Ever since I saw for myself in 1998 the state of the old Grand Prix circuit at Reims, I have feared for the future of those few remaining monuments to France’s rich racing heritage. Run-down, uncared for and crumbling fast, this national treasure is well on the way to becoming a ruin and, if the neglect continues, sooner or later it will be gone for good. That’s the bad news. The much worse news is that Rouen has now gone for good. In one act of incredible, idiotic and crass folly, someone has come and bulldozed both the grandstands and paddock area, flattening the only infrastructure of the circuit to have survived over the years since racing finally stopped there. I had heard rumours to this effect until quite recently but it was only when Lee White photographed the scene and kindly sent in the shots that I finally believed it.
This lament will mark me down as a sentimental twit among many people. The grandstands were not great architectural gems as they are at Reims and few who are unaware of what they represent will even notice, let alone feel sad at their passing.
Even so, it is perhaps worth remembering that this is where Brabham won its first GP and Porsche its one and only Grande Epreuve. In ’57, Fangio created perhaps the greatest racing image of all, sliding his dented Maserati 250F down the hill, making a mockery of everyone and it was here too, that Jacky Ickx and Dan Gurney won their first Fl races. It also marks the spot where Jo Schlesser and many others died in pursuit of their sport. You will need to read Nigel Roebuck’s column last month to know the awe in which one such as David Purley, bravest of them all, held this place.
So forgive me for regretting its passing and regarding those responsible for it in terms to which I cannot refer here. These places are important and they do count, even today. The sole comfort is that the roads on which they raced remain, so we can still see why the greats who raced there accorded Rouen just as much respect as Spa or the Nurburgring. For now, at least.
We start a new series this month, celebrating the work of a few of our finest race car restorers. This industry is another example of a trade in which we lead the world but which never receives due credit. Cars from around the world arrive at these premises, often in boxes, only to leave again, at least as good as new. We kick off this month at the offices of Crosthwaite & Gardiner. These are people to whom Audi turned, having decided it needed some nut and bolt accurate recreations of the pre-war Auto Unions. Bentley guru Stanley Mann is next.
I hope you enjoy the series.