Chiltern TRs


29eme Circuits des Ramparts, Angoulême, 19-21st September 2008

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All the good things which you’ve heard about the annual meeting in Angoulême, and more, are completely true. If you’ve never attended then I have no hesitation in suggesting you make arrangements for 2009 and I hope these notes help you in your decision.

OVERVIEW

Julia and I joined the Grandstand Motor Sports (of whom more later) tour to Angoulême. We took an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, with cabin of course, on 17th September.  On the 18th, we drove to La Chartre sur le Loir via Le Mans and arrived in Angoulême on Friday 19th.

On Saturday 20th we participated in a full day rally through the Charentaise countryside with lunch taken at the Hennessey distillery and rounded off by a competitors buffet in the evening. Sunday saw us at the track all day for some pretty exciting racing and finishing with a farewell dinner.

We returned home on Monday 22nd arriving in Launton via Caen again at around midnight.

OUTBOUND

We met up with our fellow “tourists” (and other race goers) on board the ferry for a very convivial nightcap and banter. We were all loaded on the main deck of the ferry (an impressive sight) which eased our boarding and facilitated a quick getaway on Thursday morning.

We were provided with a route guide and were able to team up in convoy fashion or travel independently. In practise people tended to go it alone although inevitably we would find ourselves with others of the group from time to time. Our first stop was in Putanges for le petit dejeuner (much needed) before the second morning leg onward to Le Mans.

We enjoyed a very opulent lunch at the circuit in a private box overlooking the start. This was followed by a fascinating tour of the museum in the care of a very knowledgeable and humorous guide (in describing a V8 rear engined Tatra he remarked “dangeruse at any speed”). Opportunity was available to watch the track activity from the pits wall before motoring onward to our overnight stop.

The day ended at the 2 star Hotel de France in Chartre sur le Loir. This is where the Aston Martin teams of the fifties lodged and so there was much memorabilia on view. We were given a very cordial welcome here and asked to park in the square to be feted by the Maire with wine and nibbles as the locals reviewed the cars on display.

The next day saw some hard driving over 260 kms to get to Angoulême via D roads (beautifully scenic) and the challenge of the ring road around Tours. Lunch was arranged at St Germain de Confolens; a very French affair and again attracting the attention of locals enjoying the impromptu car show.  The final leg took us into Angoulême.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to envisage Angoulême at 5:00pm on a Friday, ughhhhh!!  It’s hilly, as you’ll have guessed, and the Bugattis in our group did a passable imitation of a steam iron negotiating the steep route to our 3 star Mercure hotel. (so not a problem confined to TRs then).

Cars were nicely garaged safe and sound in the underground car park (named slots had been reserved for us). We were free to get acclimatised to Angoulême on Friday evening and find the only meal which we had to fund during the tour – not an unpleasant experience in France of course. The city had been turned into Petrolhead Paradise and so people and car watching was the order of the day. We’d arrived safe and sound and not a rain cloud in sight.

THE RALLYE

Having been issued our route books, rallye numbers etc we were convoyed to the Rallye start control point at 8:00 am on Saturday morning. This was convened in the car park of the huge Geant hypermarket. I have never seen anything like it; wall to wall cars of all ages and descriptions and three times as many people. Organised in a very French way (i.e. no organisation) the 250 odd participants waited their turn to drive onto the start podium, have a few words said about the car and drive off in front of an admiring crowd. When it came to my turn I mumbled my lack of French but finished with vive la France and that got us off to a big cheer and much waving.

Hennessy were our hosts in Cognac and we were treated to a tour of the distillery and a superb lunch.  Julia and I were privileged to share a table with the mayor of Angoulême and the President of ACOCRA who organise the Circuits des Ramparts meeting. While we were stuffing ourselves once again the local populace were out inspecting our vehicles.

The afternoon saw us returning to Angoulême traversing the wonderful Charentaise countryside by a different route and a control point at Les Bouchauds. Story as before really with generous French hospitality and bon homie.

A very memorable Saturday finished with a competitors buffet dinner in Les Halles (the covered market) complete with jazz band and presentations to the Concours winners.  Wine and champagne flowed liberally all evening to accompany buffet food French style – scrumptious and plenty of it !!!!

RACE DAY

Race day is divided in two with the morning devoted to practice. This consists of seven different classes interspersed with demonstration laps by a few supercars both old and new (GT40, Lambo, Matra 640 & 650 racing types, March Tyrell F1, etc etc). This programme is repeated in the afternoon but of course grid positions within each race have been determined by morning practice.

It’s hard to single out a particular race over the others because for us they each had there own interest. The GT/GTS/GTP had a very trim TR3 competing (not hard enough in the event) and also Paul Conway’s Plus 8. I struck up conversion with Paul in the hotel before race day and he told me this was his first trip to Angoulême. Unfortunately, Paul’s campaign was short lived and later in the evening he declared that he now had unfinished business at Angoulême.

The Sports car group had a Lotus Eleven, a Sabre Six, Herald, Cooper S and an E Type among a field of 18 all battling it out. The Bugatti GP, as you would expect, was a race exclusively for the renowned French marque with the winning trophy going to Chris Hudson in his 1925 Type 35B.

The finale was truly spectacular with winner and runner-up from each of the earlier races going for it. Interesting to see a mini-Marcos chinning it out with a giant (and very loud) Camaro SS and big Bentley. Honours were taken by a very rapid Renault Alpine A110 Gr4 which was a crowd pleasing end to a very good day.

Naturally, there were the inevitable thrills and spills with a very noisy French crowd cheering whenever someone managed to get the back end sliding or worse, bounce off the tyre wall. There were plenty of cars trailored off and going nowhere other than the garage but fortunately, as far as I could tell, the only injury was sustained by pride and a lot of bruising to ego which goes with the territory I think.

The day concluded with a final dinner for our group of tourists who by now had been joined by the Sunbeam Talbot Alpine Register (lucky chaps had been given parade laps at Angoulême) and a further 10 who had taken the shorter, Friday – Monday, tour. As you would guess this was a very convivial occasion with people relaxing in good company, nice surroundings and buoyed by good food and drink.

THE TOURISTS

In my opinion at least half the pleasure in this event derived from fellow tourists and the social dimension. There were 18 of us at the outset and a more mixed group of people would be difficult to find. There was Diana with her Type 49 Bugatti, a no-nonsense pragmatist if ever I met one; you’d never guess that she had won the Coupe des Dames in the Monte Carlo rally. There was Robert and Helen with their 1924 Bentley and stable mate at the hotel for our TR.  Bob and Shirley cruised around in their Face Vega which Bob had discovered in a London lock-up. This had been rescued from the liquidator and had had £60,000 (with a lot more to be spent!) lavished on it before the owner lost interest. Peter, a self-confessed white van man in real life, covered the ground in a nice Scimitar GTE and Bill & Jean who are notables in the Bugatti world.


The fact that no particular marque dominated I felt was a plus feature. There were Mercedes SL’s, Morgan’s, Jags, Bugattis, Lotus, Maserati etc etc (oh, and the TR5 belonging to Lawrence which suffered a terminal breakdown on Thursday but which was very well sorted out by the Registers insurer, Towergate brokers and Europ assist).  We all shared a common interest in our cars and so background, status, wealth or the lack thereof was submerged in favour of the common bond. Contacts were made and in many cases these became friendships for the future. Delightful">

GRANDSTAND MOTOR SPORTS TOURS


And now for a slight critical note. GMST have much experience in arranging tours of this kind and, in general terms, the package on offer is very pleasing. However, Thomas Brimblecombe is, I think, taking over from his father Nicholas and perhaps lacks some necessary experience.  Many of our group of tourists were of the opinion that some essential detail was missing from route books, that verbal briefings were inadequate and that timings were a bit hit and miss. My biggest disappointment arises because the advertised parade laps and photo call at Le Mans was cancelled before departure (and worse, this was not revealed to most tourists until arrival at Le Mans).


The cost was, in my terms, quite high at almost £1400 for the two of us. However, this is the cost and you either accept it or look elsewhere. Notwithstanding the above criticism, I really do feel we had fair value and fuel costs apart, our only expenditure on tour amounted to around €100.00. I suppose the acid test is would I do it again and the answer is a resounding yes (but I’d look at alternative packages too!).

If you’ve ever considered Angoulême then I hope that the above will stiffen your resolve to actually participate; I’m pretty confident that you won’t regret it. If I can answer any specific questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

With kind regards,

Roger Alderton

To the pictures !
Thanks to Roger for the report and the pictures

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