Angouleme – Circuit des Remparts 2015
I purchased my TR3A at the end of 2010 and must admit to have been somewhat conservative with it's use since then – trips to various Goodwood events and South Downs TR Group organized runs being the extent of my bravery, although I'd mentioned to a number of people that I'd like to do a "road trip" to see my brother in France at some point when time permitted, although the thought of doing this on my own with no mechanical knowledge was somewhat overwhelming.
At the beginning of 2015, Derek Hunnisett was undertaking some work on my car and happened to mention that he'd booked a trip to watch the Circuit des Ramparts – an annual event in the beautiful fortified town of Angouleme, which just happens to be only an hour or so away from my brothers house. Derek mentioned that other TR owners had also "signed up" to the trip and suggested that I'd be welcome to join them. The thought that I'd have my own "built in" mechanic in Derek as a back up in case of any difficulties was a big attraction, but then to discover that Derek's Dad (Roy), Greg May and Willie Felger were also going meant it was a no brainer – surely nothing could go wrong with my car that these "old timers" couldn't resolve! A phone call to my brother (Keith) to ensure that he was going to be around for that weekend resulted in him deciding to come on the whole of the trip, so Ferry crossings and hotels were booked, various spare parts purchased, followed by a trip to Lewes for Derek to undertake some final minor last minute checks.
The first day (Thursday) of the trip eventually dawned in the middle of September, with the arrangements being that we would meet our fellow TRavellers at Newhaven to board the morning ferry to Dieppe.In addition to Derek and Roy in the Dove and Greg and Willie in the topless TR3A, (Willie refuses to acknowledge rain), we were joined by David and Sandra Sharp in their thirsty TR3A (hardtop),Robin and Pat Powell in their TR4 and Peter and Jackie Ward-Booth also in their TR4. Greg's Dad Ian would eventually join the party in Angouleme after driving up in their TR2 from his house in France. We were joined on the ferry by many old classic Austin's who were on their way to a rally just outside of Dieppe, so the TR's were very modern by these standards.
Upon disembarkation from the ferry, Derek's route map took us initially to Gace – Willie informed us that this was a well known stop for the Bentley Boys en route to Len Mans for their famous victories in the late 1920's. After a leisurely refreshment stop in a local café / bar, we proceeded to our overnight stop (and refueling for David) at Le Mans where the hotel were good enough (or sensible enough), to provide a separate room for a noisy evening meal before retiring to our beds in anticipation of our visit to the Le Mans museum the following morning.
After breakfast on Friday morning, the "non mechanics" of the trip gathered around Willie's "topless" as Derek and Greg proceeded to take the steering column apart and reassemble within no more than 30 minutes. We then departed for the short trip to the museum which is located at Le Mans circuit and proved to be very interesting – both for those who enjoy their motor sport and others who just enjoy looking at old cars and memorabilia.
Having dragged Willie and others from the museum, we re-formed the TR convoy with a view to heading towards Angouleme, although a lunch stop on the way was deemed to be a good idea if a suitable French watering hole could be found. Some fairly heavy showers tested the resolve of Greg and Willie in the topless TR, although both claimed to be dry when the late lunch stop was eventually found. Suitably refreshed, the convoy continued to the Ibis on the outskirts of Angouleme, where we met up with Ian, located the bar, and agreed the restaurant for the evening meal (which was fortunately located in the hotel car park).A table for 13 was never going to be particularly quiet, but a local resident possibly took exception to the "gentle conversation" that was happening around our table – unfortunately, our two ex-pats that were sitting with us were unable (or unwilling) to translate word for word, but we got the feeling that the local wasn't too happy!
Saturday morning dawned with the plan to go into Angouleme to pick up the pre booked tickets for the following days racing. These tickets allowed us a free pass into the paddock where many of the competitors had started to assemble with their cars for some final "fettling" and testing. It was very interesting to be able to get up close and personal with the old classics, their owners and mechanics. Cars range from 1920's Bugatti's through to more modern Mini's and other saloon cars – all there for a good time and some semi serious racing. Saturday is also given over to the Ralleye International de Charente, an all day tour of the local area for classic car drivers who can participate if they take out a second mortgage (or in Peter and Jackie's case, receive a refund of taxes from HMRC) to pay the cost of entry. Some of us had decided to find a viewing point in a local village bar to watch the more affluent owners parade past in their shiny machines. This proved a little more difficult than Derek had originally envisaged, but we eventually found a suitable venue for lunch and photographic opportunities.
Sunday was to be the main event, with testing and qualifying in the morning, followed by racing in the afternoon. The weather was very kind to us being hot and sunny, so with sun protection, camera's and tickets packed, we jumped in our TR's and headed into town to find a parking space and our allocated seat in one of the grandstands dotted around the circuit. The day didn't disappoint with plenty of close racing and minor scrapes (both to cars and the Old Town's walls). There are large crowds around the circuit with good vantage points being at a premium, so buying a grandstand ticket in advance proved to be a good choice. Racing finished, and the organisers needing to return the circuit to normal everyday use by the end of the day, we retired to a local bar for a final meal before heading back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for an early start on the Monday morning for the long dash back to catch the 5pm ferry.
With various of our party having made separate arrangements for returning home, there were just 2 TR's forming the convoy to return home from our hotel in Angouleme -Derek and Roy leading the way in the Dove, closely followed by myself and Keith in my 3A, with a promise from Greg and Willie to catch us up on the way. An uneventful trip on France's excellent roads with a break for lunch and petrol found us reaching Dieppe in plenty of time, where we joined very shortly afterwards by both the topless and thirsty 3A's. After having overnighted in a hotel half way between Angouleme and Dieppe, David admitted to losing his way somewhere (probably searching for a petrol station for another top up), and Greg and Willie were hoping that one or two of the French speed cameras were on strike.
Arriving home at just before 11pm on the Monday evening, I checked to see what mileage we had covered over the 4 days – 799 miles exactly. My original concerns at taking a 55 year old car such a distance had been completely allayed – the TR's all behaved perfectly throughout the 4 days which is more than can be said for most of the drivers! Many thanks to Derek for organizing the ideal trip for this "first time novice", and to all our other TRavellers that made the weekend so enjoyable. I'm now looking forward to my second trip onto the continent with the TR with the club – Laon in May 2016. Glad to say that my personal mechanic will still be accompanying the group – still not brave enough to go on my own!!