Motor Racing, H:O Scale Slot Cars, Classic Cars, the building of my slot car circuit

Les courses automobiles francaises et voitures classiques

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Coupe de l'Auto Rambouillet 1906 and 1907 and LSR of 1902

From 1905 to 1913 the French motoring magazine, L'Auto, organised a competition for Voiturettes called La Coupe del'Auto or alternatively La Coupe des Voiturettes.  Voiturettes were lighter cars than the Grand prix cars of the day - a sort of Formula Two of its time.  For 1905 these cars had to be a maximum of 400kg.  From 1906 the engines were restricted by the size of the bore.

The 1906 and 1907 Coupe l'Auto was run on a road circuit to the south of Rambouillet in France.  I believe these were the only races ever run on this circuit.   As I don't live very far from Rambouillet and as it was a beautiful crisp but sunny winters day, today, I ventured out in my Alfa Romeo to trace the old circuit.   It is still relatively easy to follow and must have been a real challenge on the roads of the time.  Two thirds is rather a nice drive with the other third being a straight blast up the N10/D910.
The D936 through Greffiers passes by this old church
Start on the N10/D910 south of Rambouillet near Ablis.  Continue North until you can turn right on the D936 towards Sonchamp and Saint Arnoult en Yvelines.   Now begins the pleasant part of the route.

Continue all the way into Saint Arnoult on the D936 passing on the way Greffiers, La Huniere, Sonchamp and La Moulin Boutareine.
The junction between the D936 and the D988 at Saint Arnoult

When you get to the T junction in Saint Arnoult turn right onto the D988. Shortly the road starts to climb, which must have been a challenge for the Voiturettes.   At the top the road flattens and straightens.
Beginning the climb out of Saint Arnoult
This long straight section running between the roadside trees is not only part of the course that the voiturettes ran but also is the venue of the August 1902 successful Land Speed record bid by the American William Vanderbilt in his Mors.  This was a significant event as it was the first time that the record had been achieved in a car with an internal combustion engine.  Vanderbilt achieved a speed of 122.4 kph or 76 mph.  Unlike the Voiturettes the Mors weighed 1,000kg and had a 9.2 litre engine.
Imagine William Vanderbilt driving his Mors at record speed alomg this straight
Continue on the D988, over the A11and through Gueherville until you see a sign for Ablis centre and turn right here onto the D168/D988 into Ablis.   Ablis has a one way system but is worth a quick detour as it also featured in some of the big early city to city races such as the tragically shortened Paris-Madrid race of 1903.  Eventually find your way onto the D177 heading North towards the N10 and Rambouillet.   Continue back to your start point and you have completed a lap of the Rambouillet Voiturette circuit.
Where the course turned right back towards Rambouillet in the centre of Ablis
For the record the 1906 race was won by Georges Sizaire in his Sizaire-Naudin car from a Delage and a Lion-Peugeot.  Sizaire covered the 156 miles at a average of just over 36mph.

The 1907 race was a one-two for the Sizaire-Naudin team with Louis Naudin winning from Sizaire.  Jules Goux finished third in a Lion-Peugeot the forerunner of the Peugeot cars we know today.  Naudin covered the 190 miles at an average speed of just over 40 mph.

The drive along the D936 and D988 is definitely worth a detour for this little brush with motoring history.  Wishing you all happy and safe motoring in 2015.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

From The Archives - Montlhéry 2002

Some circuits have a real atmosphere that is difficult to define. They seem to have a specific atmosphere that reminds you of their past glories.  I always loved Silverstone for that reason even if the viewing wasn't as good as Brands Hatch for example.   You visit the old pits at Reims and you definitely feel it.  L'autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry also has it in spades.  With Montlhéry it is perhaps easy to define why you feel it.  So much is unchanged and the steepness of the banking is very impressive.

I first visited Montlhéry in 2002 when it still had a few short years to go as an active motor racing circuit and included in my visits to the circuit that year was the Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or in June 2002.  All of the photos in the blog post were taken from that meeting.  They give you some idea of what the banked circuit was like.

Back in 2002 I had only an early Nikon digital compact camera with a very slow shutter reaction so taking racing pictures was very difficult.  The megapixels were also low which meant the quality was marginal by today's standards.  However, I was happy with my results from that day.
A seventies Renault F1 car doing demo laps on the high banking to celebrate 25 years of Renault in F1
A - close-up - I think this may be Jean Ragnotti driving Renault RS01
This view from the old grandstands really shows the steepness of the banking during a race for 1 litre cars
Looking the other way you can see where the road circuit diverged from the full banked circuit.  The full banked circuit was 1.6 miles long and often used for record breaking attempts by both French and British manufacturers.
The history of Montlhery goes right back to 1924.   Pre-war it held the French GP with winners including Robert Benoist (1925 & 1927),  Louis Chiron (1931,1934 & 1937) , Guiseppe Campari (1933), Rudolph Caracciola (1935) and Jean-Pierre Wimille / Raymond Sommer (1936).   Of these the 1936 and 1937 races were for sports cars with Bugatti winning in 1936 and Talbot in 1937.     The day I went there was a race for pre-war sports cars bringing back memories off those events especially as there was a Talbot of that era present.
Pre War sports cars on the start-finish straight heading towards Les Deux points hairpin
Richard Pilkington in the very rare 1937/38 Talbot T26
After the war it became a circuit mainly for the smaller single seaters and also held some big sports car races including the Paris 1,000kms for many years.   The last big races at Montlhery were the 1994 and 1995 Paris 1,000 km events.  After this it was minor events untill about 2005/6 when racing here was no more.  However, there remains main track days and demonstration events so one can still admire this old circuit.

In the Formules de Promotion race Dominique Bertin takes the hairpin in his Formula France Martini Mk4
Other small single seaters head out of La Ferme towards Le Virage du Faye
Lotus Sevens head through La Ferme…..
…and then through Le Virage du Faye and back towards the banked part of he circuit 
David Smithies (50) and Eric Woolley (116) battle it out through the chicane prior to the banking in the GT race in their Austin Healey 3000s
The road course part of Montlehery is not that impressive but the steep banking is really awesome. It must have been really scary driving around there at well over 100mph especially before they put a barrier at the top of the banking.  Unfortunately it was really dangerous and rather too many good drivers met there end here including Antonio Ascari, Louis Rosier and Guy Mairesse.

Guy Clairay high up the banking in his TVR Griffith in the French Championship GT/Tourisme race
Rene Sontrop at speed in his Jaguar E Type
Diva GT battles it out with the Austin Healey 3000s on the banking
Bernard Wilhelm's Jaguar E Type chasing Gerard Lepron's Volvo 122S
Nicolas Maurel in his Alpine Renault A110 leads Miguel Langin's Porsche 911S in the 'Saloon Car" race.
The beautiful sixties Chevrolet Camaro of Olivier Haquette
Christian Bultiauw in his DeTomasco Mangusta
Luc Cheminot gets really high on the banking in his Alfa Romeo Guilia 1600

Close racing on the Montlhery banking from the saloon cars.

Streamlined 1964 Panhard CD Le Mans doing a demo
Nice memories and I am glad I got to see some racing here.

Anyone wanting to see more pictures and read more about Montlhery should get Michel Bollée's excellent book - Les 1 000 Kilometres de Paris.
Gerard Lepron in his beautiful Swedish Flag Volvo
AC Cobra 289 leading the GT race
1931 MG Montlhery Midget named after George Eyston successful 24 hour record attempt at the circuit

Sunday, 12 October 2014


The nearest circuit to where we have our main home in France is the circuit at Dreux and their main events of the year is Rallycross.   This year on October 11th and 12th they held the final round of the French Rallycross Championship and so it was a good chance of reacquainting myself with this sport, not having seen a rallycross event this century.  I was a big television fan of this sport in the late sixties when it was a Saturday afternoon treat from venues like Lydden Hill and Croft.  So here my photos of the event taken during the afternoon of a very pleasant day with friend, motor racing mad Gareth.

On the Saturday it was a nice sunny day for the 1st and 2nd heats.  Here are Supercars accelerating away after the start line at Dreux.   Fabien Chanoine leads in his Renault Clio 2.  He in his first season of Supercars but is already in fourth place in the championship.
It was also a chance to try out my new compact camera - a Panasonic Lumix TZ60 which has a 30 times zoom lens (equivalent in 35mm terms to 24mm to over 700mm).  I have owned a number of other  Panasonic compacts before and they are great - the one drawback is that you can easily ruin them if you don't protect them from dust etc.  A trip in a rucksack with a floury baguette ruined my last one!  Many enthusiasts say that you have to have an SLR to take good motor racing pictures.  I'll let you make your own conclusion.
The cars then go under the start gantry and past the control building, normally still four abreast.   These are division 3 cars with Henri Navail nearest the camera in his Citroen DS3 V6 Nissan T3F.
Then it is braking and a bit of a scramble into the first corner where much action is usually evident.  These are the Twingo class drivers having fun with Jean-Mickael Guerin leading and Julien Anodeau getting very sideways.
There follows a short dash into a tight hairpin bend.  These are the Renault Twingos again with Lucie Grosset-Janin leading.
The hairpin bend and we see Henri Navail in his Citroen DS3 under pressure.
Exiting the hairpin and heading for the long banked corner. This is Hervé Knapick in his Citroen DS3 Supercar.
The long banked corner  as the sun begins to go down and we see Hervé Knapick leading the pack again in his Citroen Supercar.
Exiting the banked curve and loading up the suspension is Romauld Delaunay in his division 3 Citroen DS3
Then it is down a straight and a choice of the main course (blue and yellow car leading takes this) or the joker section (silver car in third place is taking this).  Emmanuel Anne leads the other division 4 cars in his Renault Clio Maxi F2000.
New to me was the concept of a joker section that is an alternative route that each car has to take once during its three lap race.
Then it is a fast run through the esses.   Nicolas Botherel leads in his Citroen C4 VTS 16v F2000 from the other division 4 cars.
Meanwhile the joker section is providing some interesting challenges for the other cars.  This is Marc Morize in his Peugeot 208 V6 Nissan T3F getting nicely sideways on the dirt.
Cars exiting the joker section.  This is the Super 1600 class with Andréa Dubourg in his Renault Clio 2 leading Philippe Maloigne in his Citroen Saxo Kit Car.
Whilst other cars race to join up with them.  This is Cyril Raymond in Super 1600 class Renault Twingo ahead of Laurent Chartrain's Citroen Citroen C2.
The car on the right exits the joker section to rejoin in the middle of the main pack
Then all that is left is negotiating the final turn
Yoann Tirel takes the final turn at speed in his Peugeot 306 16TS in his Division 4 heat
Then at the end of three laps you take the chequered flag.  This is Thomas Lefrancois in his division 3 Renault Clio III V6 Nissan T3F.
So plenty of photo opportunities at Dreux as long as you have a good telephoto lense despite all of the modern safety fencing.


Once must never forget the paddock as you can see close-up what the cars are really like.  Rallycross cars are more sophisticated than you might imagine.   It is a shame that nowadays everything is under canvas but that's progress and at least the mechanics can stay a little dryer.

Inside the rear end of a modern rallycross car
Typical set up of large transporter and marquee
Mechanic at work during the lunch break
Plenty to do before the next heat
The bodywork is lightweight and easily removable
Don't forget to leave some space to hang up your racing overalls!

For those not familiar with Rallycross there are five classes in the French Rallycross championship.

SUPERCARS - these are very powerful up to 550hp 4WD cars of less than 1,200kg weight similar to the cars that participate in the World Rally Championship.  Very liberal regulations in most respects.

SUPER 1600 - these similar to the SuperCars but restricted to 250hp, 1,600cc, 950kg and 2WD.

DIVISION 3 - These have tubular chassis and plastic or composite bodies and are limited to 450hp.  They are also limited to 3,500cc atmospheric engines and most use a Nissan unit.  They can be either 2WD or 4WD.

DIVISION 4 - These are 1,600cc to 2,000cc cars that are 2WD and limited to 250hp.  It is in effect the category F2000 that is used for French Hillclimbs.  This is the most popular class in French rallycross.

THE TWINGO R1 CUP - this is a low cost one make series featuring 2WD Renault Twingos of about 133hp.

My favourite driver of the day was Romauld Delaunay who drove his softly set up Citroen DS3 with great speed and enthusiasm in Division 3.
Another division 3 driver was Patrice Lambert in his Citroen C2 T3F
Attacking the kerbs is Christophe Saunois in his division 3 Toyota Corolla.  He would be officially crowned the division three champion after the weekend as he had already had six successive victories prior to Dreux.
Patrick Briffaud in his well turned out division 3 Renault Megane 3.
Also in division 3 was this kerb bouncing Nissan 350Z of Jack Brinet.
In the supercars class, Hervé Knapick continues despite the damage on his Citroen DS3.

Fabien Pailler kicks up the dust in his Peugeot 308 supercar. He was one of two contenders with a chance of winning the French SuperCars championship prior to this weekend.

Two wheel action from Bertrand Girardot in his division 4 Honda S2000.

Adeline Sangnier in her Peugeot 207 supercar rejoins ahead of the main pack from the joker section.
A car gets launched on the entry to turn 2
Cars at right angles at turn 1
Mathieu Trevian opposite locks his Citroen Saxo out of turn 2 ahead of the division 3 pack
Sébastien Guillemaud get the jump on his fellow division 4 competitors
Close racing down the main straight from division 3 competitors. 
Close finish in division 3
Lucie Grosset-Janin gets sideways at turn 1 but keeps ahead of the pack in a Twingo heat
….and we we will end where we began, back at the start.
Thanks to the French rallycross teams and the Les Circuit de  l'Ouest Parisien for a great day out.  It was just eight euros for the Saturday which is good value in my books.  I shall be back someday for some more Rallycross de Dreux.