LE MANS 2001
My one and only trip out this year using the newly acquired Overland RV to
the Le-Mans 24 hour sports car race began about two weeks before the actual
race on Saturday 16th And Sunday 17th June.
We had emptied the contents of our previous motorhome into boxes and stored
in the house. These items then had to be found new homes in the Overland. Not
a difficult task you might think but things bought for a specific sized space
never fit in any other space. A bit like trying to fit carpets and curtains
from the old house.
So with the fridge/freezer filled with convenience foods (I'm no cook) and
the storage bays packed with tool boxes and all the little might come in
handy things that I could think of, I hooked up our CitroÍn ZX car and set
off to drive the 260km. (160 miles) to Le-mans exactly one week before the
Previous years I had met the group of RV friends in the car park of the
Auchan supermarket just north of the town on the Monday night and then
progressed, after shopping for the weeks provisions to the "Blue Campground".
This year to meet up with another couple in a similar Overland and because a
new campground had been allocated to us, I arrived early on the Saturday
At this time all the campgrounds were still locked and barred. My allocated
campground, "Camping Karting" was actually being used by a Go Kart Club and I
managed to creep in without too much trouble and position the rig under the
shade of some large trees away from the action.
I appeared to be one of the first race goers to get into the complex and was
able to drive the CitroÍn right into the pits, village and stand areas
without being challenged. The weather was just perfect and I started to enjoy
the quiet solitude before the arrival of 250,000 + fans.
It was about this time that when going to bed I broke my toe on a small step
beside the bed in the Overland. It is carpeted but the crack as my foot came
into contact with the step and the pain let me know it was broken. It then
swelled and went black.
There was little to be gained in seeking medical treatment for the toe as
others including my wife who had visited hospital with broken toes, had just
been told to go and rest. No treatment any more for this afliction. It is
By Monday the Go-Kart fraternity had left and race fans had started to invade
the campsites. A German truck and trailer set up camp just behind me and
played deafening music all day while erecting a trackside scaffolding tower.
I was then treated to a British contingent setting up their camp just in
front of me and trying to drown out the German music. You can imagine the din
as I was caught in "no mans land".
This prompted me to seek another shady spot and while talking to some more
mature Germans, they informed me that there were a couple of power points
available for anyone to use and a water stand pipe just about 100ft. away.
But this situation did not last long and as more fans and friends arrived
this area was cordoned off for race officials and marshals use only.
This did not deter the tenacious Germans and we soon had another power supply
although some 150ft. away. By now I had made friends with a couple of the
Belgian marshals and they were happy to permit our plugging into their
Behind us a Motorola hospitality compound was being erected around an old
Winnebago Chieftain of 1980 vintage. This sprouted roof trusses and a
polished wood floor to create an enormous hospitality facility. Once again I
made friends with the RV owner and asked about the French registration on the
It's not what you know but WHOM you know and the previous owner of the RV was
a personal friend of the then President of France, who obliged with this
special registration number. (It's almost impossible to register a large
engined private vehicle in France).
He promised that next year he would supply me with a cable connection from
the big screen coverage at the grandstand. I will hold him to that.
By now the campgrounds were filling up and any vantage spots were hotly
disputed. Overcrowding was evident and the marshals had to constantly ask
people to show their camping tickets. It is not uncommon for one ticket to be
used on several vehicles. But we, in conjunction with our German friends had
nine tickets between us and this allowed us to cover a large chunk of ground.
I had visited several of the other campsites and liaised with the other
Overland via CB radio in Maison Blanche and the "Norfolk Sausage Mob" in
Camping Houx. They were having a little "tete a tete" with the French
authorities over their site booking. But all was settled amicably later and
their disco, swimming pool and cinema came into full swing, all on one plug.
It blew, surprise surprise.
Wednesday's evening practice began and even though we were only 100ft. from
the track and could look into the speeding cars from our roofs, the noise was
not too deafening. But by now we were in the communal Bar-B-Q frame of mind.
Alan Webb, his two sons, Bob, his in laws, the Germans and some Geordies all
added food to the sizzling wok type cooker. The smells were aromatically
exciting and almost everything was consumed but I don't think Alan's sons
remembered too much of the evenings quisine.
Thursday and by now I had ferried one and all back and forth to the Auchan
Hypermarket every day. But that was to be the last as getting in and out of
the camp was proving difficult even for a small car. It was packed.
Both Bentley and MG returning to Le-Mans heightened the British interest this
year. I think the first time since the war. We were getting continuous
commentary in English from the Radio Le-Mans station, which seemed to be
coming in quadraphonic from every vehicle and tent. This year we were told
that part of the proceedings was to be televised on Channel 4.
One of the commentators, an American, said that compared to Le-Mans, Daytona
was a walk in the park. He made many comparisons with the US race scene and
generally concluded that this was the toughest sports car race in the world.
Saturday the day of the race dawned gray and overcast. But the rain did hold
off until just before the start at 4pm.
I was determined to get up into the village sometime to buy a silly hat and
maybe a Grand Marnier crepe.
A bright spell in the weather and I walked via Camping Houx and the "Norfolk"
camp to the village, only to be informed that they had a £600. ($900.00) Quad
bike stolen that night. Most of their contingency would be found at the
Champagne Tent if I went that way.
Champagne is not my favorite tipple in the morning and at £25 a bottle was
low on the hit list. But when a merry group pluck you from the rain and
crowd, thrust a glass of bubbly into your hand, stick a funny hat on your
head, you seem to warm to it.
So Drew, Jimmy, Steve, Chris, Graham, Vic, Martin, Stu, Roger and Pat, thank
you for that memorable, wet hour or so supping up in that tent watching the
scantily clad girls march by covered in goose bumps.
Forgetting all about crepe's, I found my funny radio hat and just made it
back to the rig before the rain fell again.
Then early in the race it just poured causing many spin offs and accidents.
Most of the cars still going were stuck up with "gaffer" tape and looked the
worse for wear. As the rain was still bucketing down for most of Saturday, I
stayed in the comfort of my RV, even cooking and grilling inside. Outside the
puddles were getting deeper and tents sited in what were nice little hollows
were now floating.
An almost new 40ft. American RV, on hire to a group of 12 or so for the
weekend, found a great lake several inches deep just outside the front door.
I really felt for the owner who was sleeping in a small tent beside his
beautiful home that many muddy feet were tramping in and out. But he was
quite philosophical about it and said that they all removed their shoes at
I was quite surprised that I was able to sleep very well Saturday night.
Maybe it was the electric blanket or comfortable mattress but the sound of
the cars seemed much quieter in the rain.
Suprisingly it was around 7.30am. Sunday that I was aroused by the sound of
rain and not cars. But cars did penetrate through soon after.
By now the MG's had dropped out with mechanical problems and Audi as usual
was leading the pack. The Corvettes of GM were holding their own in their
I don't normally get too interested in the actual race but our position in
the campsite gave us an excellent view of the home straight. And with all the
rain I was glued to the radio most of the time which enabled me to recognize
which cloud of spray was what car.
As I said, I was extremely comfortable in the Overland watching some of the
race on TV with the English commentary out of both radios. I did not spend
too much time on the roof watching the race live as the weather persuaded me
One big improvement with Camping Karting over Camping Blue was the seven
portacabins that provided plenty of toilets and showers. Also the walk to the
pits was shorter and you could park some 700ft. from the noise of the track
if you chose.
By 2pm. on Sunday, many people had packed up and gone home. Many tents were
just abandoned in the mud. Even our friends in the Overland escaped while the
going was good. Several friends in tents vowed to come again but in some
other form of accommodation.
The race result was another triumph for German engineering. Last year Audi
came 1st. 2nd. and 3rd. This year Audi came 1st. and 2nd. with an Audi
powered Bentley 3rd.
On preparing to pack up and leave the campground Monday morning we had to
cross the site and empty our tanks at the toilet blocks. The rubbish and
debris strewn around made me ashamed of my fellow countrymen. It resembled
the worst case of Gypsy abandoned encampment that I have ever seen.
From the piles of bottles and broken glass to complete makeshift kitchens
even containing pots, pans and two fridges, all were abandoned for someone
else to clear up.
Maybe their attitude was that as they had paid to use the site they could
leave it how they wanted. But no one would ever consider leaving a regular
campsite like this and at £30.00 ($45.00) for the week, hardly expensive.
I have already been given permission by higher authority to attend the race
again next year even though, as always it clashes with my wife's birthday. So
as I left it until November to try and book last year and they were almost
sold out. I guess I better get my booking in "toute de suite".
So those of you who might have seen an advert for the Overland, I'm sorry to
disappoint you but it's not for sale until after next year's Le-Mans.
British members constantly ask me about the suitability of this RV over that RV. As I said before there are many British people touring and intending to tour America in motorhomes, usually with the intention of returning with the RV to the UK.
I cannot put one manufacturer in front of another, or type of vehicle as against another. Although I have often stated that in my opinion fifth wheels are definitely not to be imported into Britain.
Not because of the legality difficulties, of which there are many. They need an "eighteen wheel" permit to drive. But, because of the space aspect, most European campgrounds are not pull through.
Any imported RV being it a motorhome, trailer or fifth wheel will have to comply with Euro regulations, even temporarily.
The principal obstacle is the physical size. Maximum length is 12 metres or 39ft. 9in. Maximum width is 2.55 metres or 100.4in. These are actual overall body dimensions and do not include appendages like mirrors and awnings. An ideal length in my opinion is 32ft. to 34ft.
The driving licence rules will also have to be adhered to rigidly. UK car driver licences only permit a vehicle of 7500 kg. or 16,800 lb. Your American driving permit, good for one year, usually permits vehicles of up to 26,000 lb. to be driven.
If the vehicle is used for more than six months in any European country then a permanent registration (tag) is required. This entails complying with many more vehicle regulations.
I relate the rules specific to the UK, as I am familiar with these.
Headlamps must dip to the left. There must be at least two white front running or sidelights. Rear turn signals must be amber and must not operate in conjunction with stoplights, which must be red. There has to be a side repeater turn light in amber. There has to be a rear fog light that is controlled by an illuminated switch only to function in conjunction with dipped headlights. Seat belts must be three way. An emission test must be complied with. And the speedometer must show miles.
Upon the request to register (tag), either a Single Vehicle Approval certificate or the more straightforward Ministry of Transport Test certificate must be presented. These tests will verify that all the regulations have been complied with.
The next thing that will have to be done to the RV is the fitting of a 240 to 120 volt transformer. Usually around a 3 kw. will suffice as the maximum supply likely will only be 16 amps.
As an American you would be able to import any vehicle that you have owned for more than six months and as long as you did not sell it within another twelve months, free of any import duties.
We on the other hand, will have to pay the full import duties of 10% plus 17.5% on the full value of the vehicle including shipping and insurance if we don't fit the exemption rules.
The costs of shipping a RV or car across the Atlantic are relatively modest and are based on cubic volume. Our Eagle cost $3,750.00 and the Chrysler Town and Country minivan another $850.00 one way.
As there are upwards of 5000 American RV's in the UK, you can see that it's not too difficult operating a large vehicle, even with the price of gas and diesel at over $5.00 a US gallon and $6.00 a UK gallon. Although a third of these are owned and operated by race teams and film companies.
A large LHD (left hand drive) diesel motorhome becomes a better option when used in France and Spain. Diesel fuel is only $3.50 a US gallon. But the registration process is made almost impossible by the paperwork. This shows in the fact that about only 20 American RV's are legally owned in France.
In the event of anyone considering this trip and extended vacation, I would be happy to answer any further questions you might have.
Responding to Jeff's comments about European RV's, I can only tell of my observations and not my experiences. As I have never owned a Euro motorhome.
Your average Euro motorhome is based on a commercial van chassis with little or no refinements. Around 18ft to 20 ft in length and purposely built to be under the 7,500 kg. gross vehicle weight and driving licence permit. (16,800 lb.)
most being around 3000 kg. or 6,700 lb. gross. Including some 900 to 1,400 lb.
payloads. this is compensated somewhat by the minute tank capacities. Fresh water being between 13 and 20 galls.
Your average Euro motorhome will be powered by a 1,9 to 2.5 litre turbo diesel engine. And be in the $37k. to $50k. Unless you go for the much more expensive models having the new and enormous 2.8 litre TD Fiat engine at $60k. Even the super expensive models based on the Mercedes chassis only sport a 2.3 or 2.9 litre TD engines run at $76k. to $90k.
All these RV's rarely have such refinements as an automatic transmission, air con, cruise, generators, freezers or microwaves.
Even the standard equipment is minute in comparison to the American RV.
Fridges the size of an icemaker, 4ft. wide beds, bathrooms you shower while sitting on the loo with your chin on the basin.
I am not denying that they are on the whole well put together. Many friends would never swap for my US RV. They give me reasons like being able to park in regular car parks. Being able to visit small mountain towns and villages. And getting over 30 mpg. Being able to empty the cassette type toilet tank down a toilet pan.
The fit and finish is usually quite good but the overall impression is still a carpeted commercial van, light truck.
While these prices might appear high for such basic vehicles you have to remember that with import duties of 30% added to any American vehicle brought into Europe. A small 22ft. Mini Winnie starts at $78k. Or a 38ft. Monaco Dynasty is around $350k plus extras.
As Euro manufacturers produce more and more luxury models, they naturally get bigger and longer. The trend to just tack on an extended chassis and maybe a tag axle has proved a big mistake. Now it's possible to buy a 27ft. tag axled 6 birth motorhome for $75k. weighing over 10,000 lb.but still using the same front wheel drive 2.5 litre diesel engine.
While this does work in practice and a reasonable performance can be achieved, traction on anything but good hardtop is non-existent. Grass or even gravel at a junction produces no forward movement.
My observations here are only of a general nature and extremes in either direction can be found. Like a 12ft. 3,250 lb. Suzuki with a 1.3 litre gas engine at $18k. To a 26ft. 10,500 lb. Hymer at $100k.
A popular misconception amongst Americans is that we must earn far more money over here to be able to pay the high taxes and prices of everyday products.
This is just not true.
From an impoverished Ray Nipper.
I guess you knew that I would respond to this.
I entirely agree that most Europeans love to see how the "Spoilt" Americans travel and the vehicles they use. But some die hards just love to poo poo the whole idea of using an American RV in Europe. For me I just love the challenge and when accosted by an owner of some petite Euro RV with the words "Of course you can't actually drive those great things over here can you?" My reply is always "You can when you become a good driver". That usually muddies the water.
Some European countries positively discriminate against the import and use of large American motorhomes. France basis it's tax, tag and insurance on the engine size which can make anything more than 3 litres prohibitive. Switzerland imposes a charge to use their freeways and prohibits large vehicles to use other roads. Italy also has charges on size.
But good old Britain and Germany do not discriminate and there fore hold the greatest percentage of US RV's registered (tagged) in Europe. I expect there are between 4000 and 5000 US RV's in England. 2000 of these are privately owned and belong to our two clubs.
Monaco being one of the few manufacturers who make their motorhomes almost within the legal limits of Europe have a large following and sales via the principal importer "Travelworld". Their website shows the range imported at
The actual physical limitations on size are maximum 12 meters long (39ft. 9in.) and 2.55 meters wide (100.4") and although the Monaco range is declared at 100.5" it seems to be tolerated.
I would also tend to agree with you about Paris. A truck would be the best mode of transport. It's the survival of the most daring. But the city is a delight and it would be a real shame to miss this architectural masterpiece.
In Paris now it is quite chic to own one of the smallest cars that can park end on to the kerb.
Under normal circumstances our UK and US issued credit cards work virtually everywhere we have travelled. From North America, Europe, Middle East and even Africa.
This unusual situation that necessitated buying fuel at an automated pump was the first time we have ever had a difficulty in France. I do carry both Visa and MasterCard for just the possibility that one or the other is not accepted.
We have now solved this problem by getting a French bank credit card and pin, in the unlikely event of this happening again.
When travelling, we always have a few American dollars secreted on our person, as these are often accepted in the more remote regions.
Many garages in the UK have a limit on credit card sales. This can be as low as £50.00. ($75.00).
With an American RV holding up to 150 gallons and the price of fuel at around $6.00 an imperial gallon, a charge of £500.00 ($750.00) is possible.
Imagine the scenario that used to be happening to me all the time.
I pull into a regular garage (gas station) and block the two end pump islands. I then put a large quantity of fuel in the RV. upon trying to pay I am told that they have a £50.00 limit on a credit card. I explain that I do not carry large amounts of cash around and would they phone for validation. The phone is a pay phone.
The cashier has to get a coin out of the till and phone the card company. They are put into a system of making some choices. The coin runs out.
Now other customers are also trying to pay. The cashier tries again with a higher value coin. Goes through the same routine and gets through to the card operator. More customers are trying to pay and are getting agitated. Because the card company can't understand the need for $750.00 in fuel she won't sanction the sale. The coin runs out again.
The cashier is pressed by the other customers to take their sales. Under stress now gives me another coin and asks me to phone the card company. Cars are queuing in the street.
I get through, explain the situation, get a validation code, write it down and give this number (that could be anything) to the cashier. He or she is so grateful and by now surrounded by irate customers, that they accept the number, write it on my card invoice and I depart.
I have been tempted to give a false number but presume the poor cashier might get into trouble over this.
In Europe the lifestyle is far more economic in general than the states. We are able to survive on PK rations and 12 volt batteries. Kidding again Jeff.
For me personally it's rare to have to run the generator more than the odd hour or two a week. If the daytime temps do get a little high we also prefer to have the windows open rather than use the air con. I do know of Brits that just love to use their air con all the time and they have to seek out the campgrounds that do have higher amps and pay the extra but not me.
I consider that four golf cart batteries with a 60 watt solar panel and fairly economic use of the inverter will last us a week in the summer dry camping. Winter use is another thing. Heating with the onboard gas furnace is an extravagant use of batteries, so most of us fit small catalytic heaters to help the situation. But obviously any hook up that can supply a fan heater or two is to be welcomed. Changing water is the biggest headache as dumps are rare and one water tap may be provided for up to twenty vans and this you have to keep a knob depressed for ever. We always carry the tools for lifting manhole covers to dump when all else fails.
The majority of my RV use in the UK is going to commercial RV shows and visiting friends and relatives. The shows are normally only on for three or four days and we can dry camp quite happily. When visiting friends, it's usual to get a 13 amp supply. This is at 240 volts so is equivalent to a 25 amp supply in the states.
Generator use is generally frowned upon in Euro campgrounds. The more normal clients only have small vans with extremely limited electric consumption and sit outside under awnings. A noisy generator running nearby would not be appreciated. In fact almost all campgrounds would have a dusk to dawn ban on their use.
As I described the average Euro van in an earlier posting, most owners of these little primitive vans are extremely interested in our enormous American units but could not visualise having one due to cost or maneuverability.
Toms assessment of only $10.00 a night for camping might be a reasonable average, as I personally would not be using campgrounds all the time. Security when out sightseeing in the toad is the main reason for campgrounds and then changing water the other reason. But it would take a little while to get used to free camping.
Some marinas and fishing ports will permit overnight parking and if the authorities are asked nicely and payment offered, an electric hook up is also possible.
It's a challenge.
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