If you weren’t at the Masters Historic Event at Spa last weekend, then the chances are you were a few hundred miles further south in the Charente area of France for Tour Des Remaprts. Grant Ford has been making a regular pilgrimage to the classic event for the last few years, here’s his thoughts on this year’s event:
Set high above flat agricultural land the town of Angouleme, nicknamed the ‘Balcony of the southwest’, has been my destination for classic car racing in recent years. Some six hours drive from the Normandy coast it is home to the Circuit des Ramparts. September each year brings thousands of historic motorsport racers from across Europe to enjoy the festival and racing that first ran in 1939. The town has not changed for centuries and the formula for keeping everything familiar remains. The circuit that was first used before the war is identical today. The tradition of fine food, wine and racing in the streets continues with only a minor interruption of World War Two and first ever race, won by Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo 308 in a 70 lap final thus the vintage race for pre-war cars is named after him to this day. In-fact other races over the weekend are named after other great French drivers such as Lorrousse, Pescarolo and Beltoise. The Circuit has seen many legendary cars and drivers; even the great Fangio took victory there in 1950 in a Maserati 4CLT.
The historic part of Angouleme hosts a Concours d’Elegance on the Friday night where the winner is awarded their body weight in cognac. Saturday offers the historic rally or just enjoy the shows and club displays dotted all over the town and join the café culture and car watch as machines from every decade pass through to no-where. Sunday is race day and starts early, first qualifying takes place at 8.15am and the 1.27 kilometre track is not empty all day, even lunch is taken over with displays and parades.
The racing between the houses through narrow streets, with steep descents away from the startline and then three hair pin bends making the steep climb back to the climb back to the start finish line past the Cathederal ensures even the best pilots are challenged. Bravery is rewarded with either a result or an unwanted trip into a barrier or wall, no gravel traps or run off areas here. The MEP Monomills began the race proceedings, a French version of historic Formula Ford with Citroen aircooled twin power in a variety of body types, some it has to be said, rather strange.
The Larrousse race followed with an entry list based on the cars the great driver competed in during his varied career, including the lovely 356 Porsche.
The Bugatti race served up the dish of the day with Jean-Marc Laffont and Gregory Ramouna delighting the knowledgeable crowd as they fought out a race duel, both drivers pushing these wonderful pieces of engineering art to the limit and occasionally beyond. Tyres clipped curbs as they struggled for grip, outbreaking them-selves as well as each other which allowed event rookie Bo Williams to close up into third ensuring a standing ovation for all as the chequered flag dropped.
The Cooper S from Austin and Morris dominated the Jean Claude Andruet race and some of the fastest laps of the day were pursued, serving to underline the circuit at the Ramparts is not all about power.
The demonstration event of Group B rally cars from Lotus Sunbeam, Lancia Delta and Audi quattro tried everything to out-shine and out-slide the Renault 5 Maxi Turbos , throw in a Porsche 911 RSR, a Toyota Celica and a Peugeot 205 T16 and the demo was all tyre smoke and exhausts popping ecoing from the Remparts stone walls. The crowd loved it.
The vintage Raymond Sommer race for pre-war machines saw a British podium lock out with Dougal Cawley in his Fraser-Nash Pillet named ‘piglet’ take top spot, closely followed by Richard Iliffe in his Riley 12/4 special, just in front of the hard charging Guy Plante with Priscilla the Alvis Speed 25 special.
The Legendary Circuits race for sports cars saw Graeme Smith win well in his Caterham followed home by the pretty Austin Healey Monza Sprite driven by Pieter Bakker.
Henri Pescarolo is the famous name adorning the race that saw Porsche, Lotus and Alpine go up against Alfa Romeo GTs and a Caterham. The Damien Kolher Porsche 911s from 1965 just got the win from Daniel Heraud in a Lotus 7 S2.
The Formula Junior for single seat machines from Elva, Lola and Gemini saw virtually an all British entry. Simon Goodliff took his Lola to the win with Richard Ellingworth 2nd in a Gemini and Justin Fleming took the final podium position in his Lola.
Damien Kolher took another win in the Beltoise event in his rare Diva Ford F10 from 1964, the 911 Porsche of Oliver Ardilouze was 2nd and the 3rd place went to home talent Francis Kienert in a home produced Renault Alpine.
The heat of the day finally began to subside as the sun ripened faces left the especially constructed grandstands and wearily made their way down the hill and home. Conclusion? The Circuit des Ramparts is an event that will leave long lasting memories for those who have experienced the weekend. For those of you who would like a memorable experience, I suggest you book early for next year, you will not regret it.
Words and Photography Grant Ford
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