June 15th, 2010

How to stumble into being part of the Le Mans Supercar Parade

Mark Cox’s story shows that being in the right place at the right time can lead to some amazing experiences. This is how Mark managed to stumble into Le Mans’ Supercar Parade and share the stage with some of the world’s most exclusive metal. Enjoy.

I have just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Le Mans 24hr Race, and whilst I was there I was invited to take part in the Supercar Parade in my Nissan GT-R Black Edition. The Supercar Parade forms part of the Parade Des Pilotes (the Drivers Parade), which takes place in the town centre of Le Mans on the Friday before the race starts.

Here is the story of what happened and how exactly I ended up in a parade in front of tens of thousands of people in Le Mans town centre with a Bugatti Veyron, a Zonda PS, a Koenigsegg Agera, a Spyker Aileron, a Noble M600, a Lexus LFA, a Mercedes SL65 AMG Black, an Alfa Romeo 8C Spyder, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Lamborghini Murcielago LP-670-4 SV and not forgetting the Gumpert Apollo!

On Thursday evening I went to the track to watch the free practice and second race qualifying session. I parked in the Expo car park opposite the track entrance and went off to watch the action. When I came back to my car later that evening I found an envelope under the windscreen wiper and inside was a card from a man called Gilles Troquet. On it he had written ‘Please, if you wish to attend to the Drivers Parade with your GT-R, please call me, Best Regards, Gilles’. On his card it said he was ‘in charge of Supercars’.

My wife is naturally suspicious and immediately thought it was some kind of scam, but I, being slightly more ‘generous’ in nature on occasion, said we had nothing to loose by giving him a call. So I did.

Gilles explained that the GT-R is still a fairly rare sight in France and that he would really like to put us into the Drivers Parade as part of the Supercar display and procession. I had no real concept of what this might mean, but happily said we would come along and we arranged to meet him on Friday afternoon in Le Mans at the Musee Teese close to the Place des Jacobins.

On Friday we spent the morning at the Saint Saturnin ‘Classic British Welcome’ and then drove back to where we were staying to give the car a quick once over with a hose and sponge before heading back in to town to meet up with Gilles. When we arrived the only other cars at the museum were the Lexus LFA and the Gumpert Apollo, so I parked up next them as Gilles had asked and then chatted to their owners / drivers (some of the cars in the parade are still prototypes and so were driven by company employees). Over the next hour or so the rest of the convoy arrived and took up their positions. Once everyone was in place we then drove the short distance to the Place des Jacobins and parked up to await the start of the parade.

As a ‘Supercar Parade’ driver, my wife and I were allowed into the drivers area and also had an invitation to the pre and post parade receptions, so of course we made the most of the opportunity to drink Champagne (my wife did the drinking for me), eat canapés and chat politely with anyone who looked vaguely familiar! In all seriousness though, we did get to meet a good number of the drivers, all of whom were very receptive and happy to say hello and have pictures taken and shake hands etc. The other supercar owners were also very nice people, who did not mind at all that the GT-R had shown up to their ‘party’. As I am sure you can imagine, due the nature (and value) of the cars, some of the owners have driven them or other cars in their collection in the parade for a number of years and their advice and knowledge of the process – and the warning they gave of the waiting involved, proved very useful.

So eventually the time came to begin the parade and to my surprise the supercars lead the whole thing off!
First to leave was the Veyron, followed by the Noble M600 and then my wife and I in the GT-R. Each car is preceded by a motorcyclist on a Harley-Davidson (the local Loire Valley HOG Chapter members do this each year) and on the back of each bike is a ‘grid girl’ with a large placard that gives details of the car following behind. Once we set off the first thing to negotiate is the large stage between two grandstands (think WRC Rally start and finish podium and it’s the same sort of thing). Once on the stage, the car is halted and the compare describes the vehicle, its origin, power output, 0-100kph time etc before you are then waved off on the parade around the town centre.

The route was lined by tens of thousands of enthusiastic car fans, who had mostly been drinking heavily all day and talking cars – so the atmosphere is fantastic and everyone (except the organisers) wants to see some wheel spinning antics and hear the engines being revved. With DSG and 4-wheel drive I was hard pushed to meet the first request, but I did manage to oblige the crowd on occasion with the second request. At various locations around the parade the car is halted again so that it can be described to the crowd again, throughout the whole parade the crowd reaction to the car was fabulous.

Finally, once I had completed my lap of the town, it was back to the Place des Jacobins for more conversation, champagne (for my wife) and canapés, before being given the placard the ‘grid girl’ had held as a souvenir.

Through out my time in France the GT-R has received a great deal of attention, all of it positive, and everyone is very interested in the car and its looks and performance. This year at Le Mans truly has been the experience of a lifetime!

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