Channel hopping

Whether it be Monaco in May, Zolder in June or Le Mans in July, a trip beyond British shores will offer fans a feast of action in '04

British fans may have the best historic racing on their doorstep, but for just a little time, effort and money there is plenty of great action over the Channel. British fans can readily access a packed season of major historic events in Europe. From Holland to Spain, and everywhere in between, there is a superb array of events that are perfect for a weekend trip. Here are some of the highlights.

April

A weekend in Spain is a great way to kick off the season for the Thoroughbred Grand Prix Cars, with an opening race at Jarama, on the outskirts of Madrid, over the weekend of April 16-18.

It is also the month for the stunning Tour Auto, the re-creation of the Tour de France. About 200 cars, spanning the event history from 1951 to 1973, contest races at circuits and timed sections on closed public roads. It starts in Paris on April 19 and finishes at Montpelier five days later, having visited five tracks including Le Mans, Nogaro and Albi.

May

France also dominates the calendar for May, with two outstanding events. Running on consecutive weekends, the 4th Grand Prix Historique de Monaco and the Grand Prix de Historique at Pau just cry out to be combined in a single trip. The Monaco event runs on the weekend of May 15/16, with the Pau street races a week later.

Given the prestige attached to the Monaco event, even getting an entry is an achievement for the six-race meeting that includes races for Formula One cars from the pre-war era through to 1976, plus front-engined FormulaJuniors and pre-53 sportscars.

Pau, meanwhile, offers another magnificent event in a stunning setting, where HGPCA, Classic GP and European Sports Prototypes top the bill.

Over the final weekend of May (28-30) is the Coppa Inter Europa at Monza. Few motor racing circuits have such a sense of history and atmosphere as Monza, and this major meeting has a strong lineup of races, including TGP and HGPCA events.

June

Just a 90-minute drive from Calais, Zolder is one of the easiest European tracks to reach from the Channel ports. That makes the European Historic Grand Prix over the weekend of June 19/20 ideal for a short weekend trip. Sadly, uncertainty over the event has cost it some prestigious races, but HGPCA, drum-braked sportscars and the FIA historic series still add up to a decent programme.

On the same weekend, however, is what is now expected to be the very last Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or at Montlhéry, before the famous banking is demolished. Headlining what is likely to be an emotional final event at this historic venue in the suburbs of Paris is a grid of European Sports Prototype cars.

Finally in June (25-27), the Jan Wellem Pokal event at the Nürburgring offers Jochen Rindt Historic F2, Group C/GTP, Pre-war Sports Cars and International Supersports.

July

The Dijon Historic Grand Prix is another top-flight French event, running over the weekend of July 9-11. The former GP circuit is loved by drivers, so bumper grids are assured. The HGPCA and FORCE are key supporters of this event.

Perhaps the single biggest event of the season in terms of car and driver participation is the Le Mans Classic on July 24/25. The chance to race on the full Circuit de la Sarthe will draw some of the finest sports, GT and prototype cars to the event, which runs for 24 hours with a series of races for each of six age-based categories.

A week later, the challenging Chimay circuit in Belgium will play host to its Historic Race Festival, when Top Hat races feature prominently.

August

Vying for top billing in European historic racing is the Oldtimer GP at the Nürburgring on August 6-8. A crammed schedule and overflowing paddock includes many of Europe's finest cars and drivers as the HGPCA, Classic Grand Prix, Supersports and FIA championships headline the action. Most of the racing is on the modem track, but the three hour AvD Historic Marathon takes sports and GT cars onto the awesome Nordschleife.

September

Three major, but very different events, in the second half of September bring the curtain down on the European season. A true gem is the Circuit des Remparts at Angouleme in France on September 18/19. This round-the-streets event is part race meeting, part high-speed demonstration, and has a wonderful atmosphere.

A massive entry is assured for the Classic Six Hours of Spa meeting on the same weekend. With the six-hour race running into the dark of Saturday night and a host of quality supports, it is one of the biggest events of the season.

Finally, over the last weekend of September is the new Historic Race Festival at Zandvoort. With a concerted bid to build a major festival at the Dutch seaside track, the future looks good and the 2004 event can boast a strong line-up of HGPCA, drum-braked sports cars, Classic GP, Jochen Rindt Historic F2 and Group C/GTP action.

In truth, it is an amazing schedule of class events at fabulous venues over the course of the year. Travel into Europe has never been easier and cheaper, so why not have a change from Silverstone and Brands Hatch? You will not be disappointed.