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Next section meeting - Thursday 31 August at The Bull Hotel, Bull Lane, Wrotham, Kent, TN15 7RF.

AROCKES visit to Circuit des Remparts, Angoulême

Angouleme Photo 1

It is dawn in Portsmouth, and our group of intrepid AROCKES members rendezvous in the car park of the Admiral Drake Public House. As usual yours truly is the last to arrive, but still 5 minutes early! Doug and Jack Hodson look ready for the fray as do Gill and Martin which is more than can be said for me. I think I left my head on the pillow w at our hotel. Fortunately Helen is there to prod me if I look like dropping off.

A seamless boarding of the high speed ferry ‘Normandie’ soon followed and we went in search of a hearty breakfast. Quelle domage! Not a sausage or baked bean in sight! We had to make do with croissants and coffee! It’s no wonder Johnny Frenchman lost the battle of Trafalgar. Speaking of Trafalgar, what a wonderful sight greeted us as we left port. Not only did we pass H.M.S. Invincible, but also H.M.S. Victory herself was clearly visible through the morning mist.  A good omen we hoped, and so it proved, as despite a slightly choppy sea le petit déjeuner stayed firmly in place whilst Gills green pallor faded when (as result of my mis-reading the time table) she spied land 2 hours before expected. 

Once disembarked in Caen we made for the nearest Carrefour to stock up on supplies for lunch. Personally I think this was the shortest time Helen has ever spent in a shop. Back to the cars and off we set. First stop Le Mans. Our route through Le Mans brought us to the head of the Mulsanne straight and I don’t think it was just me who got goose bumps. For those who don’t know, almost 2/3 of the Le Mans circuit is on public roads, and yes, we drove all that we could. After a brief stop outside the gates for a group photo, we parked up nearby to enjoy our very tasty picnic lunch in the sunshine.

Back on the road again we made good progress and with Doug and Jack leading in the spider we were touching the speed limit (but I wont disclose from which side) all the way to Angoulême, arriving at the hotel the Epi D’or http://www.hotel-epidor.fr. at around 7pm having covered 475 km in 5 hours.

Angouleme Photo 1

After a quick wash and brush-up, we were straight out of the hotel, and on foot in the direction of the Champ de Mars to witness the Concours D’elegance, Here we met up with Jason and to view a wonderful collection of classic cars of all shapes and sizes. The drivers and their companions wore period dress to match the era of the car and the winner won their weight in Cognac! Personally, I can take or leave concours competitions for me they have an air of the toy that was never played with, but I don’t think anyone can fail to be impressed by the care lavished in these vehicles and the made a beautiful sight in the moonlight as we watched and enjoyed our dinner at a nearby restaurant. After dinner it was 6 weary travellers that made their way back to the hotel for a well earned sleep.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Angouleme Photo 1

At breakfast we engaged in conversation with one of our fellow guests at the hotel. A veteran of the Angouleme meeting he had come with two friends one of whom was racing his T35 Buggatti on the Sunday and another who had brought his Bentley blower (both cars were parked in our car park).  I have to admit to not minding one bit to being woken by the Buggatti each morning as it left for the circuit.

After the a good breakfast our new companion offered to escort us into town to show us where to purchase our race tickets and generally gave us excellent advice on how to enjoy our weekend. Once we had picked up our tickets (23 euros each) we took a look around the pits and the display of cars around the Hotel de Ville. Our tickets gave us access to the pits on both days and a grandstand seat of our choice on the Sunday for the racing (and practice) which I think is brilliant value (Revival take note).

As we walked around Doug and I noticed how quiet it was so a decision was made to see if we could get to drive the circuit! Back to the hotel to collect the cars and we quickly found our way onto the track.
We managed at least 4 laps which we have managed to film (below) As you can see there are people on the circuit so it was not possible to get up to anything approaching ‘race pace’ but I hope it will give you an idea of what the circuit is like especially in terms of narrowness camber and incline. You can have a choice, ride with Jack or ride with me. Helen is the camera person and did a great job with our little hand held Fujifilm camera.

Once we had had enough of that (I could have stayed all day) it was off to Oradour for Doug Jack Helen and I whilst Martin and Gill decided to visit Remy Martin to sample some brandy!

Angouleme Photo 1

Oradour is about 1 ¼ hrs from Angouleme and is a memorial to all civilian dead who have perished as a result of war or terrorism. The villagers of Oradou sur Glane (men women and children) were massacred by the Waffen SS shortly after the D Day landings and the village has been preserved untouched since then. We walked around the village which was very moving and have included some photos here. We also noted a display to commemorate the victims of 9/11 in the main visitor’s centre which included one of the jet engines recovered and various personal items found at the twin towers.

In total contrast Gill and Martin or ‘Lucky Gill’ and ‘Lucky Martin’ as they will now be known, pitched up at Remy Martin and got a free tour, tasting, and cocktails! We later discovered that there is free entry (on this weekend only) to various places of interest in France. Worth remembering if anyone else wants to make the trip in future.

As we approached Angouleme on our return the heavens opened and with it the traffic began snarling to a halt. Our plan had been to see the return of the cars from the Touristic Rally in the Place De Victor Hugo but by the time we arrived most cars had gone although we did see about 30 cars in total. Undeterred we returned to the hotel and enjoyed a pleasant evening in Angouleme. The atmosphere was fantastic as we strolled past wonderful cars parked in various streets and squares in the old town. Dinner was excellent too. Helen and I had a spent a quiet evening together and opted for steak as we dined al fresco in the mild evening air. Whilst Doug Jack Gill and Martin dined together and in keeping with the marque, went Italian.  

Sunday 20 September 2009

Angouleme Photo 1

Race day, and the pace is now telling, none of us can manage the early start we committed to and after breakfast we make our way into town on foot only to discover by chance, an opportunity to display our cars in the Champ de Mars! Back to the hotel to collect the cars, Jack and I both manage to find a space on the Champ de Mars where we park up and continue together to the circuit.

Sunshine and showers are the order of the day with a deluge so bad the last race was actually stopped midway! The papers next morning described the downpour in various terms, but I preferred their description of ‘Le Typhon’ as ‘Dantesque’, ‘et apocalyptique!’ When did you last see that on the front page of the Sun!

Despite the weather there was some great racing with spectacular spills and crashes. One 68 Mustang comes to mind in particular. Undeterred by ‘Le Typhon’ and clearly out of talent, the crowd watched transfixed as he exited the rise in the middle of the main straight.. backwards, and continued along the armco for 100 yards before crashing into the hairpin bend causing serious damage to the rear of his car but thankfully escaped without injury. 

The bad weather at the end made exiting the circuit a little longer than expected but there was a camaraderie as it quickly became clear no-one was getting out of there dry. Once back at the Champ de Mars we collected our cars and rendezvoused back at the Hotel before all making our way to a local restaurant for a steak and a very enjoyable de-brief.

Monday 21 September 2009

Angouleme Photo 1

After breakfast we made our way to the motorway to begin a spirited drive to Caen. Jack and Doug had hoped to visit Pegasus Bridge whist we were eager to make it to the Hypermarket for ‘souvenirs’. As with all great plans, it went without a hitch, and as we exited the store we observed Jack and Doug passing the car park. All together again, we headed towards the ferry to be met with the sight of various exotic motor cars which had attended the racing all grouped together. Doug’s spider was immediately directed to their queue and after some remonstrations we were allowed to join him.

Once on board it was clear we were very much the poor relations surrounded on all sides by Maseratis and Ferraris but we didn’t mind. The weather which was bright and sunny for our return journey was best enjoyed by all on the rear deck where we were sat for the 5 hours of the crossing sipping beers and discussing the weekend’s events. Arrival at Portsmouth came far too soon and as we said our goodbyes, we vowed to embark again soon on another adventure. I for one will look forward to that, and would like to take this opportunity thank all my travelling companions for their good humour and company throughout.

Keep your eyes peeled for information about more trips to celebrate Alfa’s Centenary in the next few months.

Yours truly,
Mark Fuller

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