Le Mans 2012

There’s something bizarrely addictive about the Le Mans 24hr race. Last year I remember saying I wouldn’t be going again and yet there I was again screaming at the top of my lungs as I watched team captain Hazel run across the track in her socks and start putting her skates on for the epic 2 lap start of the race.

Team bonding began on the train with mass nail painting in fabulous Skatefresh pink provided by Hazel. Matt and Matt didn’t need much persuasion to join the pink nails gang either…. Which continued to be amusing every time I looked at either of them all weekend!

The Skatefresh team this year was a lovely mix of ‘veterans’ – Matt T, Caitlin, Matt B, Min Zaw, Asha, Dinesh (who competed last year) and ‘newbies’ (Andrew, Jon, Andi, Kris and Byron). The rainy start to the race was an unusual challenge for the first shift. Le Mans is always dry and boiling hot, but luckily it did dry out and no more rain fell. Conditions were not perfect however with wind throughout which made beating last year’s lap times pretty difficult (but this was achieved by Matt b and Caitlin which is impressive).

Min Zaw and I continued to explore the backwards options on the big downhill, choosing to use brains before bravado and tackle the hill backwards working up from the lower parts of the slope, first the lower 1/3, then the upper 2/3s. Min Zaw’s approach inspired me to go for it and I finally overcame my doubts of whether I could control the downhill speed going backwards. I did it, by getting so low in a backwards scissor I could have been surfing and then focusing purely on my arms and upper body not moving an inch. All I could hear were the ambulance crew at the bottom of the hill cheering and clapping. I had managed 45km per hour backwards and know I am unlikely to go that fast again.

I felt a calmness through the adrenalin that I know only comes from many years of backwards experience (and slow yogic breathing). I was smiling. I enjoyed getting superb changeover pushes from Andrew and then me pushing Kris (although my last lap I did the fatal faux pas of not being ready on the carpet as Andrew sped by with no one to pass to). Caitlin’s amazing job on the final lap calculations was impressive and something I have never tackled let alone mastered. Kris had the grueling job of the final 2 laps but came round between her 2 laps in a comfortable draft (both Matt and I astonished as neither of us picked up drafts in our first few years of Le Mans). These newbies sure learn fast and hopefully testament that our ‘Race Skills’ classes did the job.

The atmosphere within the team was simply wonderful, everyone cooperative, friendly, supportive and encouraging. Andi and Jon’s super unselfish attitude to not waking up the sleeping Byron (even though I had put our air bed on top of their roll mats) is a case in point. Byron’s colourful shirt additions to the uniform brought smiles and his participation through the long night shift much appreciated. Tracey’s steady and calming influence always makes Le Mans feel under control and she’s responsible for pointing the sleep walkers in the right direction to the hotel after Sunday night dinner.

Knowing this was my last year skating at Le Mans I enjoyed all the unique aspects of it, especially that feeling of skating fast, no obstacles, no people, nothing coming in the other direction, smooth surface, it really is a divine feeling. I loved getting to know everyone on the team better. When you’ve had 2 hours sleep (or no sleep) you really get to the rawness of your being and everyone is there together in that intensity. There is nothing quite like it. Thank you to all the team but especially Hazel and Matt for their organisation and early admin duties. Much appreciated by all of us.