Thursday 28th June
We loaded up our trusty Land Rover and headed off down to Dover rather bleary eyed. As usual we left a bit later than planned and then got sent on a bit of a detour as the motorway junction was closed, but we managed to meet up with Rod and Jo ok and checked in for our ferry. It was quite a good feeling to be sitting on the ferry having a cup of tea when usually I should have been at work.
The crossing was pretty smooth and soon we were back in the cars and driving off the ferry onto French soil. We chugged merrily along, not really being able to make use of the French speed limits, but appreciating the smooth roads nonetheless.
I was just getting settled into a groove (about 4 hours later as it turned out) as we left the Parisian sprawl behind us when Rod swept past in a dramatic manner and dived off the road into a service station, evidently it was time for lunch.
Actually it was past lunch and the grill was closed, so Rod had to settle for a crusty baguette and some cheese instead but all was going well, we were on target and everyone was still happy.
The roads got emptier and the last couple of hours soon passed as we skirted around Nevers and onto Magny Cours, the motorway ran out and the dual carriageway was reduced to a single lane and all of a sudden we were hauling off that road onto an even smaller one, then the gates of the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours appeared in the late afternoon glow, we had arrived.
We were guided to a camping spot by the main track onto the site, next to some people with a car stereo blaring and the burger bar with resident DJ, not the best place. Rod tackled the parking dude and said that we wanted to move somewhere quieter, he agreed once he understood, and Rod disappeared into the depths of the site, and picked a much more sensible spot. “There’s no point in arriving early if you can’t get the pick of the pitches” he declared. The parking bloke probably had the last laugh though as we would later find out.
Rod & Jo bought a gazebo which was an inspired decision and gave us a great central point to pitch our tents around. It didn’t take us long to set up camp and have some tea. More and more people poured into the campsite and correspondingly the noise level increased.
We wandered around the campsite later in the evening accompanied by the sound of about a ten thousand stereo’s (probably) and saw some people that looked like they were trying to tune up a go-kart engine, but bizarrely looked like they were using the exhaust in some way to create some Jacuzzi bubbles in their paddling pool.
As the sun descended over the yardarm the need for a beer grew, we checked out the beer on site, but a 250ml bottle was going for 4 euros, and a pint for 8! We didn’t have too much cash on us and the need for a beer wasn’t as great as 4 euros for one bottle.
So we chatted a bit as darkness fell, and the noise level rose still further. The music got louder and louder, fireworks started to go off, and the engines were revved up pretty much all through the night. The notion of finding a quiet spot to camp did start to seem quite ridiculous!
We went to bed and I slept pretty well, Jo felt the noise was a bit too loud so she put her earplugs in, but then she was cool. Rod and Jo didn’t fare quite so well and may not have got much sleep.
Friday 29th June
I awoke to pretty much the same noise level as we had when we went to bed, I’m sure there must have been a slight lull, but I really can’t remember when. Maybe everyone was just a bit excited about their first night away at the races and they would be tired tonight after a day at the track?
Rod, Jo (Rod’s Jo) and I zipped into Nevers first thing to the supermarché for some cash, beer (40 bottles for 14 euros) and meat for the barbeque. When we got back to the campsite Jo had the kettle boiling and we had some breakfast.
The track action had already started with the F3 Euroseries practice and qualifying but we didn’t make that and headed over to our seating area just before the Adelaide hairpin for the first F1 practice session.
The speed of the cars was obviously phenomenal and the noise was insane. The actual sound of the engine was really indistinguishable from car to car because of the overall sound level, even with ear plugs in. The only immediately recognisable engine sound was that of the Spyker’s which sounded the nicest in the ear pain stakes, it was a much lower pitch grunty sounding car. It may well have sounded the best but was always the slowest, so not so good with racing in mind.
If you apply the same rule to Honda, they should have been the fastest by far, with the most painful sounding engine.
The BMW’s were very loud and distinctive on the downshifts into Adelaide, and the McLaren’s seemed to use a lot of traction control to get going on the exit. The Ferraris however did seem from a spectating point of view as the fastest, quick into the corner, big stop and making use of good traction to get going again on the exit.
Following this first session was a GP2 practise session, and Rod’s first comment was “Slooow”. Of course they weren’t, they were still jolly quick but he did have a point, there was a noticeable speed difference visually to the F1 cars, which translated to about a 10 second slower lap time.
The second F1 practice followed after lunch, with the GP2 qualifying after that.
It was a full day of track action finishing up with Porsche Supercup practice and SuperKart practice and qualifying. Compared to F1 and GP2 the Porsches were almost silent, but still great to see and we predicted that the Porsche race would be pretty close.
After the activities had finished on the track the few people that were left drifted back to the campsite which had already disappeared under a cloud of smoke from about a million barbeques.
We again just chilled out and leisurely absorbed the atmosphere while we ate our barbeque. The noise level did not abate one tiny bit, if anything it had intensified with more engines joining in the fray. It looked set to be another all nighter for some people.
Saturday 30th June,
Ian (who turned up on Friday, having not made it back to the UK since the Le Mans 24 Hour some weeks previous) stuck his head out of his tent and captured the moment when he declared “This place is insane!” He may not have slept much either.
The track action kicked off early with an F3 race and a Superkart race before launching into the third F1 practice session, by now though the sun had got properly warmed up and was baking the whole place up, good job I took the umbrella to shade under! We had a great view from our deck chairs, which we basically parked wherever we wanted on the concrete terraces of the Gradins Est area. We were also free to wander down to the hairpin, which was pretty close to the track to see the cars close up.
After lunch the F1 qualifying got underway. We also had a good view of a big screen, which showed the same picture feed as the TV stations get, so we could see all the graphics, useful for following who was in the drop zone. I really felt for Alonso (especially since I picked him for pole) when he ground to a halt in Q3 and was concerned that he was on the wrong fuel strategy for starting in tenth. Again the Ferrari’s and Hamilton were visibly quicker so it was no surprise to see them in the top places.
The scene was gradually getting set for the Grand Prix, it seemed a bit crazy that we had been there for 3 days already, just when the usually seen TV coverage was only just getting underway.
Then came the GP2 race, well it sort of got going about 4pm. In some ways it summarized the craziness of the weekend so far. First at the start Timo Glock and Andreas Zuber both from iSport International had locked out the front row in qualifying, but when the lights went out they both drove towards and into each other and crashed out within metres of the start line, they never even got to the first corner!
Understandably the reaction from the team was one of disbelief.
The rest of the pack hauled around to where we were sitting and filed around the hairpin under waved yellows when exiting the hairpin Ernesto Viso touched the back of someone and launched into a terrifying accident of Kubica proportions, landing on concrete wall whilst barrel rolling along it before disappearing over down the other side. My immediate reaction was “That’s got to be a red flag, that’s bad” The safety car came out for a couple of laps but then the red flags came out too and the race was stopped for about an hour in the end. The atmosphere was pretty edgy and quiet, everyone straining to catch what the commentators were saying. It was very worrying, made worse by that fact that nobody knew how bad it was. There was a big sigh of relief when the news came through that he was ok, but going to the hospital to get checked out. It transpires that he, like Kubica in Canada, got away pretty lightly.
The race restarted but was a bit out of kilter because most people had completed their compulsory pit stop under the safety car, so it was basically a longer version of the sprint race. Bruno Senna was definitely a noticeable driver on track, fast and pulling some good moves but always seemed to end up overcooking it somewhere and losing places again. Great fun to watch though.
By now we know the sound wasn’t going to calm down, everyone was in for the long haul, so we headed back to the campsite and descended into the barbeque smog that had sprung up again and chilled out all evening to the sounds of 4 million stereos, fireworks and revving up engines.
Sunday 1st July
We awoke to the sound of rain on the tent, which filled me with excitement at the prospect of a wet race. Breakfast followed and before long we were heading over to the track, recounting with a smile the sounds of Dreadlock Holiday that emerged over the din about 3 am.
One of the revving engines nearby had either been sabotaged or ceremonially burnt during the night and had been left abandoned nearby all charred and blackened.
The number of people already at the track was quite big but we got a good seat and settled in for the day. The F3 race was a bit damp but the track had basically dried out for the GP2 race which passed pretty much without incident. But just before the Porsche Supercup race the rain fell again prompting a scrabble for waterproof and umbrellas. It didn’t really rain for long but it was enough for the whole race to be wet, great to watch the cars sliding around the hairpin though.
The were a few clouds still lingering before the Grand Prix got underway, but as you know the race was dry. The start was really something else, it was the one moment all weekend when all 22 cars (or however many made it round the first corner) arrived at the hairpin at full chat at the same time, the noise was indescribable.
The support for Ferrari in the stands was well beyond any other team, but everyone was getting behind Alonso and certainly entertained by his hacking through the field. It really looked for a minute he could get up to 4th or 5th once he was passed Heidfeld and Fisichella, he had so much more speed in the clean air, the difference each lap made was incredible.
This is where the live experience comes into its own, the TV coverage is great for finding out the big picture but a static vantage point on the race track gives you a great idea of who’s on the move by observing where they are in relation the people around them each lap. You get a continual update each lap of everyone’s position rather than the TV which sometimes just focuses on one car or battle.
The only real confusion was when Raikkonen snatched the lead from Massa after his pit stop, we must have missed it on the TV, you can’t keep your eye on everything, and so it took a minute or two to work out what had happened.
Great race though and quite momentous to be at the last French GP at Magny Cours.
A lot of people had packed up in the morning and left directly after the race, but we took the opportunity to stay another night, again hoping the campsite would calm down.
Jo and I went for a wander around the campsite after tea just to savour the experience, some of the maddest camp setups do deserve a mention, most of them were Dutch. One site, a group of people had arrived on a bus and bought with them, you’ll love this, a massive stereo and barbeque (of course), a sofa and a freestanding bar equipped with stools. Another group had a table and chairs set up inside a truck. But the seemingly most chilled out people were also Dutch and bought a van with them with a big TV in the back rigged up to a Playstation or something and calmly played an F1 driving game for 4 days solid, it must have gone to their heads though as on Sunday they went mad and destroyed their camp, gazebo and plastic garden furniture whilst laughing hysterically.
It wasn’t a surprise by then that a lot of stuff would get set on fire, so we sat back and watched the show, albeit slightly concerned by a bunch of Scottish blokes nearby who, had somehow been allowed to bring their children with them, got a bit drunk and were encouraging the kids to set stuff on fire, even to the extent of encouraging them to raid the wheelie bins to get more stuff to burn, one comedy moment though, when one child was heard loudly say “Look, I’ve found a chair” and proceeded to carry abandoned camping stuff over to their fire to burn.
So ended the race day with more noise, stuff being burnt and wayward fireworks.
Monday 2nd July
The weekend was drawing to a close. We packed up camp and trundled out of the site, joining the main road just behind some Ferrari trucks carrying the team’s new for 2007 fancy motorhome/media centre. The journey back was pretty smooth and to our great delight the same Ferrari trucks loaded onto our ferry obviously bound directly for Silverstone to get set up for this weekends race. It was great to still be running with the F1 trucks off the ferry and up the motorway until we pulled off to go home, making it really feel like we had been part of the whole event.
Great 5 day weekend, need I say any more? (“No, stop, stop” I hear you say “that really is enough!”)