Story and photos by Ian Wilson
Way back in July 1939 the first event was run round the streets of Angouleme, France, featuring names like Trintignant and Wimille, and here we are, 70 years on still using the same layout, similar cars too. The names have changed but the organisers of the 2009 Circuits des Remparts Historic Car Race, held September 18-20, did a fabulous job to gather some famous GP stars and champions for this anniversary event.
The event weekend starts on Friday evening with the Concours d’Elegance, now held in the new Champs du Mars square, where the cars are driven on to a ramp in front of an adoring public, the entrants interviewed about their vehicles, awarded prizes and made to feel really welcome. Most people dress according to the age and period of their cars or bicycles, motor or otherwise, and with the enthusiastic Jean Louis Mathieu in charge of the microphone we all had a superb evening with wonderful cars, characters and plenty of cheering! The likes of Chevrolet, Renault, Panhard, MG, Hotchkiss and many others were paraded, and the wonderful Pierre Roy took the honours. Proceedings were brought to a premature end as the French heavens opened, clearing the seats very quickly! A foretaste of what was to follow over the weekend.
Saturday morning sees around 500 cars gather in the car park of the Geant store in the early morning mist and gathering dawn. Admired by all attending, the cars are waved off down the ramp by ACOCRA President Jean-Rene Tillard. A route around the beautiful Charente countryside takes most of the day, with the necessary stops for vehicle and personal refuelling, the participants being ably assisted by the local populace directing the cars and drivers at virtually every junction!
As the rallye is progressing, Angouleme has another Concours, this year showing a group of wonderful Schlumpf collection Alfa Romeos and Bugattis that most had never seen. At the same time in the Champs du Mars, gathered speed enthusiasts were treated to the racing Alpine Renaults and more interviews with their Pilotes, and cameras snapping in all directions yet again.
The rallye cars then arrive back in Angouleme in the late afternoon, and the remainder of the evening is spent ‘people and car watching’, as the centre of town is given over to the most amazing collection and atmosphere, well into the early hours of race day morning! Les Halles, the market place, is the setting for a party, offering local produce, and we were all introduced to the gathered ‘greats’ like Sir Jackie Stewart, Henri Pescarolo, Francois Guiter and Jean-Pierres Beltoise, Jarrier, Nicolas and Jabouille.
Sunday race-day starts with practice from 0830 hrs, usually in the mist, with competitors getting used to the street circuit, its tight corners, bumpy surface and the all to closeness of the barriers! With a mixture of oil, cement dust, sand and drizzle, the morning sessions were to say the least interesting, but the weather cleared and most things went to plan. Grid positions fought for and agreed, and premature thoughts of winning, gradually spread through the paddock.
Lunch is taken by nearly all, with only the parades of Morgans, Bentleys and a horde of VW’s being flung at breakneck speed around the houses, introducing newcomers to the art of street racing, braving the compulsory stop!
With all the food consumed, the French flag fell on the first grid and proceedings finally got under way. Throughout the afternoon we were all treated to some very close wheel to wheel racing, Bugattis, Amilcars, Renault Alpines, Porsches, Frazer Nash, Peerless, with the town reverberating to the wonderful sounds and echoes of racing engines. Some unfortunate competitors were not able to make the grids, robbing us of some more exciting racing, but the battle between the Bugatti 35b of Jean-Marc Laffont, and Dougal Cawley opposite locking ‘Piglet’ will probably be everyone’s story of the day!
Unfortunately we were also treated to a heavy mid afternoon shower which brought all the umbrellas out and had us photographers scurrying for the nearest bus shelter! More close racing, the odd bump with the tyre barriers and all too soon the final race was upon us. So too was the rain, and did it rain. The last race, spectators and many other things were washed away and the event was red flagged. We have had such a wonderfully hot and sun filled summer it was a shame that we were dealt this unpredictable weekend.
And so the Sunday evening was spent eating in restaurants in Angouleme, swapping tales of the weekend’s events, the racing, the sounds, the friends, and making promises to return next year and do it all again!
For more information and results, visit www.circuit-des-remparts.com.
For more of Ian’s event photographs, visit Circuits des Remparts Historic Car Race
Circuits des Remparts Historic Car Race at Angouleme Photo Gallery
[Source: Ian Wilson]