Welcome to Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix madness!
Does Puy-Notre-Dame mean anything to you? If yes, this is probably for a bad reason, at least from a petrolhead point of view. Of course, some of you may have recognized a french wine appellation. If not, don’t worry. I have to confess that I also had never heard about the Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix two months ago.
And… this is a shame ! Because this event comprises everything which would please the classic car fanatics you are. Located near Tours, in the middle of the Loire vineyard valley, Puy-Notre-Dame is one of those french villages with no more than 1000 inhabitants which still has a major event once per year. Lucky you, it’s a motoring one.
A prewar Grand Prix in the streets of a tiny french town
Every year, the town welcomes its own Grand Prix. Of course, there is no race track, but it doesn’t matter: four streets are closed to everyday traffic and straw balls are placed alongside the walls of houses. There are no grand stands, no tickets, but the public is welcome everywhere around the circuit.
The paddock looks like a big mess, organized in the middle of the wood, besides the church and the town hall. Bugatti T35 and 37, MG Q types, Fraser Nash, all are parked between the trees, and soon covered of dust. There is no barnum to protect them. Cars will sleep outside during the night.
Mains attractions are located in the middle of the circuit. As there is no tunnel or bridge to pass from one side to the other, the public has to wait the end of each sessions to cross the main street. Several times during the week-end we even heard on the microphone a message indicating that someone parked its car on the track, urging him to remove it immediately. It seems difficult to do more authentic.
Spectators and participants seem to enjoy a lot this special atmosphere, as people come far in order to participate. A lot of car owners are English, Belgians, Germans. Few of them even play the game and drive dressed up like in the 30’s.
Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix : you only need three wheels to race a car !
Among all the drivers, the three-wheeler guys, as we call them, are highly recognizable as they are doing the big show. The lead of the peloton pushed their bolides at the maximum and one will finish upside down during the night session, hopefully with no serious injuries.
Bernard is another member of the gang. He is known for driving a Darmont on a daily basis, and for his special ritual: he rolls his cigarette while waiting in the pregrid, light it when the start is given, and smoke on the track. That’s rock n’ roll babe!
Talking about the pregrid. Well, if we can call that a pregrid. In fact, this is more a trail with ruts in the middle of the park. This is something that you have to see once in your life. Some of the drivers offer a mechanical show here, cranking their engine, pumping, pushing… Noise is all around, bolides are roaring while warming. And it also smells: castor oil I guess. It is warm, as heat emanates from hot exhausts.
Harley-Davidson vs. Monet-Goyon at Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix
The bike demonstration is also a strong moment of the day. As there is no starter on these old two wheelers, the entire group is being pushed, in the same time, in front of the amazed crowd. It is a bite of a madness, because each moto is going on its own allure. The departure is given in a complete fuss. That’s what we love.
Despite it is called a Grand Prix, the event is not a race sanctioned by a ranking. But it is apparently not a reason to slow down and most of the men and women do their best to be the quickest on the grid. There is so much slides and figures at each corner, that a Harley-Davidson will finish in the balls.
This is then the time for the craziest part of the program: sidecars. Yes, they are also part of the feast with their passenger razing the walls and sidewalks. As if it was not enough, some of them are playing with the public and try to put themselves in the freakiest position.
A night session at Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix
The show finishes late, around midnight. As a consequence, at eight o’clock a break is imposed, so everybody can go for a diner. Long tables are dressed near the cars and bikes. It is the right moment to laugh with good old friends and meet new people. A disc jockey plays music meanwhile teenagers start to dance and enjoy the upcoming night.
After the sunset, bolides go back on the track, and this is a complete different scenario. The few streets lamps are not sufficient to enlighten the entire place. So, as a driver you alternate between dark zones and luminous areas full of public, taking pictures with flashes. I am lucky enough to drive my special GAR 1100 bol d’or 1927 ex-works.
This is moments I will always keep in my mind. I couldn’t imagine that I was going to so much like the Puy-Notre-Dame Grand Prix.
See you for the next edition!