From LeMons to Le Mans,
Eyesore Racing's Victory Tour
Part 1: Le Mans Night Practice
by Dave Coleman
Northern France is, in a word, Iowa. The two regions share endless rolling green fields and countless thousands of acres of richly productive farmland that are both at first pastoral and bucolic and then, after a few hours, mind-numbingly monotonous. It's bad enough that the roads criss-crossing France's vast baguette farms and cheese fields are laid out in the pattern of a bullet-riddled sheet of laminated safety glass, but the navigation system we're relying on is stuck in French, and we've therefore been unable to find the hidden sub-menu that takes it out of wander-around-in-the-fields-for-fucking-ever mode and puts it in the just-get-us-there-already mode.
The tension of this mildly frustrating situation is made dramatically higher by a few mitigating circumstances. First, there are nine of us traveling together–an extended Eyesore Racing family squeezing every last drop of value from our 2010 24 Hours of LeMons season championship prize (a most-expenses paid trip to Le Mans)–and getting this group to move anywhere together is like using cats to herd other cats. Second, we're split into two cars, with the lead car following the aforementioned French navigation system and the second car following behind with nothing more than printed Google Maps directions that insist we're going the wrong way. Third, our electronic ineptitude has rendered most of our cell phones useless on this continent, while keeping just a few of them merely expensive and unreliable. Finally, in spite of being pretty damn sure we were going to win this prize way back in early December, we failed to book any kind of Le Mans sleeping quarters until just a few weeks ago. It is estimated that 250,000 spectators come to this race each year, all of whom booked their accommodations well before we did. As a result, we're sleeping in a delightful French farmhouse turned bed and breakfast that just happens to be an hour and a half away from the wrong end of the city of Le Mans.
So, not only are we stuck in a video loop of farmland, painfully quaint French village, traffic circle, farmland, etc., and not only is Thursday Le Mans practice about to start while we continue to be nowhere near the particular farm we need to check into that is itself nowhere near the practice session we want to watch, but the cellular communications blackout is preventing us from forming any kind of Plan B as the Plan A of check in and go watch some practice becomes less and less realistic with each passing hour.
When we finally reach our farmhouse, the air is thick with a mixture of frustration, hunger and exhaustion. After a year of battling for the prize, months of planning the trip, and weeks of swarming around Europe, Le Mans is happening somewhere in the distance and we're not there.
Thursday practice runs from 8 pm to midnight. It's after 8 pm now and so far it's taking twice as long to drive anywhere as we thought it would. It should take 90 minutes to get to Le Mans. If you do the math, it doesn't look good. Not only do we not do the math, we hardly realize what time it is. The sun sets, this time of year, sometime after 9:30, so it still feels like mid-afternoon.
Undeterred by reality, I open my shitty netbook, connect to the farm-quality wifi, and look up dining options along the Mulsanne straight. If there's ever any chance we'll be able to just show up without reservations and dine on the Mulsanne (unlikely), Thursday practice is our best bet.
I find a guide suggesting a bad Chinese restaurant that was actually in Steve McQueen's plotless masterpiece Le Mans (back before it was a Chinese restaurant), and giving long-form old-man-on-the-back-porch-style verbal directions. With no printer and no functioning smartphone, I take a picture of the directions on the laptop screen so I can read them off the back of my camera and announce that I'm headed to the track. Bitter Dan, Jay and Kyle are dumb enough to join me, while the lady-folk and Ryan stay back to eat, relax, and pretend they aren't missing anything.
With no address for the track itself, or even for the bad Chinese restaurant, programming the French nav system is trickier than normal. I can't find any way to set the city center as a destination, so we end up navigating to 1 Whatever Street Comes First Alphabetically, Le Mans, France. Thoroughly frustrated by the meandering route the nav has been choosing so far, Bitter Dan grabs the pre-printed Google Maps directions and jumps in the passenger's seat. Before leaving, I ask our hosts how to get to Le Mans. They don't sound like they go there very often, but the directions they give (turn left out of the farm and follow the signs) sound simple enough.
Within 5 minutes we're already thoroughly lost. I turn left, as directed by the locals, and within 100 feet Bitter Dan is pointing out that I'm an ass-hat and his printout says to turn right. My navigational success rate so far suggests he might be right about my ass-hattery, so I make a U-turn and head the Google way. Less than a kilometer later, the French nav system pops up and suggests we hang a gauche on a twisty little 1-lane farm road. Unable to resist such an entertaining suggestion, I immediately switch navigational strategies for the third time in three minutes. Nobody seems to notice that this is a bad idea.
Finding the largest city in a 200-km radius shouldn't be that hard, but it turns out everything in France is hard. The roadside is littered with signs telling you what town you are not in, what the speed limit isn't, not to drive backwards up entrance ramps, not to drive down entrance ramps and then turn left into oncoming freeway traffic, and even huge, billboard-sized signs announcing the existence of chemistry. There are very few signs telling you what road you are on, however, or what direction that road is going. Instead, traffic circles are marked with arrows saying which town is in each direction, and freeways are marked with, well, almost nothing.
Some of the signs say Le Mans, so we follow those when we can. Others point toward the town of Anus (can't remember what it was really called, but that's close enough), which is on Dan's Google printout and seems to be in the right direction, so sometimes we follow those.
While you are at it, check out parts 2 and 3 as well!