The city of Angouleme hosts many superb festivals and colourful events throughout the year, and the third week in September is no exception seeing the annual Circuits des Remparts return to the town. Weeks of preparation have seen crash barriers put in place, marquees erected, local people reminded, and shop windows decorated with a race theme. Race weekend is here, and the place will again ring to the sound of engines.
Since 1937 the track has retained its 1.279 km lap, virtually unchanged since that first meeting, when Raymond Sommer won in his Alfa, ahead of the likes of J P Wimille and a young Maurice Trintignant, as well as an Englishman in a K3MG. The war put an abrupt end to the event until re-established in 1947, when struggles between Bugatti and Delahaye eventually gave way to the likes of lighter Simca, Cisitalia, Frazer Nash and DB Citroen cars, more suited to the tight circuit. Famous names like Ferrari and Maserati also made their presence felt with drivers like Fangio, Gonzales and many more competing. From 1955 until 1978 following the tragedy at le Mans there was no racing in Angouleme. Since then we have had an uninterrupted period of unique street racing in Angouleme, matched only by Monaco and Pau. Today the famous names still show up and return to share in the atmosphere, with Jean Pierre Beltoise and Jean Pierre Jabouille enjoying this year’s event.
Friday is the relaxed entry day to the weekend and sees drivers and teams arriving, booking into hotels, unloading their cars in the paddock and signing on for the races. The Rallye contingent receive their Saturday route instructions, and the press and journalists prepare to record the happenings, cameras notebooks and pencils at the ready. Enthusiast visitors frequent the many cafes and restaurants, soaking up beer, wine and the atmosphere of hundreds of classic cars filtering into the city centre.
The weather forecast was mixed, but Friday evening was warm and clear, and saw a wonderful line up of beautifully prepared cars mount the ramp in front of a packed audience in the Champs de Mars, the huge square in the shopping area, for the Concours d’Elegance. Under the ever watchful eye, and cigar of Inspector Colombo (ably played by Yves Lecoq) we were treated to cars like Theophile Schnider, la Licorne, Delage, Sandford, Porsche, Alfa and many others, large and very small. Dressed in the style and period of their cars, it was lights, music and action all the way for owners and vehicles alike. A great way to kick off the Race weekend.
The skies were overcast and the ground damp for the departure of the Rallye at breakfast on a rather grey and misty Saturday morning. Chais Magelis on the banks of the Charente was full of even more magnificent machinery, as they were flagged off on their tour through the beautiful relaxing Charente countryside. Lunch was taken in Cognac (the town, but I feel sure some was sampled!) with the return to Angouleme late in the afternoon, in time for more food and drink amongst restaurants and cafes in the tiny streets of Angouleme. The party in les Halles the huge market place in the middle of town saw the competitors sampling the local produce and toasting the day’s winners. Promises of an early night from the serious racers saw them leave early, the others enjoying the night life that the centre of Angouleme had on offer. It is a great opportunity to make new friends as well as catch up with those one has met in previous years. It really is quite a unique experience.
During the course of the weekend the gardens of the hotel de Ville were given over to a selection of very special cars from the brothers Ballot. They competed at Indianapolis the Targa Florio, the French and Italian grand prix, and manufactured cars between 1921 and 1932. A beautifully presented collection.
Sunday morning, race day dawned and 0800h seemed to come up very early! Practice commenced with the first competitors getting used to the cool and damp conditions on a circuit that takes no prisoners. Guard rails seem all too close at that time, and in the semi-dark! As the morning progressed, the sun made its way up into the blue French sky, slicing between the old buildings creating sharp contrasts of light and shade, as the cars darted between corners. The sounds of Bugatti, MG, GN, Frazer Nash and the aero engined Morgans very quickly woke everyone up! We were all also treated to an interlude of blue and noise with a group of Matras screaming their way around the circuit. Memories of classic Grand Prix racing and le Mans, it was wonderful! Times were being set, the opposition established, grid positions achieved and the lunch interval quickly approached. There were a few mishaps but nothing that tape, elbow grease, the odd hammer and a few prayers could not fix.
During the lunch interval when some were taking on food and water, the track still rang to the sounds of Volkswagen, Alfa and Maserati, as their cars were demonstrated to the public. The rest of the town was full of every marque of car you could possibly think of, either sitting in displays of being paraded around the main square. This is a very special event indeed. It does clash with Goodwood and a number of other motoring festivals each year, but still attracts its own particular and regular attendance.
The weather was still warm and dry following the lunch break, but the clouds had something up their sleeves for later as the first cars made their way to the grid for the plateau Wimille. All the small engined MG, Morgan and Amilcars were dwarfed by the 10,000litre Schneider! Stuart Dean brought out the lovely Jacobs MG coupe which finished second to the Morgan of Charles Reynolds.
A sad note this year as we mourned the loss of the ‘voice of Angouleme’, as Jean Louis Mathieu passed away recently. A man with immense knowledge of his car passion he will be much missed, by French and all other participants.
Damien Kohler flung the Diva around the streets ahead of the Ancelin Lotus Elan in the Pescarolo plateau. There were great tussles down the field with three wheeling Mini and Autobianchi mixing it with the bigger engine sports cars. All close stuff!
The rain decided to come down for the first of the Bugatti races which spoilt a potential close wheel to wheel race. The Grand Prix cars slithered and slid, carefully avoiding the ever so close barriers in the wet conditions, with the yellow 35B version of Gregory Ramouna crossing the line ahead of Chris Hudson. Martin Overington in his most wonderful sounding 35B could not get the power down on the wet surface and came home a disappointing fourth, but at least finishing here for the first time. Next year?
The fabulous little T13 Brescia Bugattis followed and had to cope with both dry and damp conditions, spraying their way to the line, lead by Andy Johnson in his lovely 1924 machine. Some very close and brave racing was watched by the enthusiastic crowd, sheltering under their umbrellas in the stands and lining the walls of the Remparts.
A close finish in the Larousse Tourisme GT and GTS race, saw the Mondy Alpine cross the line a second in front of the Porsche 911 of Francois Rondel. An amazing mix of cars which also saw the Reliant of Mark Jordan work his way through from the back of the field to finish a creditable sixth. Passing here is not at all easy!
French Protos sports cars saw most of them make the finish in their race, won by Gilles Terrones in his blue and orange LRP B 100 1984 machine. The fast Hema of Laurent Bayers unfortunately stopped in a plume of steam/smoke early on, robbing the race of some close racing, the driver exiting his car fairly quickly!
Rain again introduced an additional element to the Trintignant race, with the monster 6litre GN of Justin Maeers over-steering his way to the flag! He was followed by similarly directional Tim Greenhill in the Wolseley, and the always sideways Dougal Cawley in Piglet, the Frazer Nash! Unfortunately the two Morgans of Sue Darbyshire and Gary Caroline had a very gentle coming together in the slippery conditions early on, which ultimately changed the course of the race.
Eric comas came to Angouleme again and demonstrated just how to throw a Renault Alpine around the streets in a fashion that was guaranteed to produce a win. And he did in the Trintignant race! Close racing between the fast following Porsches and the sole Lotus Cortina produced exciting and very close racing through the field.
The very large crowd was again entertained to the sight and sounds of the Matras in GP and le Mans guise, as well as the wonderful sounding Tecno, all managing to negotiate the tight turns. Echoing between the high walls made it a tingling experience. It brought many a smile to gathered faces.
The final race was for the top finishers in Tourisme, GT and GTS catagories, and once again saw Monsieur Comas give us all a demonstration in race driving, finishing around 45 seconds ahead of the fast charging and close racing Porsches, Mini, Lotus, swapping positions throughout the race!
Angouleme gets back to normal very quickly after its annual race event, it is not long before the next city event, and the evening saw all its goodbyes said, cars strapped on trailers, last handshakes performed, and promises made to come back again next year and to tell those who have not been yet to definitely put the date in the diary.
I hope you do too, my reader!
For the results in detail - http://www.newsclassicracing.com/IMG/zip/Angouleme_2011_PDF.zip
Circuits des Remparts –