The weekend following the Goodwood Revival can often seem a bit of a let down. Another 12 months will tick by until one can revel in those great sights and sounds again in the south of England. The solution is the Tour Des Remparts Angouleme in South-West France. The Circuit Des Remparts gives history, style and some of the best racing anywhere, plus plenty of UK talent to cheer on.
Unlike the long sweeping bends of Goodwood this place is a battle through the streets on a track only one third of the size with little room to pass and no room for error. Contact is common when the last of the late breakers often leave it too late; the barriers beckon and show no mercy and where the steel Armco is missing it is not needed, a stone wall awaits.
From the startling in front of the beautiful Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d’Angoulême the drivers accelerate towards the paddock area for just 100 yards before bearing sharp left along-side a row of terrace houses. Barely enough time to change up before another sharp right and the steep descent begins and with buildings both sides only the bravest try a move here; if it goes wrong there is nowhere to hide.
Right and on to the fastest part of the circuit, still dropping down a steep gradient some cars will hit over 100mph. It’s not uncommon for exhausts to ‘bottom out’ as suspensions compress when the track rises.
A crest follows with a left kink, this area can be attacked flat out, without lifting “But only for real men” as Frazer Nash driver Dougal Cawley told me. Heavy braking before the first of three hairpins, all attacked whilst climbing a steep gradient, right-left-right with only a short distance between them.
The more powerful cars deal with the climbs better only to see the lighter more nimble competition dive under there noses come the corner. After the final Cathedral hairpin it is a short dash to the line so most overtaking moves are reserved for the final part of the circuit.
This year’s itinerary included the regular Friday night Concours d’Elegance in the town’s main square; filled with many hundreds of enthusiastic locals the stage is lit up with strobe lights as each of the fifty entries drive up onto the stage for their appraisal. Many participants also enjoy Saturdays rally out into the sweeping French countryside for lunch stops and wine tasting and each evening we were treated to a mobile classic car show as past our chosen café a continuous line of machines cruised slowly around the town.
Sunday is race day, the first qualifiers are on track at 8am and it would be nearly 12 hours before the roads would be returned to the people carriers and ‘deux chevaux’s’ of the locals. Residents stay inside on race day, the barriers are a yard from their front doors, and photographers stand in the door ways as the racers charge by, you can’t get any closer to the action than this.
Historic racing always brings out the characters and none more so than those who choose the huge engine Vintage machines. Separated into two grids above and below 1500cc these would all come together in a final race alongside the fastest of the Bugatti boys. Several grids of saloons and sports cars from the 60s and 70s and a huge gathering of racing Renault Alpines shared the lime light with GT’s and ‘Specials’ for an action packed day.
UK entrants enjoyed plenty of glory with wins in several of the classes and as expected some cars left the circuit needing some refurbishment before they would be seen again. Highlights included the variety of early machines on track many sporting huge power-plants with spectacular oversteer exiting the hairpins and solid axles and tall rear rubber struggle for traction.
Personally, the Bugatti’s always fill me with great excitement and a very daring move at the first hairpin allowed local hero Gregory Romouna take revenge on last year’s victor Jean-Marc Laffont, even with a damaged Type 35.
Bo Williams put in sterling performances, always at the sharp end amongst the mainly local field and for the first time ever a Bugatti 73C took to a French race track with Tim Stiles at the wheel courtesy of builder John Barton and Mike Callow.
A special mention for Robert Cobden whose Riley Special threw a half-shaft on the last corner of the final lap whilst well in the lead. The gentlemen drivers in the Legendary Circuits Tour provided much entertainment and received a standing ovation from the afternoon crowd when Paul Conway’s Morgan 8 and Pieter Bakker fought out race long battles with no quarter asked or given. Unfortunately the battle ended slightly prematurely when Bakker’s brakes failed to halt his very late dive for the lead resulting in a heavy head on into the barrier, thus Conway took a deserved victory.
The Circuit des Ramparts served up a fantastic weekend and so in 2015 if you want to avoid the post-Revival blues take the long but pleasant drive from the French ferry ports into the heat and sunshine and experience something really rather unique.
This is a guest contribution from Grant Ford. Grant is a freelance writer working regularly in the classic car press. His blog can be found here
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