Andy Laurence resisted all temptations to attend this year’s Goodwood Revival Meeting on 14th – 16th September and instead made his way to the Circuit des Remparts, Angoulême in France to see the annual historic motor racing festival being held there.
The first event to be held in Angoulême took place in 1939, just months before World War II. It wasn’t long afterwards that the streets reverberated once again to the sound of racing cars at full chat. The races continued until 1955, when street racing was heavily regulated after the worst accident in motor racing history occurred at Le Mans, killing 90 spectators. With an absence of over 20 years, in 1978 racing returned once again to the city of Angoulême and continues to this day on the very same circuit used in 1939, unchanged aside from bales usurped by Armco.
On Friday night, cars park up around the centre of town and a Concours d’Elegance competition is held in the evening. It’s a place to find the obscure, especially the best of French obscurity. One British drop-top Cortina even managed to join us in resisting the lure of Goodwood! Many glasses of wine and Cognac were emptied before heading for some sleep ready for the rally start in the morning.
150 cars left the start line in the centre of Angoulême to set off on their 100 mile tour of the surrounding area. The cars returned in the afternoon to thousands of spectators lining the streets, taking in the view as they passed. The streets rumbled to the sounds of V8s, and buzzed with revvy 4-pots. Fantastic stuff especially considering the excitement running through the streets wouldn’t peak until the following day when cars would be racing through the streets over 11 races that extend right into the evening. It was already looking like it was going to be a great day.
Bright and breezy, the cars rolled onto the circuit at 08:00 for practice. The sun was blazing down, shimmering off the polished bodywork. Thousands of spectators turned out to see the hundreds of cars displayed on the streets and watch the racing. Racing cars, sports cars and touring cars were in action throughout the day with the best cars making it through to one of the two finals to be held much later on.
With practice over spectators began to race themselves, this time for a shady spot to eat lunch. Perched on a grassy bank, stone wall or sat in a cafe, there was somewhere for everyone and the entertainment for those with a view of the track was the fastest cars of the day providing passenger laps for a lucky few. Amazingly, not a bunch of historic racing cars, but a VW Golfs and Sciroccos from the local dealership! This was followed up by a selection of unsilenced touring cars; a BMW 635csi, a Corvette Stingray, a Dodge Viper and a Mini. The ‘Vette was officially the loudest car I’ve ever heard and the first car to make me want ear plugs from 200 yards!
After lunch, the gloves metaphorically came off and the atmosphere became electric. The racing was hard and fair whilst the spectators cheered and punched the air, lap after lap. A standard ticket gains entry to the paddock and all the spectator areas except the grandstands, which is great value for 25 Euros. The venue is compact, but there’s a myriad of places to watch from, many just a few feet from the track. Not only can you hear and see the cars, but if you put your hands over your ears and close your eyes, you can feel them pulsing through your body.
If you’re worried that the Circuit des Remparts event is all about Motorsport, don’t fret. Whilst each winner was cheered and applauded with gusto, the event was greater than the sum of its parts. The crescendo of anticipation through to the buzz as the spectators filtered their way through the streets made for a weekend I’d really like to repeat sometime. (10/10)
How does this event make you feel?
In one word: Magnifique
As a favourite meal: Moules à la Normande washed down with plenty of local wine and finished off with a glass or two of Cognac.
Anything Else: Holding the event in a real town on real streets brings a sense of Monaco to proceedings. Charging just 25 Euros per ticket adds a welcome touch of reality.
Key Ingredients: Eclectic mix of cars, French charm, town location, enthusiastic crowd and genuinely close racing.
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