It’s probably fair to say that it’s not the best preparation for a 4am start followed by a long drive to go to bed after midnight the previous night but that’s how I played this one.* I knew it was stupidity at the time but did that stop me?* Well, if it had, I’d not have written the past paragraph, would I?* Duh!
I have recently become a big fan of the Channel Tunnel and today’s experience only went to reinforce that faith.* We drove up to the check in window and were cheerfully directed towards the next train.* Ten minutes after turning off the M20 we’d driven onto the train and a further thirty minutes later we were driving off again and onto the French highways.* Awesome.
Our route took us down to Paris but, rather than use the infamous Periphique ring road, I rather mischievously directed us through the centre of Paris.* Well, it is a more direct route!* Poor old Paul was somewhat shocked to suddenly be greeted by the utter mayhem that is the Arc d’Triomphe - the only place in France where crashes are not judged and both drivers are automatically presumed to be equally at fault - but he coped with the shock admirably despite the Parisians throwing everything that they could at him.*
Leaving the locals to race around the giant roundabout like an out of control comet circling the sun we shoot off like a pinball down the Champs-Elysées towards the Louvre before turning along the banks of the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower.* Used to driving in London we were amazed at the speed at which we were able to cross the city - it’s just that kind of place - it may be known as the city of love but, to me at least, it’ll always be the city of driving insanity.* There is a reason that Claude Lelouch shot his most (in)famous movie, C’était un rendez-vous, there and I like the city a lot.*
As we left Paris behind in our mirrors it was fast becoming apparent that we’d underestimated the sheer size of France.* The furthest that I had been previously was Le Mans and we were heading all the way to Magny-Cours before calling it a day.* As well as being our base for the night, the town also boasts a race circuit which, for the past 15 years or so, has been the home to French Grand Prix.* Teams and fans alike complain about the location - slap bang in the middle of France - but, when we were looking for a hotel halfway between Calais and Nice, it seemed therefore only natural that we should break our journey there for the evening.
Eventually we arrive and, after driving past the circuit entrance a number of times, we finally realised that the hotel was located within the circuit itself which was, I thought, a most agreeable location.** It was a lovely hotel and a bargain to boot but what really ‘made’ it for me was the unmistakeable sound of race cars when I opened my bedroom window.* I had to go and investigate.* As I wandered around the perimeter looking for a way in, whilst trying my best not to look like I was up to no good, I started to have my suspicions about what I could here circulating…
As it started to rain I finally found a fence low enough to climb over and I made my way into the grandstand on the final corner.* From my vantage point I saw the glorious sight of a mid-nineties Benetton F1 car barrelling down the long straight towards me - full chat in the wet - the back of the car fishtailing as it powered through the puddles forming on the track.* It went round just one more time before pitting but the sight and sound of that car will live with me for a long time and I refuse to let the memory by sullied by the later efforts of a handful of very lucky people who, after handing over a large sum of money and being subjected to a ‘you bend it, you mend it’ lecture, were allowed to take this and another identified car out for a few laps.* I can only presume that the first driver that I saw was either the instructor or a very very rich individual who really didn’t give two tosses about how much it would cost him if he did indeed bend it.* Either way I liked his style and, after an hour or so and thoroughly soaked, I made my way back to the hotel for a hot shower and to meet Paul in the bar for a hot meal and a couple of pints.* Not a bad day, all in all, it has to be said.