotica including some quite rare spottings such as a BMW Z8 and a Spyker, also lots of very nice classic old Astons etc. We rang Porsche Rouen, no part, ‘maybe Monday’ … grrrrrrrrr. Time to involve Porsche Assistance. Off to Arnage for lunch then back to Le Scarron …
Saturday we headed into the circuit and met up at the Champagne tent for some lubrication prior to taking our seats in the grandstand for the race start. This year we were in the stand immediately overlooking the finish line opposite the pit lane. As ever the start was an amazing spectacle – all the cars park up as they used to in the old days obliquely down the side of the track, peel off one by one as they’re green flagged and form up as they come round again for a rolling start. They make an incredible noise, from the eerily quiet diesel Peugeots and Audis to the F1-howl of the Lola Aston V12s and the very deep V8 Corvettes. Of course within a few laps the faster cars have lapped the slower ones, a few cars have pitted and you don’t have a clue what’s happening I forgot to bring my radio to the circuit – Le Mans Radio often helps keep track of what’s going on. So we err … went back to town and Le Scarron.
We had a meal booked at The Auberge de Mulsanne for Saturday night so the 12 of us pitched up there having never been before. It’s unsurprisingly on the Mulsanne just on the exit to one of the big chicanes and you could just go through a few trees in the garden and emerge right by the main circuit barriers a few yards from the track. Absolutely brilliant view of the cars coming out of the chicane in 3rd gear hard on the gas. Phenomenal speed differential between the GT1/GT2s and the LMP cars, later on the brakes, much higher corner speed and vastly faster acceleration. You could hear the cars going through the gears out of sight and holding 6th gear flat out for what seemed ages before you heard the crackling of the over-run into Arnage corner. It was even more awesome as it went dark. Couldn’t hear each other speak during the meal of course
After another late night (I’m sure I was approaching my 21 units of alcohol for the week by now) we went back to the circuit in the morning. We’re lucky boys in that Richard had a personal invite from David Richards to visit him at Aston Martin Racing, so the four of us made our way to their hospitality marquee which had a great balcony overlooking the braking area into the Ford Chicane just before the main start/finish straight. After a while we got a nudge to go off with David’s PA who took us on a buggy and sneaked us into pit lane to meet David Richards at the Aston garage. This year’s Astons are Lola chassis’d LMP1 cars in the iconic Gulf Racing livery and the piles of carbon fibre body parts lying around looked stunning, as did the bin of beautifully fabricated manifolds. All was quiet in the pit garages with the mechanics all sitting round either looking bored or asleep. It always amazes me how spotless these garages are, not quite like mine!
We got a lift back to Aston’s marquee for lunch then walked back over to the grandstand to watch the last hour of the race. Of course bar crashes and breakdowns it’s all pretty much done and dusted by then and in the last half hour most of the teams get their slower cars to back off so their leading car can catch up and they come in at the end in convoy. So the end of the race is a bit processional but a spectacle nonetheless.
We left Monday morning in the Civic and called into Porsche Rouen to be told the part hadn’t arrived. I spoke to Porsche Assistance who said they’d already spoken to the service manager who had told them it had arrived but hadn’t fixed the problem and they’d now decided it was an injector problem. The part might arrive Tuesday … yes, I was tamping. I explained to Porsche Assistance that I needed to get back home anyway so they asked when I planned to come back for the car! I said I wasn’t planning on it and they’d need to recover it back. They said that would take up to 15 days. I was even more pleased. I asked the service manager for my paperwork (the original car sales invoice) and after a quick rummage on his desk he didn’t find it and shrugged his shoulders. When I said I wasn’t leaving without it and he’d need to find it right now he got angry with me so we asked to speak to someone else. Eventually they found it and we left for the long drive home.
So, a great trip apart from the broken Cayman – I can live with a car breaking down but the awful customer service was a bummer. Amazing really, the first time I went to Le Mans Richard and I went down in the Ultima GTR I’d built and had no mechanical problems, we go down in a two and a half month old Porsche and have a nightmare! At the moment all I know is that the car is finally fixed but no idea when I’ll get it back. Porsche UK Customer Service have actually been very good after a phone call en route back from the Tunnel they had a nice Merc CLS delivered to the house later the same evening.
Brands next weekend