Highway to (the french green) hell!
This first weekend of September, while some were following the Tour Auto, others were heading to Charade. The Classic Racing Group, organized a party at home !
Welcome to Charade
It is the best in the world.
The statement sounds authoritative, but it comes from Sir Stirling Moss, talking about Charade, right after his Formula 2 victory in 1959.
The racetrack was then very recent, since it had been inaugurated one year earlier, on July 27, 1958, replacing an initial project of a track in the streets of Clermont-Ferrand, abandoned following its rejection by the circuit commission, which had become much more fussy following the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1955 accident.
Located on the heights of the metropolis of Arvernes (Clermont-Ferrand), Charade, which was originally called “Circuit automobile de montagne d’Auvergne” (Auvergne mountain racetrack), sits next to the famous Puy-de-Dôme Hill.
Because of its relief, the track was quickly nicknamed the “French Nurburgring“, considered as an equivalent of the German green hell. In reality, all chauvinism put aside, the difference in altitude is much greater while the length is much lower : 21 kilometers for the Nordschleife against only 8 km in France (from 1958 to 1988).
Now shortened to 4 kilometers, the track has retained some mythical curves, such as the Petit Pont (small bridge), a large left curve that follows a dizzying straight line downhill, or the Epingle (hairpin), a 180° right uphill where some competitors with single seaters need to put the first gear on.
Nestled in a green setting, the circuit has kept an authenticity that takes the pilot by the guts, instantly.
Party at home !
While the circuit was facing an uncertain future, two young engineers and car enthusiasts, Julien Chaffard and Morgan Pezzo, saw its potential and decided to create there a historic driving school. Thus was born the Classic Racing School in 2017!
The concept? Simple, and yet unique in the world: early-70’s-inspired Formula Fords, a lounge filled with Chesterfields in the stands, period outfits, and instructors who, when they are not on mission for the school, are us to collect trophies of various French and European competitions.
Both the best drivers and novices flock there, as this school provide for a complete immersion in time, to the golden age of motorsport, when Formula 1 drivers used to meet at Charade (four Grand Prix were organized there from 1965 to 1972, two of which were won by Stewart).
The adventure went so well that the young company diversified its offers, by proposing team support in several historic competitions, or by the organization of trackdays, such as the Historic Trackday.
A successful first edition for the Historic Trackday
For its first Historic Trackday, the Classic Racing Group has been pretty ambitious, alternating a single-seater grid with a proto/GT session (plus a modern McLaren grid), which had for common denominator to present a certain… heterogeneity.
Concerning the single-seaters, national and european series, as Formula Ford (mostly Crosslé 90F) and Formula Junior (Lotus 20/22, Brabham), shared the asphalt with their big sisters from the international championships, such as Formula 1 (a sublime March 811 sponsored “Moulin Rouge” fitted with the V8 Cosworth screamed all the day long).
Alain Girardet had made the trip from Switzerland with his McLaren M10B, one of the most successful models of Formula 5000, (winning 4 world titles with 4 different drivers). The driver humbly confided to us, that the car, bearing chassis number 400-05, is rather easy to drive at a good pace due to its torquey Chevrolet 5L V8. We however imagine that it must be a different story when comes the time to drive it fast.
With such a wide range of cars, the most skeptical commentators might have thought that traffic management would be difficult on the track, given the technical nature of the circuit and the limited space it offers to overtake. It has not been the case, the priority being given to the driving pleasure, in the context of a day that could be described as very friendly and fair play.
This is what we can call “the Classic Racing Group spirit“. And it’s so much true that three prewars, a Riley and two Bugattis spent the whole day on the same time slots as their great-granddaughter with open wheels, which will leave some surprising pictures in the minds of the spectators.
Sixties atmosphere on the proto/GT grid
Certainly, the single-seater line-up made a strong impression, but the proto/GTs were not to be outdone, whether we are talking about eclecticism, or the rarity of certain models.
In the first box, a 904 GTS flocked on the back with a “sponsorised by my wife”, proudly stood alongside a 906 ex-Jo Siffert. To the point of wondering whether they hadn’t been left there by their owner during the Tour Auto, which came few days earlier. The opportunity for those who could not make the trip in the middle of the week, to come and listen to the sweat sound of the 6 cylinder 2L, winner of the Targa Florio in 1966 and the 24H du mans in its category in 1966 and 1967.
The English protos were relatively well represented, such as a beautiful Elva Courrier in its blue and white dress, which the owner uses almost daily. On the track, Lotus 23 B and other Crosslé 9Ss competed with liveliness, while a Lotus XI which raced at Le Mans in 1958 for the Hethel factory made a notable appearance.
The Lotus was not the sole Le Mans veteran, since RoadRugCars had made the trip with the Deep Sanderson (you have probably seen the videos), chassis number DS 301 GT 1003 which raced the 24 hours 5 years after.
All these people were obviously enjoying themselves on the track, as the squealing tires of some competitors testified. Some sports cars completed the show perfectly, such as the Alpines A 110, Porsche 911 and 914, which are always a pleasure to watch, or the more atypical ex-SCCA Datsuns, driven with anger.
The most recent, (but no less interesting?): A Renault 21 Europa Cup with astonishing performance, claiming 280 km/h top speed and 300 horsepower, which has remained unchanged since the end of the 90s, as evidenced by the traces of a shock on the front left that the beast would have suffered at Le Mans. That’s what we call patina!
Lunch in the Pitlane for an uncommon day with the Classic Racing Group!
You’ll tell me, “finally this day was nothing but a trackday, no need to make a big deal out of it”…
In that case, I would have to disagree. The members of the Classic Racing Group have this taste for details that makes the difference, which distinguishes a cool day from a very cool day. The team has taken great care to create a good-natured atmosphere, like the one of end of summer weekend spent with friends.
This was reflected in the lunch, which was eaten on tables set in the pits. We were pleased to share racing memories with the old fogies and discuss the future projects of novices who had fallen under the spell of the paddocks and their atmosphere.
This is what we appreciate and look for in these days that could be described as informal, without this being a reproach: the ability to rediscover highly authentic moments, devoid of the pomp of more publicized events.
In short, one feels good there. So much so that we would be tempted to propose ideas to make the experience last longer next time: what about a road trip the following day ? There must be something to do in the surrounding area? Don’t you think, Classic Racing Group ?