Streets, cars, names, desire
There used to be a racing circuit through the streets of Angoulême. Officially, it no longer exists. But then again. . .
in 1939, a number of French enthusaists from the town of Angoulême, in the Charente, decided to organise some motor races around their home streets and, with backing from a local entrepreneur, the Circuit des Remparts was born. Situated some 70 miles to the north of Bordeaux, the event takes its name from the circuit which winds its way through some exceedingly narrow streets, descending from the startline by the cathedral through a series of 90 deg left-and right-hand bends and on to the wider, bottom straight of the Rue Waldeck-Rousseau, which presents one of the very few overtaking opportunities. Thereafter it ascends towards the town ramparts once again, returning to the startline via a sequence of three consecutive hairpin bends. All the corners are contained within a total lap distance measuring around 1.27 km.
The inaugural event attracted 19 entries, with victory going to Raymond Sommer (Alfa Romeo). The advent of hostilities delayed the second Circuit until 1947, the early post-war races being dominated by Simca Gordinis. Russian Prince Igor Troubetskoy won in 1948 and Maurice Trintignant the following year. In 1950, Fangio’s Maserati defeated the 166 F2 Ferraris, though one of the latter won in 1951, in the hands of Switzerland’s Rudi Fischer.
Tightening of rules and organisational difficulties meant that the next race was not staged again until 1955 when, with a downgrade in status, Parhard-engined Monomilles (a training single-seater category not unlike, in principIe, 500cc F3) held centre stage. It would be the last time a genuine race meeting took place in the town.
However. . .
The Circuit des Remparts was revived in 1978 as a historic car festival with cars running in ‘demonstration’ events, although the average observer would have struggled to discern that these were not actual races, with ‘grid positions’ having been determined in somewhat random fashion. Since 1978 it has become an important tourist attraction for the Charente region, with healthy support from local business and considerable efforts made to close roads, erect barriers, grandstands and footbridges in order to provide access and good viewing platforms for paying spectators.
Now a regular fixture on the historic racing calendar, the weekend incorporates various other mototoring-orientated activities including a concours d’élégance, concours d’état and the Rallye de la Charente, all of which cater for historic cars and motorcycles.
Each year the selection of categories on display differs; this year, entries were restricted to around 10 cars in each of the quicker classes, with available track time being extended. A class for Grand Prix Bugattis was included in honour of the marques return to competition at Le Mans last July, and the racing EB II0S, now owned by collecter Michel Hommell, was pressed into service as a course car, in which role it proved to be something of an embarrassment. Its steering lock was inadequate to cope with the tight hairpins without resorting to reverse. . .
By way of recompense, the field of 10 Type 35 and Type 37 variants proved memorable in terms of both sight and sound. Perhaps the Williams Trophy should be transferred to Angoulême?
Another new class was for 1960s Sports Prototypes which, although looking like fish out of water within the circuit’s narrow confines, allowed further aural indulgence as the bark of Lola T70-Chevvies and Ferrari V12s reverberated off the walls. ‘Practice’ proved fraught, the T70s having the same trouble at hairpins as the Le Mans Bugatti. The ‘race’ produced a good duel between the 170 MOM of Chris O’Neil and the T70 Spyder of Colin Parry-Williams, O’Neill taking the honours, and also fastest time of day, averaging 82.33 kph over 15 laps.
Main British interest was split between the Prototypes and the 1950s Grand Prix cars, with Graham Burrows, Ian Nuthall, Gerry Porter and Kirk Rylands dropping in on their return from the previous weekend’s HGPCA race at Nogaro. Rylands’ HWM almost trounced the opposition, taking a commanding early advantage before making unavoidable contact with the tyres on the middle hairpin exit after being forced off line by a backmarker. That allowed Hartmut Ibing in his ex-Fangio 250F Maserati to capitalise. It was particularly appropriate that the entry included a helping of home-grown produce, in the form of Jackie luri’s very pretty, and rare, Gordini Type 15 and Jean-Louis Duret’s Talbot Lago T26, both of which acquitted themselves creditably. Duret was also the star performer in the Bugatti race, proving to be comfortably quickest with his Type 35B and lapping all other runners.
The race for Monomilles celebrated the 1955 race and produced 14 examples of these slightly eccentric front-engined, front-wheel-drive devices, all being either DB or Racer 500 chassis. Star driver in this class was Maurice Trintignant, a participant back in 1939 and winner in ’49. The large crowd was to be disappointed, however, as his car failed to complete the warm-up lap. After soaking up warm applause from the ramparts, ‘Le Petoulet’ was forced to sit and watch the race from the hairpin where his DB had come to rest.
Because the Circuit des Ramparts is run as a demonstration, it is free from the constraints imposed by governing and circuit-licensing bodies at modern race meetings and hence it manages to recreate an atmosphere which has long ago disappeared from most contemporary circuits. It’s an event whose only motive for participation is to have fun.
A trip to Angoulême is strongly recommended for those who wish to balance their sense of perspective. ASDC