I am writing this aboard the ‘Normandie ferry cruising back to Portsmouth, finally having time to reflect on a very busy and a very successful Angouleme tour.
We met all 65 clients, at Portsmouth where we were directed to our exclusive Classic GT loading line, before boarding the ferry to St Malo. Loaded together on the lower decks, we avoided the steep ramps, and as planned, would be the first to disembarque on our arrival in France.
Once onboard I quickly made my way to the ‘Piano bar’ which had been exclusively reserved by Brittany ferries for our guests for dinner. Our guests seemed ready for their welcome cocktail and then followed by the excellent buffet menu, in the ‘Les Abers’ a la carte restaurant, a relaxed and enjoyable evening ensued.
Our first stop in France was by the Lake at Combourg for coffee and croissants. Just 30 minutes from the port of St Malo, before continuing on to lunch.
As mentioned, this year’s tour was particularly well attended with some superb cars, and in total, we had over 80 people to look after, including those who joined us in France. It was therefore a great relief that Jaguar Cars agreed to loan us an ‘XF Sportbrake S‘ to road test , as a supplement to the Classic GT fleet of support vehicles, and we quickly learned what a capable car it is, but more on this later.
Also on hand, were Tony and Josh from the Mission Motorsport, the forces charity. Calling on their huge experience Tony and Josh were hugely useful and invaluable to the Classic GT team. They operated the Classic GT Land Rover with support trailer, again more on them later!
We discovered our lunch spot via the talented artist ‘Anna-Louise Felstead‘, who recommended the impressive ‘Chateau du Lude‘. The 17th century chateau being a beautiful setting to park the cars in. The buffet lunch in one of their impressive rooms was excellent. After lunch we were given a really interesting guided tour, before the very short drive to our hotel for the evening.
It is always a special moment arriving into the square in front of the Hotel de France at La Chartre sur le Loir. A hotel steeped in motorsport history, with memorabilia and memories of cars and drivers who have stayed at the hotel, gracing the walls and reception area. With the cars safely parked, there is no finer moment than enjoying a drink on the hotel terrace. We had arranged for a local wine producer to offer us a tastings before dinner, and following the tastings, we had a superb dinner at the end of our first days motoring.
That said, the first day of motoring wasn’t quite so straight forward for one intrepid couple! They had chosen to drive their Lenham coupe race car on our tour, to the event, and race it on the Sunday, at least that was the plan. I first received a call whilst they were at Newbury (in England) to say that their starter motor had failed, but after a push start by the police they were on their way. The second call came as we approached Chateau du Lude, this time with a more terminal issue – clutch failure. A swift call to the Classic GT / Mission Motorsports Land Rover and it was quickly on its way to collect the stricken Lenham! Once loaded the car and occupants were taken on to La Chartre sur le Loir where the car could be properly assessed and the guests made comfortable. After Tony and Josh had been in, around and under the car, the diagnosis was that the clutch slave cylinder had failed! The good news was that during their assessment, the guys had fixed the starter motor. To be continued!
On day two in France the route was truly superb, with beautifully open and straight driving roads leading down to Tours. After Tours, a more twisty route was planned as we headed into and through the Vienne valley. Lunch was taken in one of Frances’ most beautiful villages Angles sur l’Anglin where the group could wander around the ruins of the Chateau, before a simple yet fine lunch. During the afternoon the scenery got better and better, as we meandered along the Vienne river before climbing the hill into the Remparts at Angouleme.
We started Friday night off with a party at the Mercure, our centrally located hotel for the weekend. This included an awards ceremony for our Classic GT Concours, which was won by Andrew Steven’s Bristol special. Other noteworthy mentions were given to Paul Enticknap’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the Roderick Groundes-Peace Volvo P1800 and Kevin Lawless’s Aston Martin DB4. We then handed out our Classic GT ‘spirit of the tour’ award to the ever smiling Roger and Julia Alderton in their TR6.
On Saturday we made our way down to ‘Chez Magelis’ for the start of the official Angouleme rally. Situated on the banks of the Charente nearly 200 cars convened here for the rally start point. It was here that I first piloted the Jaguar Sportbrake taking over from the media team, Tim and Jamie who had commandeered the Jag, to take photos and video footage of the tour. The huge flat load carrying capacity being required for the camera equipment!
The saying “all good things come to those who wait” certainly came true that morning. The Jaguar really is a revelation. Our usual Classic GT Citroen C5 estate, paling into insignificance against the Sportbrake! The XF really is a superb car – the model on test was the 3.0 litre V6 turbo diesel, and we had agreed to offer our findings to Jaguar cars with thanks for the loan. The Jaguar has so much torque that coupled to the 8 speed auto box, it gathers pace with real ease ,the ride around town is superbly compliant; the steering is superbly weighted at slow speeds and similarly communicative out on the open road. My other observation was the cars presence. We had the S model which has a deeper chin, giving a more aggressive look. We had full passes for the rally, so we drove the Sportbrake into the start point with an amazing array of classic cars, yet I was stopped twice on the way in to talk about the modern Jaguar, and I lost count of the number of people taking photographs. I knew from this point, I was going to get along with this motor car.
I next caught up with our guests on the rally we had reached the lunch stop at Chateau de Rochefoucauld. Everyone was in very high spirits from the morning run and the setting was superb. We had arranged group seating for all our guests so everyone could find our table and enjoy the lunch for over 400 people in a relaxed manner. The afternoon leg of the rally was just as enjoyable and after the finish ramp in Angouleme the group could safely park their cars into the reserved and secure underground car park at the Mercure for the rest of the weekend. On Saturday evening we crossed the road from the Mercure to the covered market, where the ‘gala buffet / bun fight’ is hosted. Once again we had managed to secure a private area for our guests to enjoy the food and drinks supplied by local producers. I use the term ‘bun fight’ as one does have to work reasonably hard to get around the various stall holders, but the rewards are worth it, as on offer are, oysters, charcuterie, and foie gras to name but a few, as well as gin cocktails from a local producer!
And what was the fate of the Lenham race car I hear you ask? Well, on Friday night the car had been retrieved from our hotel in the Loire, and delivered to the paddock in Angouleme on a trailer (how about that for service). Here there was a replacement clutch slave cylinder waiting to be fitted. So on Saturday the car passed scrutineering and on Sunday we applauded the car back into the paddock having finished the race. Phew!
We were celebrating our 20th year taking groups to the Circuit des Remparts, and a new addition for 2013, was the hospitality marquee we provided in the paddock. We found it a real success as our guests could come and go from our marquee as they pleased. We had comfortable seating as well as a top Pineau and Cognac producer and Charentais wine producer to offer tastings. We also supplied a local beer and soft drinks to keep everyone going during a very very hot race day. We rounded the day off with dinner at the top restaurant in town. Most goodbyes were said that evening and we were overwhelmed with the praise and thanks received.
Having waived most guests off on Monday morning, I knew I had the luxury of the Jaguar to return to for the next two days, as I was spending some time prospecting hotels and accommodation for next year’s Le Mans Classic. The Jaguar XF Sportbrake S is such a capable car that I would dearly love to have one as an everyday vehicle. It will be a real wrench to hand back the keys