Report and photos by Julien Mahiels
The Tour Auto 2013 was held April 22nd to 27th along the secondary roads and racing circuits of France. This rally traditionally held the end of April has been the highlight of my year for the past four years. This charismatic event takes place over the best landscapes France offers, mixing 400+ km daily stages with closed sections and track races that challenge participants, support crews and media alike. The 22nd annual rally saw 250 automobiles cover over 2,100 km over four circuits and five stop-over towns.
The event is open to cars (or sister cars) that participated in the original Tour de France Automobile between 1951 and 1973. Tour Auto 2013 participants competed in one of two categories: Competition or Regularity. In short, the difference between the two groupings is that in competition, fastest wins, while in regularity, precision wins. In Competition, the driver is alone on the racing circuit stages, while a co-driver is used on the road stages.
In addition to BMW and Ferrari, the official Tour Auto Optic 2ooo partners, Porsche and Aston Martin held a place of honour during the 2013 edition. A tribute was paid to the late Ferdinand Alexander Porsche with a dozen plastic Porsche prototypes in the rally, while a great selection of DB2, DB2/4, DB Mark III and DB4 GT Aston Martins were also in the race field.
Among the notable entrants at the 2013 Tour Auto Optic 2ooo Rally was the awe-inspiring Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe driven by Kenny Brack. The sheer lunacy of driving this powerful and original car on public roads is something you can’t find elsewhere in the world. Stamped with chassis number CSX 2300, this Cobra Daytona Coupe is one of the six originals built and one of the three that participated in the Tour de France Automobile in 1964. Driven in the race by Bob Bondurant and Jochen Neerpasch, CSX 2300 won the first two special stages in the GT category.
Kenny Brack was not the only famous driver at the start, as Jacques Laffite participated in a Porsche 910, Olivier Panis drove a Ferrari 308 Group IV and Eric Comas thrilled in a Lancia Stratos.
Similar to last year, the Tour Auto Rally preview was held in Paris’ famed Grand Palais. After leaving Paris in the early hours the participants arrived to the Chateau de Dampierre where the official start of the rally took place. Built around 1670, Dampierre is a massive and colorful castle surrounded by a wonderful lake offering a glorious reflection of the cars. A few cars struggled to fire up with the cold temperatures, but with the help of the enthusiastic crowd, everybody got up and running.
Just a few kilometers from the start we found the 910 Porsche of Jacques Laffite already having troubles. A faulty accelerator cable was the source of his stop but fortunately his support crew had him underway in no time. Support crews are always the true heroes on this event for me. They must keep up with prototypes in vans packed with parts and tools and they deserve a lot of respect for their awesome work.
The cars arrived in Le Mans for the first track session of the week. As always epic battles occurred on track between GT40s and Cobras offering a great show to the massive crowd. The Group 5 where all the most powerful cars fight each other offered an intense classic Porsche vs Ferrari battle between the two former F1 drivers. A determined Eric Comas, after winning the first special stage of day, managed to finish in 4th position in his Lancia against a field of cars more suited to the track.
The rest of the day was held under the sun crossing the fields of la Sarthe to get to Orléans with la Loire as a background the day ended in a glorious light.
The second day of the 2013 Tour Auto started with a quick visit to the glorious Chambord and Cheverny Castle. The long stretch of road exiting Chambord gave us the opportunity to hear the howl of a GT40 cruising in the higher end of its third gear. That sound still echoes in my mind.
Next stop for us is the special stage held in the vineyard near Thésée where we witnessed the great car control of Kenny Brack putting all the power down of the Cobra on really tight roads. Fittingly, Eric Comas dominated the stage with his Lancia Stratos that was tailor-made for the stage.
Magny Cours was a confirmation of the Le Mans race with 910 winning their category and GT40s again showing faultless reliability.
Held on a hillclimb in Chatel-Montagne, the last special stage of the day showed the first glimpse of the mountains. This tricky road had a very fast flowing section that was followed by a massive hairpin. It surprised several participants, but none more than an Alfa Romeo GTV and one of the Mercedes-Benz Gullwings that ended off course with thankfully no injuries. This fast flowing section with off camber turns was the theater of epic driving from GT40s sliding on their undersides. We were even gratified by sparks coming under the gigantic Ford Galaxie.
Once again the Lancia Stratos of Eric Comas was faster than anyone else, showing astonishing speed on the course. To be honest he scared the hell out of us on the course. At this stage of the race, Comas now has a massive time advantage and seems unstoppable. The day finished in the magnificent thermal city of Vichy.
From the day I saw the 2013 route I knew Vichy to Albi would be the most beautiful stage of the rally and it didn’t disappoint. After a 50 km highway drive we arrived in the Cantal region where the snowy mountains welcomed us. Glorious roads and scenery stayed with us all day long, with a wide variety of twisting, dark roads and gravel sections showing no mercy for the cars. The special stages were a near exact-copy of those held the previous day, with Comas again dominating in the Lancia.
The day ended on the track at Albi. We took our time leaving the photo gear in the car to watch the race, as it’s it is nice to be a regular spectator from time-to-time. Jacques Lafitte showed all his skills on this narrow, speed-biased track, battling with the Porsche 910 of Francois Perrodo after a really hot start with Olivier Panis’ Ferrari 308 just inches between the Porsches. The flames coming from the BMW 3.0 CSL and the noise of the Lancia Stratos kept us entertained for the evening. We couldn’t sleep because of the excitement they gave us.
The sun unfortunately left us we crossed the Tarn region for the last stage of the 2013 Tour Auto. While we left the rally during the rainy lunch, our mind was full of great memories.
In the end, the AC Cobra of Carlos Monteverde took the win in the hotly-contested Competition Class, finishing ahead of the Jaguar E-Type of Jean-Pierre Lajournade and the Ludovic Caron’s AC Cobra. With a gap of 16 seconds between first and second and 11 seconds between third and fourth, the 2013 edition becomes the closest finish in the Tour Auto Optic 2ooo. Converted to distances the differences become a mere 400 meters and 275 meters, respectively, and this after more than 2,100 kilometers of road stages and circuit races.
Of note was the ascent of Ludovic Caron and Didier David in their AC Cobra. After falling to the 21st position after the first stage with mechanical problems, the double winner of the event climbed onto the third step of the final podium.
In Group G, the team Philippe Vandromme and Frederic Vivier went wire-to-wire with their Ford GT40, while ex-F1 driver Erik Comas and his co-driver Isabelle de Sadeleer won Group H in the Group IV Lancia Stratos and the Ferrari 308 Group IV driven by the British team Andrew Beverley and Mike Humphreys finished atop Group I.
The Index of Performance was won by the Porsche 356 team of Frederic Puren and Caroline Bertrand, and Jean-François and François Nicoules were victorious for the second consecutive year in the Regularity class with their Ford Mustang.
Photographer Julien Mahiels documented the 2013 Tour Auto Optic 2ooo Rally, offering the following exceptional picture gallery that shows the strong field of entrants, in addition to the spectacular views found on the French countryside. We split up the 200 pictures that Julien captured into two galleries. The first gallery starting below features our favorite 100 images, all displayed in the full-width view of our website. The second gallery (and rally results), meanwhile, can be found on the last page of the article and gives a comprehensive view of all the photographs. To see more from Julien, visit julienmahiels.net.