Event of the month
With a spectacular backdrop and grandstand views for all, Angoulême’s town-centre extravaganza is unique among historic events. Alan Cox reports
On the third weekend of every September, the scenic streets of Angoulême in the Charente district of western France host a motoring festival whose centrepiece is a celebration of the Circuit des Remparts, an event first run in 1939 around the streets of this quaint old town. Much of the appeal is that, today, the circuit remains unchanged since that first meeting. Starting alongside the cathedral, the route winds gently downhill through the narrow streets along the only semblance of a ‘straight’ before threading its way up the town’s ramparts via a series of three consecutive hairpins, and then back to the startline, a modest 0.8 miles later.
Raymond Sommer won that first race with an Alfa Romeo, and when it was revived following the war Maurice Trintignant (Gordini) and Juan Fangio in a Maserati added their names to the roll of honour in 1949 and ’50 respectively. The last running was in ’55 when the main event was held for Panhard-engined Monomilles, as it was felt that the circuit had been outgrown by the F1 and F2 cars of the period. Since ’78, however, it has been resuscitated as one of the forerunners of modern historic revivals.
The mainstay of the Angoulême programme is the event for grand prix Bugattis, split into two races for the first time this year. Parisian Arnaud Graignac was a comfortable victor in the up-to-2-litre category, his Type 35 on beaded-edge tyres and lapping 2sec a lap faster than his closest challenger, Marcel Sontrop’s T37. Lucas Slijpen’s T35 was third, and Craig Mycock’s heroic drive with his Brescia netted fourth ahead of a horde of fancied T35s and T37s.
Alexandre Lafourcade (T35B) appeared to have the over-2-litre class sewn up after last year’s winner Jeff Stow failed to make the start, but a determined charge from Bart Rosman’s T35C saw it set fastest lap and close to within 3sec. Grégory Ramouna’s T35B was safe in third, with Mike Preston’s road-equipped T35B the final unlapped finisher in fourth place.
Events are divided between the pre-war courses (races) and post-war plateaux (demonstrations), though the distinction is exceedingly fine, with practice times published and results posted for both.
The Remparts has long been a popular late-summer destination for many English competitors, and this year the cross-Channel racers accounted for one third of the entry.
The Frazer Nash section of the VSCC has been granted a plateau of its own, and since its debut in 2001 this has become something of a fixture. Colin Pearcy dominated in style to claim the first post-war win with his Le Mans Replica quite comfortably from Chris Forster’s Frazer Nash-BMW 329/8 of 1937.
Geraint Owen upheld chain-gang honour with a fighting third in his TT Replica, while Winston Teague (Falcon), something of an event habitué, entertained on his way to fourth place. However, the crowd reserved a standing ovation for the stolid perseverance of Paul Bullett, whose GN discovered that the middle hairpin involved frequent applications of reverse gear.
Another regular visitor, Barry Foster with his MG Montlhéry, was briefly headed away from the line of the up-to-1200cc Vintage race by Pascal Hegron’s 1100cc Amilcar before working past it and pulling away to win, while Hegron dropped right back behind the Rileys of Ralf Emmerling and Allen Clear. Making up for a tardy getaway, Hamish McNinch (MG PA) threw away a chance of third place with a spin on the final lap.
Remparts regular Eric Benson led the large-capacity Vintage encounter from start to finish aboard his Delahaye 135 Speciale, never seriously challenged by either Michael Coles’ MG K3 Replica nor Geoffrey O’Connell’s Vauxhall Rowley Spl.
The race for Citroën-engined MEPs went to Jean-Michel Dallois after a race-long tussle with Philippe Gayraud; Jérome Servis took GT/GTS/GTP honours with his Lotus Super 7; and Jean-Michel Paoli won the mysteriously classified Tourisme class with his sports-racing Fournier Marcadier.
Quirky, fun and picturesque, this event really is one of the hidden gems of the historic racing scene. Long may that continue.