A romantic relic for half a century, this was the scene of some epic feats of Grand Prix endeavour
writer Peter Higham
Public roads to the west of Reims formed the fastest circuit to host the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France – and it is 50 years since the race was last held there. Its triangular plan called for “more skill than bravery” according to Denis Jenkinson in 1974, four years after financial concerns and disputes with local authorities forced it to close.
The Grand Prix de la Marne was first held in 1925 and developed into a week-long racing festival that included the main single-seater feature and a 12-hour sports car race. The French GP first visited Champagne country in 1932, with the incomparable Tazio Nuvolari winning for Alfa Romeo.
Mike Hawthorn scored his maiden GP victory here in 1953 and Giancarlo Baghetti unprecedentedly won on his championship debut eight years later. These Ferrari victories came after epic duels with Juan Manuel Fangio and Dan Gurney respectively. Fangio won thrice here during the 1950s – notably leading a Mercedes-Benz one-two on its championship debut in 1954. The 15th and final French GP at Reims was won by Jack Brabham during his successful 1966 campaign. His Brabham-Repco averaged more than 136mph, at the time the second-fastest GP in history.
Central to the event was the Automobile Club de Champagne and its larger-than-life secretary general Raymond ‘Toto’ Roche, an influential figure in French motor sport. A driving force behind the event from the start, Roche was famed for his extravagant flag waving at the start and finish to each event.