- Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Hébécrevon: The Adventure Begins!

At one point it looked liked the whole weekend was over before it even started. Sitting at work on Thursday, my van loaded to the gunnels, I opened an email at 2pm from Brittany Ferries to say that my overnight ferry from Portsmouth had been cancelled due to dockers strikes at the other end! Oh no, not now. Please this cannot be happening... My last two trips to France where derailed by strikes and airport bomb alerts so perhaps this trend is set to continue...

Thankfully the nice people at BF got me onto the 7:45am crossing to Cherbourg and said I could park up in the ferry port overnight, so I set off to Portsmouth as planned and bedded down for the night, ready to be first in line the next morning. All in all it worked out pretty well as I was refunded the cost of the  cabin and had fish & chips for dinner at the seaside - glass half full is how I roll! :D

Under an hour's drive from port, it was 2pm and sunny as I rolled into Hébécrevon to the site of race cars being rolled around the little village and gazebos popping up on any free bit of tarmac. My friend Greg Guille from Guernsey was there
with a group of UK drivers, so we met up while he showed
me around and got me up to speed with how the meeting ran (big thank you!). I parked up on a quite cul de sac and unloaded, before following Greg for a tour of the village on my moblilette along with a few runs up the hill. I was very excited and struggling to remember the names of all the people I was meeting, some I'd spoken to already over email so it was nice to finally put faces to names.

It was at this point that I met my second challenge of the weekend - missing parts from my suspension. I'd noticed some play in the front left the day I loaded the car, and while unable to pinpoint it I thought I'd just deal with it in France. Didier Potet who runs a Formula Renault and helps organise the event kindly offered to look at the problem, along with his son Julien who was driving their car the next day. To cut a long story short there was about 1inch of play between the hub and lower wishbone due to the non presence of a circlip that locates the bearing... I'd like to thank Didier and the
mechanics from various teams who helped me as without them the car would have been a non runner. With all the excitement and ensuing panic I missed lunch and dinner (and scrutineering) but headed to the bar in search of any food that might be available. The local beer is quite strong (6.5%), and there wasn't any food, but I met some nice people and spoke some slightly confusing French before eating some cake I had in my van and turning in for the night. 'J'étais crevé' as they say!

I rose early the next morning for verification technical at 7:15am, in this instance it meant pushing the car to the centre of the village (thanks again Greg) which was a memorable  experience as the only noise was the birds singing their morning chorus. Jacques Tanguy, (who kindly advised me on entry rules for FR's by email last year) passed the car without a hitch so we wheeled it back and I went for a shower. 

I think I may be the first person to use a generator at a race meeting to run a hair drier, but life is too short for bad hair even if I did get a few bemused looks from passers by! After the lack of food and car pushing I was feeling light headed, so on my way to the boulangerie I was delighted to find a stand BBQing sausages in fresh baguettes. I sat down and ate one before continuing on my quest for croissants and cakes, now feeling ready for practice. Just as it started to rain.

The lower section of Hébécrevon is a very narrow tunnel, with some tight corners and a chicane fenced in either side by armco the whole way. I'd driven it around 8 times on the scooter and it felt pretty tight, the idea of a wet first run didn't really appeal much but thankfully I had a chance to fit the wets before I was up. Lined up at two abreast for pre grille on the main road that runs through the heart of the village, you wait for some time as the cars are formed up before being sent down the hill in reverse order to the start line. With crowds gathered either side of you most of the way and children waving as you drive by, it's very different to the hillclimbing I'm used to back home. The first run flew by, my enthusiasm tempered by the slippy conditions, I concentrated on being smooth and taking it all in rather than trying to do anything silly - start slow/finish faster is how I always  approach racing. 

At 2km it was an ideal hill to start on, the second section is quite steep - flat out on the approach as you climb through series of wide and fast left right, left right, corners. As it started to dry out I found a good rhythm, but the biggest issue and one that will take some learning is that fact that I'm used to turning in a lot earlier than I now need to. The FR corners and turns in like it's on rails, and the instinct to get the car tucked into the apex early is a difficult one to counter, time after time I found myself committing too soon (the last corner on my penultimate run saw me run right out of tarmac while flat in 4th, I only just held it) so I'll have to work on this over the coming weeks. 

As Saturday drew to a close I'd posted some encouraging times, at one point splitting the class so things were looking good as we received the news that there would be an untimed practice session on Sunday morning. Julien Potet was the man to beat, currently lying 6 seconds ahead and running on his home hill I wondered if I could close what seemed to be a big gap. We were all looking at a hot & sunny day for competition, time to make the most of the morning and get the Avons working!

I started the day with a quick scooter ride to the bakery once more to get food (and more patisseries!) for the day, before fixing coffee on the hob in the back of the van. It's really fun zipping around the paddock like this on little errands and it all adds to the atmosphere and feeling of being somewhere completely new and different. I did some checks on the car and had by now worked out exactly how much fuel I was using per run (1.5ltr), sadly the camera battery was playing up so there is very little footage to show but it will certainly be working for next time. Free practice went well, I pushed the car much harder this time and it just soaked it up, the back sliding out gently on a few of the faster corners but all feeling nice and neutral. I just took one run as I didn't want to risk anything without posting a time, and so we stopped for a few hours over lunch and had some time to mingle and chat with other drivers. 

Première montée went well with 4 secs between the three of us and me right in the middle, I desperately missed having the camera footage to take a closer look at my lines as I really relied on this at St-Gouéno last year to see where I could improve after each run. The second run came and I really went for it, taking 1.5 secs off and nearly losing it altogether at the final corner! The speed you can carry is unreal, not that I could sense the downforce but it starts to feel instinctive as you're just aware off the car finding grip like you've never known. With less than a second to first place and one final run I really felt like I might have a chance, sadly Julien had to withdraw with a mechanical failure so I knew what time I had to beat - Could I do it?!!  Estelle Bouche was very close in third so I knew that one slip could mean losing a position - surely if I just pushed that bit harder... And then disaster, I stalled at the start! All I can say in defence is that the bite point on the FR is quite tricky to master, but I don't think I've ever felt so frustrated. I carried on and cruised up at 9/10's, close but no cigar. Click here to see the video!

Nonetheless to have such a great start I was on a massive high - the car had felt solid, predictable and really confidence inspiring. As I pulled up to parc fermé outside the main stage I was told that as I the fastest lady I would get a prize and sure enough I got called up shortly afterwards. You get given a manufacturer's cap corresponding to either Michelin or Avon to wear and I was very nervous standing in front of a large crowd. 

Martine Hubert gifted me with a glass trophy that came in it's own presentation box, along with a bouquet of flowers and box of snails that are customary for Hébécrevon. When the time came to speak I kicked myself for not thanking Didier and the guys who got me running on Friday, but I managed to answer in French while doing my best impression of a rabbit in the headlights and evaded most of the champagne that got sprayed shortly afterwards!

As I raced back to Cherbourg for the overnight ferry it all seemed slightly surreal, the sun setting over the harbour just another picture perfect memory to complete what has been an unforgettable weekend. I had to chuckle when I was stopped at customs before boarding and asked what was in my van. "Une voiture de course" I said casually, as the douanier raised an eyebrow - I showed him my trophy and flowers. "Ah oui, Hébécrevon!" he said with a big grin, and waved me through. 

Arriving back in Portsmouth for 6:50am I drove straight to work before coming home as normal and unloading. There are jobs to do to the car & van, no.1 being to take some negative camber off as the FR is running far too much at present and not getting anywhere  near the edge of the front tyres. It feels quite frenetic as I'll be packing up at the weekend again, ready for a trip to combine La Pommeraye & St. Gouëno where I'll meet up with team Redline Performance for the first time. Fingers crossed there are no more strikes or bomb alerts!


  1. Great post Charlie! Sounds like a good first event in the FR. There will be plenty of trophies no doubt!!

  2. Excellent stuff Charlie, keep it up!