One of the craziest event of the classic car scene: le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême
City race tracks always amazed me. Because, it’s something to be quick on a standard circuit. But it’s a complet different job to be fast in the streets of a town centre. Pilots can’t overdrive, the slightest mistake being fatal. However, they have to remain rapid if they want to lead the peloton.
As a spectator, there is no other place where you can be closer to the cars, the action, the danger. Unfortunately, urban race tracks tend to disappear little by little in Europe. Only few remain homologated. You obviously know Monaco. You probably have heard about Pau. Have you ever been to le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême?
Probably no. This is why you’ve made a search on Wikipedia. And you understood nothing, for a good reason. When Wikipedia says the Angouleme Grand Prix is a lifetime achievement prize which awards drawers, it refers to the international comics festival. We understand RoadRugCars is the only literature of interest in your opinion, so it does not talk to you.
Don’t worry, I didn’t come to Angoulême for the comics, despite I enjoyed a lot Michel Vaillant when I was a child. In fact, I’ve made the travel for a 90 years trip back in time, to the 20’s and 30’s, when motorsport known its first apogee. As I was also there to race my GAR Bol d’Or 1100, I expect to share the experience from the inside.
Saturday: test day or rally day?
Traditionally, during a race meeting, the Saturday is dedicated to free practices and qualifications. Not at Angoulême, where a big rally takes place accross Charente, a French region known for its vineyard and beautiful countryside. The participants visit different castles and typical villages where inhabitants and petrolheads are waiting for them.
After the rally, a big parade is organized in Angoulême. In the same time, the city staff starts to close the streets and installs grand stands for the race. 15 000 spectators are awaited the next day at le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême. This is the right moment to have a little ride on the track in order to recognize it. The circuit is really impressive, as it is located on the heights of the city. There are massive up and downs, with narrow parts. It promises tight moments. Short corners alternate with long (not so) straight lines where fastest guys reach 120 mph. There are walls everywhere, which is nothing once you realised that there are even sidewalks. This is completely insane.
We do the first laps in the normal traffic, that is to say between coaches and other vans. It offers unusual scenes reminding me old videos of the Le Mans 24H / Targa Florio practices on open roads. The landscape is amazing, as the Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême follows the battlements of the medieval town, with a view over the suburbs, and in the background the countryside and wood forests.
Sunday, race day at le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême
My breakfast is taken in less than 5 minutes, I’m late. In fact, our class nearly qualifies with the dawn, at 8 o’clock. I join the paddock by walk and realise that Angoulême metamorphosed into a real racetrack during the night. Engines are already roaring in the paddocks literally located in the central square, just besides the City Hall.
A lot of spectators came with prewars, and parked everywhere. A Bugatti Type 35 waits between two Renault Scenic while the Citroen society invaded one of the main gardens. The paddock is already active, and I meet friends competing in the Bugatti class. One of them came by the road from Paris and plan to come back in the same way, after the race, with his original Type 35 A. A tough guy.
It’s time for me to put my helmet on and start a 25 minutes session. We are dropped in the arena which is still very slippery as the sun started to raise few minutes ago. At le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême, if you want to be quick, you must know how to balance your bolide in the different curves. The only way to save speed is to slip from the four wheels around the track. It is also a good thing to master heel toe drive as you sometimes need to put the 2nd and even the 1st gear…
It’s hard to fight against the english boys who are completely crazy and seem to know the track by heart. They come here every years. Some overtakings are impressives. The race is diffused in direct live on the different screens placed everywhere in the city, and also on internet and local TV.
Le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême : a kind of special atmosphere
I particularly love the authentic ambiance of le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême ‘s paddock. Pilots park race cars where they can, i.e. where they find a place. Few race cars will sleep under the stars. Almost none are clean, and for a good reason: these are race cars and not motor show ones. I suspect Bugatti owners to voluntarily put grease everywhere on their bodywork in order to prove the authenticity of their model… Anyways.
The most impressive elements are probably the Edwardians. Ivan Dutton is present with his 1914 Peugeot Indianapolis. This old monsieur could look frail if you meet him in a complete different context. But behind the steering wheel, this man looks like a young boy, doing accurate movements with an unsuspected strength. This is something to manage such a beast on such a track.
Buick, Berliet, Mercedes-Benz, and other big cubes are completing the class. There is also two Alfa Romeo 8C, present here to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the track. Raymond Sommer won the first Angoulême Grand Prix onboard an Alfa Romeo Tipo 308 in 1939.
Did you say Bugatti ?
If you ask to your brother what is his favourite prewar, it’s highly probable he will answer “what hell is a prewar ?”. And if he knows, it’s highly probable that he will answer Bugatti Type 35. This particular model is a myth. During the 20’s decade, it won most of the races entered, thanks to its iconic three-valve 2.0L overhead cam straight-eight engine.
Anyway, it never won at Angoulême as the production was already old when the first grand prix took place. A daughter car, the Bugatti Type 37 with a 4 cylinder however gained a podium for the first edition.
Nevertheless, in 2019, the Bugattis steals the show. The best drivers manage to skid them in every corners, at a point that you wonder if they know how to drive them straight. Due to the excess of power delivered, approximately 200 hp, the Type 35 are going very fast around the city, offering wonderful battles to the public.
The Nicolosi grid gathered the inline eight engines of the Molsheim factory meanwhile the Raymond Mays trophy presented only straight four Bugatti, i.e. Type 37 and Type Brescia. It’s a bit of a shame that only some of them are completely authentic… but the Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême ‘s show is so good that you excuse them.
The whole city of Angoulême is celebrating motorsport
Back in the streets of Angoulême (I mean, the ones where people aren’t racing) I notice the popularity of the event. It’s really exciting to see that everyone plays the game. Each shop frontage expose car related content. The city museum offers a free exhibition about the history of le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême. You can find small events dedicated to kids in several spots. Motorsport comes to people and not the contrary, this is all the interest of the journey.
The night, a big fiesta takes place in the market halls. This is the perfect place for pilots, teams and petrolheads to meet up. Until late in the night, a rock concert is given. The day before, a Concours d’Elegance was organized in front of 8 500 persons. In a town of only 182.500 citizen!! Everywhere in the gardens, places, squares, cars are exposed. The Grand Prix is rather accessible to everyone.
End of a wonderful week-end at le Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême !
Unfortunately for us, we blew the engine of our GAR 1100 Bol d’Or during the pregrid of the race. A little pin came off the oil pump which destroyed the entire lubricant system. With no oil, the engine broke in less than 10 seconds… before we had the time to stop it. Fortunately enough damages are not so important and we will repair it !
This did not alter our perception of the event. We enjoyed so much that the next edition is already on our race calendar.