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A little bit of history
In September of 1939 ten competitors gathered in the town of Angoulême in SW France for a motor race around the streets, the first “Circuit des Remparts” was born. Shortly afterwards World War Two took hold and put paid to further trials around the circuit until 1947 when the event returned.
In 1950 as the event gained in popularity a certain Juan Manuel Fangio took an unchallenged victory in his Maserati 4 CLT. The event continued until 1955. In 1978 the town began to make plans to restore the historic race to an annual event and Fangio returned to grace the “Remparts” for the second time, to lend his name to the return of street racing in SW France. In 1983 the original circuit was homologated, unchanged since 1939 and the annual races made their return.
In addition to the Sunday street races there is a Concours D’élégance on the Friday night where entrants dress appropriately for the style of car and era (like a mini Goodwood Revival) and present themselves and their vehicles to the public with the winner bagging the prize of their weight in Cognac – now who wouldn’t want to have a try for that?
Come Saturday and the pace relaxes as the ‘International Rallye des Remparts’ departs the town for a scenic tour of the Charente region, stopping for a gastronomic lunch on the way and returning to the town’s square late afternoon.
So here we are in 2015, the third Friday in September enjoying a ‘Cognac-Schweppes’ (as ubiquitous an ‘apéro’ in this area of France as a G&T is in the UK) in a bar overlooking the hôtel de ville after signing in and collecting our entry documents for the International Rallye. A quick look around tells us we are not alone, indeed, virtually all the tables are taken up by visiting Brits studying the road-book for tomorrow, watching the vintage and modern cars arriving and enjoying the general buzz of the town.
A frantic search through the road book assures us that we are not the ‘youngest’ car entered by a long shot
We are lucky enough to have the use of an Aston Martin Vantage for the weekend and, beautiful car as it is, feel somewhat the ‘young upstarts’ as the other patrons of the bar discuss their Lagondas, Alvis’s, Delahayes, Bentleys, MG TFs and DB5’s …. A frantic search through the road book assures us that we are not the ‘youngest’ car entered by a long shot, and indeed, there are many modern as well as classic and vintage cars which certainly gives the Angoulême event some of it’s appeal – where else will you see such an eclectic mix of cars in one day?
Saturday morning dawned with weather somewhat less than perfect, rain was forecast for the first hours of the morning and it duly arrived. However, this was certainly not enough to dampen the spirits of the Rallye participants and after a quick breakfast of beautifully light French pastries we set off to tour the Charente countryside.
As we began to arrive for the morning coffee stop at a local chateau, the weather cleared, the rain moved on and for the remainder of the day we were blessed with the pleasant late summer weather the area is known for.
We then meandered off through picture-book French villages waving to the many people who come out especially to watch the cars pass by until reaching the town of Jarnac – famous for it’s Cognac producers such as Hennessey, Thomas Hine & Co. and as the birthplace of ex-French President François Mitterrand. Having made our way along the banks of the river Charente and over the town’s main bridge, both lined with spectators we reached the ‘Hippodrome’ where we stopped for a fantastic four course lunch; with seating for over a thousand people the organisers and staff set themselves a high bar to serve everyone in time but achieved it with ease.
Thirsts and appetites thoroughly quenched the contestants moved on from Jarnac through the now sun kissed Charentaise countryside passing through Roulliac to the afternoon stop in Aigre. As usual, coffee and cakes were waiting and then onwards again back to Angoulême where we finished to an enormous crowd in the Esplanade du Champ de Mars.
On Sunday, the races begin in ernest, and due to only being able to close the roads for a single day, and 160 competitors entered, practice starts early at 8am. Grids at Angoulême generally consist of pre-1975 vehicles but one of the biggest draws of all is the Bugatti race with a one make grid consisting of Type 35s, 37s/37As & 51s ranging from 1925-1935.
The first out are the ‘Legendary Circuits’, a display grid made up of British classic and vintage racing and touring cars from the last 50 years including Austin Healeys, Morgans, Lotuses and a Jaguar D-Type.
The morning continued with a plethora of cars, many still recognisable today, some who’s names, whilst steeped in history, may be new to many of the spectators; ACs, Alfa Romeos, Delahayes, Rileys, Amilcars, MGs, Vauxhalls, Minis (Austin, Morris and Inocetti varieties), Alpines, Porsches, BMWs, Panhards and even a lone Studebaker to name just a few.
There are ten races scheduled in the afternoon and while the French in general may down-tools for an extended lunch break every day, not at ‘the Remparts’. As soon as practice is finished its straight into the first event being the Plateau Raymond Sommer. The grid mainly consists of French Amilcars manufactured from 1921 to 1940 with a few Austins and an MG thrown in for good measure. After 17 laps the win going to British driver Mark Elder in his Austin Healey 7 Ulster special.
The action continued with a 16 car grid of Minis including Cooper, Cooper S, a GT and even an Inocetti de Tomaso took to the winding street circuit. Ideally suited to such a course the little Minis never fail to put a smile on the spectator’s faces with the eventual winner, Bertrand Demaison, setting a fastest lap of 1:00.192 (76.07 Km/h) in his #47 Morris-Mini Cooper.
Moving on to what is arguably Angoulême’s ‘main event’, the ‘Plateau Maurice Trintignant’ where 17 pre-war Bugattis lined up to do battle and occasionally trade paint on the historic circuit, unchanged since 1939.
Another Briton, Robert Spencer, took the chequered flag in his 1928 Type 35B by two seconds from Gregory Ramouna and Bo William rounded out the podium bringing his Type 35B home 55 seconds behind the winner. Fastest lap went to the winner, Robert Spencer with a 1:02.459 (73.31 Km/h) proving that these historic Bugattis can still mix it with much more modern machinery.
The remainder of the day continued in much the same vein, we witnessed Panhards battling it out with Alfa Romeos, Morgans fighting Heaeys, Lotuses and Caterhams for supremacy; Rileys challenging Simcas and Vauxhalls and BMWs and a Studebaker battling a struggling Renault 5 Turbo 2 which sadly, struggled for power on the winding street circuit where there never seemed to be enough straights to spin up and benefit from the turbo.
Overall, with a complete day of historic racing, a scenic rally and concourse exhibition we think that a weekend in Angoulême is hard to beat if you’re even remotely interested in classic cars and with the Classic at Le Mans next year what better way to round out your motorsport summer?
Full details of all the results HERE and for anyone interested in attending next year the dates will be published on the organisers website in the coming weeks. Alternately, motorsport travel companies such as Travel Destinations offer pre-arranged trips.