We won’t be claiming Michel Vaillant himself has done his laps around the 1287 meter short Circuit des Remparts here in Angoulême, but it never takes much of an effort to find a picture of France’s fastest comic book hero in the narrow streets of the old city center. In shop windows, on murals, above the tables at the local Quick-restaurant, everywhere in the historic centre of this comic book capital you’ll find the colourful drawn hints at the legendary car races. The third weekend of September has been a set date for a large group of lovers of historic racing ‘a la Francaise’. The Circuit des Remparts is not to be missed.
When you enter the town of Angoulême in the early evening of a weekday, it’s just one of those anonymous French County capitals. Large supermarket chains, gory industrial estates and similar suburbs with endless low rise building. This Thursday isn’t any different. The inner city, way up on the ramparts, the characteristic stepped boulevards, remains of what was once a fortified city, is deserted. The gazebo’s next to the Hotel de Ville spoil the surprise a little, as do the many classic cars amongst the usual worn out Renaults, dented Peugeots and faceless nineties Citroëns in the underground car parks. The regular knows, it’s just the quiet before the storm.
Friday afternoon is when it all comes together. From our regular spot in the bend of the Rue du Chat behind the market hall, we watch the endless parade of irritated locals and cheery classic car enthousiasts. All looking for that one tiny parking space. Be it for a Dacia or for an open Singer, the task remains the same. Of course, from behind our pint we’d prefer a nice Bugatti over a tatty Twingo any time, but we’re not picky. The foretaste on the concours d’élégance, that due to very urgent barbecue arrangements we’ll miss once again this year, is at least very promising. Watching the paddock slowly fill up, we join the not to lengthy cue at the ticket office. Entrance tickets safely in our pocket we take up are last task for today, groceries.
According to Wikipedia the British were chased out of Angoulême by Charles V in 1373. Much to be said about the French and the English stubbornness, but there clearly isn’t any grudge left after all these years. The Circuit des Remparts, the races as well as the entire sideshow, is crowded with Saxons. On the terraces in our favourite corner the main language on Saturday is once again English. Except, of course, for the serving personal. A bit of lunch? Nah, we don’t feel like serving that anymore. Luckily we can get something to eat just one table to the left, before the entry of the Rally de Charente really gets going. ‘Is it something pre-war crackling away back there? No, it’s just two adolescents on a moped.’ Behind the next white van there is once more enough for us to enjoy. We’re in the hot seat again.
And those races on sunday, oh well those races, the Circuit des Remparts remains a very special event. The tiny track amidst these stately mansions. From the start, two angled bends, a long sweeping turn down hill ending in a steep ascend with three hairpins and then the whole damn thing over again. It’s one giant spectacle. The historic touring class backfires like crazy right in front of you. Mini’s just hop their way around the hairpins with lots of brio and the entire pre-war circus shows how fast you can lap this track on cable assisted drum brakes only. And those Bugatti’s, oh those Bugatti’s, they alone are reason enough to return next year, every year. There is just that one way to live up to the expectations really.
text: Marc GF Zaan
pictures: Raymond van der Meij