The Circuit des Remparts in Angouleme, France, is mainly a mad series of vintage car races around the ramparts of a beautiful, mediaeval, fortified hill town. It’s a lot more than that, though: it’s an entire weekend of eating and drinking top French food and admiring gorgeous old cars from pavement cafés. There’s a Concours D’Elegance on the Friday evening, in which prizes are presented by models with small dresses and orange flowerpots on their heads. The whole town centre is full of French and British classic cars including a good few Minis.
On the Saturday there’s a rally, and the cars are welcomed back from that by driving over a podium for a chat and then through the crowd, which is about half French and half British. The entire event is free apart from seating in the grandstand, and the prices of food and hotels remain affordable. The 450-mile drive south from Calais keeps the Le Mans drinking crowd away, and the event is suitable for families. Not least because the city is mostly 800 years old and gorgeous, and worth a visit anyway.
The racing is proper mad. None of this pansy stuff about kitty litter, seat belts and catch-fencing – anybody who makes a big mistake hits a steel Armco barrier or a mediaeval stone wall. As well as historic racing cars from the 1970s and 1980s, the grids include pre-war beauties mixing Bugattis with MGs and Rileys, which are thrashed mercilessly, and the two saloon and sports car grids include lots of Minis and even a De Tomaso Inno and a Mini Marcos. (Check out www.TeamPassion16.cabanova.com for the local Mini racing team) There’s none of this boring nonsense about silencers, so you get the full flavour of howling engines at full bore as well as shrieking tyres: the circuit is narrow with quite fast sections as well as tight, nasty uphill hairpins. The grandstand is placed just past an evil hairpin with a bump in it, which Minis handle quite well on three wheels. The insane banned-for-being-too-fast-and-dangerous Group B rally cars came out for a bit of fun, which involved even more rubber smoke: the Renault Turbo has to be spun into corners sideways in order to come out going forwards. Only a few cars were written off, and nobody was injured, which is excellent: we don’t like seeing nasty crashes, but near-crashes avoided by visibly skilful handling of well-prepped vintage race cars get the pulse going nicely. This is seriously recommended as a top bucket-list event.
Prehistoric 1912 Simplex ambles across the concours stage. It remains quite athletic despite being 100 years old.
Angouleme is a mediaeval fortified hilltop town with many original buildings, and would be well worth a visit even if there weren’t any racing going on.
Minis are an excellent tool for the Saturday rally around the local roads, which are twisty and amusing.
After crossing the podium, the rally entrants are admired and photographed by the spectators, about 50% French locals and 50% British petrolheads.
“Team Passion” is a local group of race enthusiasts whose car of choice is usually the Mini Cooper S.
Paddock space is shared between Minis and Jean-Francois Bardet’s Mini Marcos.
Another Jean-Francois, this time Dumoussand, and this time with a 1967 Innocenti Cooper.
Women are not left out – this is Evelyne Filloux’s De Tomaso Innocenti, which is now much rarer than a Type 35 Bugatti.
This pic and below – the Mini’s Grandad is still racing and still fast – these are Austin Seven racing specials with 80 years of development behind them.
Austins hurtle on…
Type 35 Bugattis used to be rare, but nowadays you can’t walk ten feet at Angouleme without tripping over one.
This is a real Wolseley Hornet, after which the booted and poshed-up Mini was named. Incidentally, Issigonis loathed the Riley- and Wolseley-badged Minis. They should really have had supercharged Cooper engines for a bit of cred.
THese MEP Monomills are powered by Citroen GS engines: they’re rapid and extremely noisy.
This and next two pics: this is how you attack the grandstand hairpin. Hard on the brakes and keep to the outside, then drag it round under power. Minis usually tacke this one on three wheels.
Jean-Francois Bardet’s keeps to the right and out of the way as an incredibly quick Diva Ford hurtles past him. The Diva’s driver lives in Angouleme and goes shopping on this street when not screaming along it.
“Les freins ne marchent pas! Merde alors!” With practice over and the race looming, Denis Derex’s Cooper gets its brakes bled in the hope of getting the pedal back up.
The Minis were having abit of fun with a Triumph Dolomite. It had them on the straights but couldn’t keep up in the corners.
Everybody seemed to take an odd, wide line to this corner, but not having driven the circuit it’s hard to tell why. The markings on the road are parking spaces for 364 days of the year.
Big television screens by the grandstands offer spectators an excellent view of what’s happening elsewhere on the circuit. Commentary is in English as well as French.
Insane Renault Turbo rally beast was one of the Group B cars banned for being lethally fast. It spins into corners almost backwards in a shattering blast of huge noise and power.
Rick Cutting spun his Triumph into the armco at the same corner last year, but just kissed it. This year was the second date and a proper snog.
The route to Angouleme goes past Le Mans. Tolled peage motorways are fast but dull, and not too expensive. Route Nationale A-roads are much more fun.
Going through Le Mans you can drive on parts of the actual circuit, although doing it at 200mph is discouraged.