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Michael & Andrew Cotton
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When the Going gets Weird, the Weird turn Pro........(Hunter S.
Thompson, RIP 1937-2005)

  “We hope you don’t mind the mess…” At least, that is what we thought the waiter
said but, as our starter arrived at the same time as the Priest, we realised with
horror that he meant “we hope you don’t mind the Mass.” Not that it made much
difference and we tucked into our steak and chips as the Catholic congregation
took Holy Communion in the hotel restaurant at Nevers. The hotel staff were
spectacularly irreverent, crashing and banging the cutlery during the homily and it
was apparent that they did not approve of what was going on. Later it became
evident that we had in our midst a group of Oriental pilgrims on their way to
Lourdes via the Shrine to St. Bernadette located in Nevers..........having got off an
aeroplane that morning, they were in need of the service..........well Christ was
born in a stable............

I'm a real nowhere man..............
  It was the end of yet another bizarre weekend. We are aware that few would
believe the above, and thankful that the FIA Media Delegate Jacquie Groom was
there to witness the extraordinary occurrence. "Welcome to our world" was the
comment as she looked on in disbelief. The second rounds of the 2005 FIA GT
Championship and World Touring Car Championship took place at Magny Cours,
one of the most difficult circuits to reach in any mode of transport. Fly to Charles
de Gaulle, you have a two hour drive south to reach the circuit if you clear Paris in
time. Catch the train and Phileas Fogg would consider the journey challenging.
Drive, and you are in for a long schlep.

  We chose the latter, and on Thursday morning I picked up Brooks at his house in
south west London. We decided to leave early, beat the rush-hour traffic and have
a jolly easy start to the weekend. All was going almost to plan; I was only half an
hour late, but then disaster struck. Reaching into the back seat to get the tickets
ready for the boat, I found a briefcase full of the wife’s medical documents from
her work in the NHS. No computer, no passport, no nothing. Just bits of paper.
Mrs Brooks calmed Mr Brooks as Mr Cotton had his head banged slowly on the
back of the car.

  Back to Hitchin to switch briefcases and then on to try to catch our ferry, we
rucked up to Dover just eight minutes before the sailing, and somehow were
allowed to join the queue. We were saved, until we saw the boat, a bright green
Catamaran. As we approached the loading bay, the engines were started and if
he weren’t already dead, we may have expected Red Adair to come to the rescue.
The dockers held their jackets over their faces and waved us through the diesel
fog and onto a boat which looked like it had been built and buggered behind the
Iron Curtain.

Running on Empty

  The traditional Cotton scenario of running low on fuel as soon as the Continent
is reached was acted out in Boulogne and then we hit the road, aiming for Paris
where more oddness was awaiting. We navigated our way down the N104 and
were faced with a helmet, fully six feet off the ground, heading towards us on the
opposite carriageway at something like 70mph. Some bloke, undoubtedly French,
was pulling the mother of all wheelies in the outside lane and making his way
through traffic while standing on the rear mudguard. Six miles further on, the
military were moving missile launchers which are impressive even without the
flames and rockets to which they give birth.

  Won't get fooled again from Who's Next saw us through the last section of the
journey, the drummer ( the unique Keith Moon) appearing to be attempting to keep
beat with two tracks at the same time as we coasted into Nevers. Dinner was
organised with Dave Lister, who got caught at Charles de Gaulle Immigration
desk behind a plane load of Arabs, and Marcus Schurig, latest recruit to the Band
of no Hope, was regaled over the food with such tales. I am sure he didn’t believe
half of them.

  While settling the bill, Le Patron offered four shot glasses and poured some pink
liquid from what looked like a medicine bottle. We downed the ‘refreshment’ and,
as Marcus was the only one who spoke fluent French, we left him talking to said
barman. Next morning, he was stunned to find he still had a head full of hair
having gone through two bottles of the stuff.

I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive............

  Saturday brought a go-kart event, amusingly named the ‘Pen and Helmet’
challenge. Chief organiser and WTCC Media delegate, Fabio Ravaioli, had
attempted to pair the heaviest journos with the lightest World Touring Car drivers
but, having received an answer from one joker that he was around 200kg,
abandoned that idea. He then drew the pairings from a hat, and it was Chevrolet’s
Rob Huff who got lumbered with me, while the thunderous Lister got paired with
Dirk Muller. The driver’s briefing was held in French, a pointless exercise for most
of the establishment, though we did work out that the start was to be a Le Mans
style effort…no, not a rolling start, we had to run across the track. Big Dave was
slightly alarmed at this – so was Dirk who commented: “Please, don’t jump in!”
There are two ways of driving – ours, and theirs. Ours involved the tactic; “Drive
like hell, and hope no one can keep up” and involves a lot of different lines taken
through the corners with no real clue as to how fast we were going.

  Theirs, of course, was a matter of weight, the karts obviously going flat out and
race craft the object of the game rather than our haphazard effort. Huff versus Jorg
at the front of the field was a matter of getting to the end, the German ahead of the
Brit, but Augusto Farfus jnr., Peter Terting and Dirk spent most of their 20 minutes
trying to put each other onto the grass. Once Farfus broke clear, all the fun
appeared to be over, but the Alfa driver then slowed on the straight, obviously keen
to fully exorcise any demons before the WTCC race.

  At the flag, Dirk thought it would be a good idea to spin his kart through 360
degrees, a feat he repeated half way around the slowing down lap. At the end of
the second touring car race on Sunday, he appeared to try the hat-trick, but didn’t
quite get his 320i to rotate in quite the same way and rolled backwards into the
side of Farfus’ Alfa. The Brazilian was not particularly amused, and Dirk was left to
scratch his head and wonder what happened? Did something break?

When the train left the station..........

  Then our religious gourmet experience at the hotel took place. Leaving Nevers at
4am on Monday morning seemed like a good idea after all these antics.
And so now we move on to the Nurburgring, a 24-hour race featuring 230 cars,
200,000 spectators and a 700bhp Porsche. Life is moving on at a spectacular
pace, so we will try to produce updates a little more regularly. Next week – our lap
around the Nordshcleife with Andy Priaulx.

Andrew Cotton,
May 2005

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