11th November 2009
While on holiday in France, Roy and Chris Workman fell over Ron Chandler, Phil Read and Agostini, roaring around a racetrack on classic racers in fine style...
We have just come back from a holiday in north-eastern France - over 1000 miles in that country with no speed cameras, open roads and very little traffic. We stayed at one of Graeme Pike's chalets at La Rosiere, near Autry, in the Ardennes region of France. We have stayed there several times before - it is a very quiet area and it suits us nicely.
Speed limits on the main roads and motorways are higher than in the UK - at 130kph (or 80mph) in the dry and 110kph in the rain. Graeme told us that there is no road tax or MOT in France. The road tax is built into the price of the fuel - so the more you drive the more you pay, which sounds fair to us. However we felt that the price was comparable to England. Another thing different there is that the vehicle is insured and not the rider / driver, so as long as it is insured anyone with a licence can ride /drive it.
Whilst talking to Graeme one evening he mentioned that there was a classic car and motorcycle meeting near Reims over the weekend; this was 80 miles or so from us. We decided to go on the Saturday as we felt it would be quieter that day and give us more time to look around.
The meeting was held at the Circuit de Gueux en Champagne near Reims, over the weekend of the 26th and 27th September 2009. This was the third year that this meeting has happened here. Another circuit, at Rouen, was bulldozed to the ground some time ago, so a group of friends decided to try and save the one at Gueux and formed a 'Friends of the Gueux Circuit' club. The circuit is being renovated slowly as a part of French heritage.
Their first event was quite successful, the second one less so apparently as it was a very wet weekend; the track is at the bottom of a long slope and last year tractors were needed to pull vehicles like caravans off the site. This year the weather was excellent - the sun blazed down and it was a great weekend. Entry was 17 euros and luckily the girl taking the money spoke a little English which helped our limited French.
The circuit was fairly busy when we got there and some cars were flying around the track. The French do not seem to worry about noise like we do; one BMW was very noisy - even with your hands over your ears it still hurt! Everybody watched out for that particular car…
The high point for the motorcyclists was that Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read were taking part as well as a dozen or so top flight riders. Ron Chandler was there with a BSA and with, I believe, a Triumph. I also spotted a Triton sporting an Ace Café badge. Luckily the commentary was in French and English which helped me to keep up with the proceedings a bit more.
The motorcycles soon arrived at the holding area and there was a great deal of interest, with a lot of professional-looking photographers around. Spectators were milling round the revving machines. I wandered over to the track and got quite a good position to take some photos from the pit bays. The main grandstand was a few yards off to my right on the other side of the track, but this was not in use. The crowd lined the track instead.
Eventually the bikes rolled out onto the circuit and Agostini and several riders walked past us to the start line. This was appreciated by the crowd with a great round of applause. A rider at the front of the pack needed a push start and the rest of the riders followed. I noticed a Honda right at the back was not in a hurry to go; the name 'Metal Mule' on the bike interested me and I got to talk to the rider later.
It was a very mixed bunch of riding abilities and machines; road bikes like a BSA Gold Star up against an MV Agusta was always a no-contest, but then again this was not a race but a parade. There were guys out there enjoying themselves. Ago and Phil took it fairly steady; as the commentator said 'you may notice that both of these riders have bags strapped to their backs; is not so that they can stop for a snack but there are cameras in there and they are filming their laps to be used in the DVD of the event which will be produced later'.
I was told that the circuit is four to five miles long with a long back straight, and eventually the riders came into view on the home straight. The organisers had placed three chicanes to help slow down the entrants going past the pit area and this gave the spectators more time to take their photographs.
After the motorcycle session I wandered off to see what was else was going on. Bonhams were there preparing to carry out an auction later in the day. Most of their stuff was a little too-expensive-looking for my pocket!
As I wandered around the various stands I came across the motorcycle section. Whilst taking a few photos a voice asked if I spoke English, and this was how I got to meet Andy Smith, who happened to be the rider of the Metal Mule. I supposed his question was not too bad a guess as I was wearing my RealClassic T-shirt. This is the third time that he has been to this meeting, and he was, I believe, the only British rider at the first meeting. He told me that, however, there are more coming here now.
Andy and his wife, Jill, bring different bikes each year. Some of these they borrow from museums and collections. Their sponsor is the Metal Mule Pannier Company, and they had some of their panniers at the show. Andy explained that he had three bikes here this year, and that they had been to another meeting a few days earlier. Jill told me that they were treating this as a holiday. The motorcycles do four half-hour sessions over the weekend; two per day. Jill explained that parade laps were 'pretend racing' (go as fast as you can). Andy told me that the Honda was flat out down the back straight, but he was more careful with the engine in the Laverda he was also riding.
The French appear to have a much more laid-back approach to the organisation of an event like this than we do in England. For example, the vehicles going to the holding area were ridden / driven through the spectators and you could touch the vehicles had you wanted to.
A local Triumph motorcycle dealer had bikes on display. A modern Thruxton was being demonstrated on the track. What a good bit of advertising!
A lot of money is raised for charity at these events. The whole circuit still needs a lot of work to bring it up to scratch. The old Shell and Esso adverts painted on the walls are well faded but they could be brought back to life. There was a lot of security and a well-managed show.
We left the track-side in the late afternoon and saw some amazing bikes and cars in the parking area (a field). By now this was full up and a second field on the opposite side of the road was rapidly filling up. There was also a helicopter landing area, with choppers landing every now and then, which shows the importance of the meeting
One thing I would have liked to have seen was a programme listing the vehicles their numbers and the names of the entrants; this would have helped keep track of the parades.
It was a very good weekend for those interested in historic vehicles. For more details look at www.amis-du-circuit-de-gueux.fr/-Welcome
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