What’s like following the Tour Auto Optic 2000 as a mechanic.
It’s been 5 years that I help a friend, William, who pilots on Peter Auto series. He’s a former M&A lawyer in New York and created two years ago a workshop in Madrid, where he repairs friends’ racing cars. I became what he calls “his team manager” for major events to which he participates. Together, we’ve done Le Mans Classic three times. However I had never took part to a Tour Auto Optic 2000.
Grand Palais: where everything starts !
Every year William invites me to the opening ceremony. This is an incredible event, something that you must see at least once in your life. Because the cars presented are just splendid. Because, above all, they’re parked in this wonderful place that is the Grand Palais. It provides to the event a special atmosphere. I don’t understand when David says it’s underwhelming, but we have different tastes, fair enough.
This time, when I arrived with my luggages, everything had a different taste. Unlike the precedent years, I knew the Grand Palais’ party was only the beginning of a memorable adventure with my motorsport family. For once, I will not let my friends and their bolides having a good time on french roads while I have to go work. This time, for sure, I would enjoy the entire week!
So, let me present our toy : an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint claiming 120 HP (according the boss). Not bad for a 1300 cc. It’s Repsol Classic Team’s car. However, when I talk about “our toy”… I should say “the drivers’ toy”.
Behind the steering wheel ! (of a Ford Transit)
In fact, my personal plaything was a brand-new Ford Transit full of spare parts and toolboxes. Yes, the life of mechanic is a bit less sexy than you could imagine (meanwhile drivers are onboard the splendid Alfa Romeo). And this isn’t only because of your drive. In fact your whole week is different from the entrant’s one.
Even the road book is separate, and there is at least two good reasons for it :
1) you probably don’t want to see a collection of vans towing trailers mixed with the race cars on the roads of the Tour Auto Optic 2000.
2) when you’re team support, you race against time : you exit the paddock when you’re certain the pilots left it, and you must arrive before them in order to be ready to work on the car in the smaller amount of time.
Indeed, the Tour Auto is a proper competition, and the timing is really tight. If you don’t respect it, you get penalized. As a mechanic, this is your principal fear : so, you need to work quickly, but more importantly, to be ready before the car arrives.
Repairs, settings, aren’t only done on the paddock in the evening. In reality, you fix problems and check the car between each rally special or track session. Sometimes on the side of the road, and if you have more chance, on the place of small village or anywhere it’s safe and possible.
I like those moments, because I guess it’s like back in the good old days. It also reveals incredible scenes such as those guys who changed their head cylinder gasket in less than 10 minutes, parked on the yard of a former petrol station.
In the backstage of Tour Auto’s race… (this is also the race)
The mechanics participate to their own race against time, which is really tiresome. Basically, you wake up at 6:00 in order to be on the paddock enough time before the departure. Then, you drive between 500 and 600 kilometers both on highways and small roads (when you join the drivers map). This trip is punctuated by 3 or 4 assistance operations. Finally, you enter in the paddock at 7:00 in the evening.
You believe 7:00PM isn’t too late? Keep in mind that two hours of work are allowed without penalty once the car reaches the parking. And most of the time, the day has been hard for the car. You only momentarily fix the problems which appeared between the different specials and races.
On the Tuesday you face electric difficulties behind the dashboard, on the Wednesday, you adjust the clutch and carburation. On the Thursday you work on the brakes. Everyday is a new challenge and you nearly use your daily 2 hours.
Fortunately, the weather was good, and our drivers offered beers to encourage us. To feign everything was alright, we put our glasses on the car’s hood while working underneath it. But in reality, like many other teams, we were in a hurry. I loved the challenge which was to quickly fix the problems. In my opinion this time limit is a good rule.
Drivers, Mechanics, a great family
7′ + 2′ = 9′, I am right ? It was generally 9:00 when we stoped to work on the car. But our day wasn’t finished because both drivers and team support were invited to the night reception. This is the great thing with Tour Auto, unlike some other events. It represented the perfect opportunity to discuss with the pilots about their day, let them talk about what they’ve seen, and dream a little bit. You also meet all your friends working or piloting with other teams. That was like a big family reunion!
While you finish your diner, competitors are still arriving. They are drivers from the regularity class. They start later in the morning. At least during the 3 first days. Afterwards you intertwine with them and obtain the right to sleep a little more during the second part of the Tour Auto.
Before going to bed, the whole team was holding a meeting in order to define where the assistance will be done on the following day. You eventually have the right to go to bed. The night is short, but the experience is so exiting that you wake up the next morning like if you slept 10 hours.
Should you follow the Tour Auto Optic 2000 as a mechanic ?
Well, if I ask the question, this is probably because I’m not a proper mechanic (I admit it, I’m an impostor), but that I had enough chance to get proposed this opportunity despite I’m not a professional. So, I will answer from a non professional perspective.
Everyday is a complete different adventure, because your agenda follow the (mis)adventures of the car. During one week, you entirely live for your team. This is the interesting part of this competition. Moreover, you spent time in amazing environnements and landscapes, surrounded by gorgeous cars. Most of the time, we managed to arrive well before the Giulietta, so we had time to enjoy the sound of Cobras and GT40s yelling accross the countryside. I’ve also been fascinated by some stunning Italians bodyworks (Ferrari 275 GTBs, Alfa TZ, Maserati 200…).
Considering these elements, you soon start to appreciate to work on the Tour Auto Optic 2000. You live a fabulous escapade, different from the one the drivers experiments, for sure, but still very exciting.
You cannot imagine how I felt disappointed when I’ve been informed that our car had an accident, hit a wall. I was really sorry they had to retire. The crash was caused by the rupture of the brake system, a stone smashed into the tube connecting the master cylinder to the drum.
The Tour Auto Optic 2000 was finished for the drivers as for us. And on the train taking me back home, I was sad to realize that I was leaving the race, as I left it on the doors of the Grand Palais the precedent years. But anyway, that was a great moment. And 5 minutes later, I was already sleeping. I had to recover from those tremendous days.