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Vichy, 21st of April, 2015

C´est parti! This year’s Tour Auto set off early in the morning at 6 am from Paris to the official start at Courances. After leaving the capital before the rush hour the cars were lined up at the Chateau de Courances according their starting numbers to take the 1900 km in the next 5 days from Paris to Biarritz. With no clouds around the morning was a little bit chilly after a clear night but soon the sun was out to give the first day the weather it deserves.

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Traditionally the competition classes led the field on the first days of the week and so it was the Aston Martin DB4 GT with the race number 150 to open the rally driving through the gate. In the next hours the numerous visitors in front of the chateau could see more than 230 cars setting of for an eventful week of driving through the French countryside. The first leg was about 140 km to the first of the many special stages of the week, near Egleny the drivers and navigators could put on their helmets for the first time this day. Unlike the races on the tracks the special stages are driven with the navigator who directs the driver into the unknown as the road book does not list any distances, only the directions. Most of the teams are used to this procedure and the favourites set the pace as expected. After the first special stage no less than three cars achieved the very same time with the Cobras of Caron/Villaucourt and Freeman/Armstrong as well as the Lotus Elan of Kohler/Laboisne. The last year’s winner Shaun Lynn and Kevi Kivlochan just two second behind.

After another 160 km through the rape fields the tour arrived at Magny-Cours, the race track of the last F1 GP in France. Much more modern than the other race tracks at this year’s edition this is the ideal start for the first races when the new participants need to acclimate in the field of the regular entrants. In three different competition classes the visitors on the grand stands could see the cars in proper racing and as the field is usually very close together over the five days there is no time to proceed tactically, most of the cars were driven flat out. Unfortunately this already led to a few technical issues as for example the wonderful Ferrari 212 left the track on the tow truck.

Again the Cobras and the traditionally strong GT40s set the pace on the track and again the black Cobra of Caron took the chequered flag at his race building up a lead of several seconds on its rivals. But fastest car of the day at Magny-Cours was the Ligier JS2 that is back in France in the hands of its new owner to finally get a result according to his pace whereas the car was out of the race early on in the previous years. Certainly the very low Ligier is not perfectly suitable for the street or the special stages but on the track the car is in its element comfortably leading after the first lap.

Finally well after sunset the last cars arrived at the parc fermée at Vichy were the service crews were already waiting for the preparation of the next day.

Tomorrow will see the second shortest stage with 347 km leading from Vichy to the Michelin Stadium in Clermont-Ferrand, but this time with two special stages and the second race at Charade. Charade will be a good contrast to Magny-Cours as the hilly track has a much more vintage ambience than the GP track. One will not find any FIA-fences and a lot of guard rails.

The start will be at 7 am with an eleven hours day for all the drivers and navigators and most likely even longer for the service crews. As the race is quit late in the afternoon the lunch will be served at a chateau on the way instead of at the track as one many other days.

Report & images … Peter Singhof