The 1st Paris - Madrid Rally
23-26 May 2013
“A fabulous event!”
Alastair Caldwell & Catriona Rings (1938 Alfa Romeo 6C SS Torpedino)
Winners, 2013 Paris-Madrid Rally
The course of the infamous 1903 Paris-Madrid race, halted at Bordeaux after a series of terrible accidents, has been completed at last. At 06.30 hours on May 24, exactly 110 years and three hours since the start of the original race, the 2013 Paris Madrid Rally was flagged away from Versailles and more than 50 pre-war cars set off on the 820-mile run to Madrid.
Led by the 1903 Mercedes of Tim and Chris Scott, the rally crews were competing for the Charles Jarrott Trophy, named in honour of Britain’s first motor racing champion, who was seeded No1 in the original 1903 race. Despite driving an untried de Dietrich car on dirt roads, Jarrott reached Bordeaux in fourth place at an impressive average speed of 87.39kmh (54.3mph), although the ‘winner’, Ferdnand Gabriel, who started 168th, set an astonishing average of 98.05kmh (60.92mph) in his Mors, driving at speeds of up to 130kmh (80mph).
Adding to the sense of history surrounding the 2013 rally, Charles Jarrott’s great-nephew, Nigel Herring, was present to wave the starting flag at Versailles. The three-day event, which aimed to follow the original race schedule, rested at Angouleme on its first night and at Pamplona on the second, although the route was slightly modified; the course of the 1903 race is mostly motorway and dual carriageway today, so the rally followed more interesting and picturesque minor roads through France and Spain, with a series of special tests and average-speed regularity sections along the way.
From a field comprising no less than 18 marques and as many nationalities, the overall winners were Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings in their beautiful 1938 Alfa 6C Torpedino, the most technically advanced machine on the rally. Second were Rudi and Helga Frederichs in their 1932 Alvis Speed 20 and third were Roland van Pelt and Olima Khaitova in their 1934 Bentley.
Genuinely touched by a sense of history, all the competitors enjoyed a memorable drive from Paris to Madrid with none of the controversy that marred the 1903 race. ‘It was a fabulous event!’ declared Alastair Caldwell, a worthy first winner of the Charles Jarrott Trophy that was presented by Simon Hope, Chairman of H&H Classics, at the gala dinner and prizegiving at the Ritz Hotel, Madrid.
Entry List and Results
|Class / Car No.||Driver||Co-Driver||Car|
|Class 1 - Veteran A|
|1||Tim Scott (GBR)||Chris Scott (GBR)||1903 Mercedes 60HP|
|2||Paul-Emile Bessade (FRA)||Benjamin Bessade (FRA)||1904 Gladiator|
|Class 2 - Veteran B|
|10||Erich Hoop (LIE)||Peter Zoister (AUT)||1908 Brasier Race Car|
|11||Mike Howells (GBR) / Sharon Hunter (GBR)||David Greenwood (GBR) / Carol Wells (GBR)||1910 Buick 10|
|12||Juan Quintano (ESP)||Pierre Arnaud (ESP)||1910 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII|
|14||Michel Laarman (NLD)||Maryan Greif (NLD)||1911 Knox Roadster|
|15||Jeff Robinson (AUS)||Glenda Robinson (AUS)||1919 La France|
|Class 3 - Vintage|
|20||Peter Roberts (GBR)||Colin Beasley (GBR)||1920 Bugatti Brescia|
|21||Ronald Brons (NLD)||Rosanne Brons (NLD)||1925 Mathis GM Sport|
|22||Kjeld Jessen (DNK)||Hans Henrik Jessen (DNK)||1925 Bugatti T13 Brescia|
|23||Harry Jurgens (USA)||Peter van de Zilver (NLD)||1925 Buick Standard Six|
|24||Mark Hardy (GBR)||Judith Hardy (GBR)||1926 Rolls-Royce 20HP|
|25||Do Meeus (NLD)||Toon Meeus (NLD)||1927 Bugatti 44 Cabrio|
|26||Neil Davies (GBR)||Joanna Davies (GBR)||1927 Bentley 4.5 Litre|
|27||Steve Hyde (GBR)||Janet Lyne (GBR)||1927 Stutz Corsica|
|29||Lennox McNeely (CAN)||Mei Liu (CHN)||1927 Chrysler 75|
|30||Guy Northam (GBR)||John Vallance (GBR)||1928 Bentley 4.5 Litre|
|31||Maarten Hoeben (NLD)||Anja Hoeben (NLD)||1928 Riley Brooklands|
|32||Chris Lunn (GBR)||Nicola Lunn (GBR)||1929 Bentley 4.5 Litre Le Mans|
|33||John Raker (GBR)||Melinda Raker (GBR)||1929 Ford Model A|
|34||Max Stephenson (AUS)||Julie Stephenson (AUS)||1929 Invicta|
|35||George Howitt (GBR)||Monique Rombouts (GBR)||1926 Rolls-Royce P1|
|36||Mattijs Diepraam (NLD)||Bruno de Regge (BEL)||1928 Riley Brooklands Special|
|37||Jonathan Turner (GBR)||Adam Hartley (GBR)||1925 Bentley 3 Litre Supersports Team Car|
|Class 4 - Pre War|
|41||Robert Abrey (GBR)||Jane Abrey (GBR)||1930 Bentley 6.5 Litre|
|42||Jan Storm (NLD)||Aege Steensma (NLD)||1930 Talbot 90|
|43||Jonathan Procter (GBR)||Richard Procter (GBR)||1930 Bugatti Type 44|
|40||Anthony Cazalet (GBR)||Bill Ainscough (GBR)||1931 Invicta|
|44||Nigel Williams (GBR)||William L’Anson (GBR)||1931 Bugatti T51|
|45||Andrew Davies (GBR)||Anne Davies (GBR)||1932 Alvis Speed 20|
|46||Rudi Friedrichs (DEU)||Helga Friedrichs (DEU)||1932 Alvis Speed 20|
|48||Julian Bronson (GBR)||Heather Bronson (GBR)||1934 Riley Blue Streak Special|
|49||Roland van Pelt (NLD)||Stein van Pelt (NLD)||1934 Bentley|
|50||Otto van Blaricum (NLD)||Hiltje van Blaricum (NLD)||1934 Aston Martin MK II 1.5|
|51||Thomas Weichenberger (AUT)||Tanja Weichenberger (AUT)||1934 Citroen Rosalie 8A|
|52||Richard Cunningham (GBR)||Ed Mead (GBR)||1934 Lagonda M45 Tourer|
|53||Barry Cannell (GBR)||Helen Cannell (GBR)||1934 Alfa Romeo 6C|
|54||Wim Peters (NLD)||Nelly Peters (NLD)||1934 Lagonda M45|
|55||Jan Woien (NOR)||Jan Hansen (NOR)||1935 Alvis Speed 20/25|
|56||Ab van Egmond (NLD)||Theun Dommershuizen (NLD)||1936 Alvis Speed 25|
|57||Gerd Buhler (DEU)||Birgit Deymann-Buhler (DEU)||1936 Lagonda LG 45 Tourer|
|58||Paul Gregory (GBR)||Nick Savage (GBR)||1936 Invicta S Type|
|59||Peter Hall (GBR)||Heidi Winterbourne (GBR)||1936 Delahaye 135|
|60||Steven Collins (GBR)||Simon Silver (GBR)||1936 Bentley Derby|
|61||Jean Steinhauser (LUX)||Anne Steinhauser-Collard (LUX)||1936 Bentley Derby Open Tourer|
|62||Martin Mills (GBR)||Ian Whistondale (GBR)||1937 Bentley Derby Drophead|
|63||Xavier del Marmol (BEL)||Ines Bodmer (CHE)||1938 Delahaye 135 M Convertible|
|64||Caroline Greenhalgh GBR)||Tania Slowe (GBR)||1938 Alvis|
|65||Ronald Beckers (NLD)||Eduard Emde (NLD)||1938 Bugatti Type 64|
|66||Alastair Caldwell (GBR)||Catriona Rings (GBR)||1938 Alfa Romeo 6C|
|67||Giuseppe Redaelli (ITA)||Gianandrea Redaelli (ITA)||1939 Aston Martin C Type|
|Class 5 - Touring|
|70||Colin Heathcote (GBR)||Bren Unwin (GBR)||1972 Jaguar E-Type|
Day 1 – Paris to Angouleme
Yesterday, as darkness fell, the sight of more than 50 pre-war cars quietly standing ready outside the Trianon Palace in Versailles would have quickened the pulse of any motoring enthusiast. Or any historian, for that matter.
This was indeed an historic occasion. Exactly 110 years ago today, the infamous Paris-Madrid motor race was flagged away fron Versailles, its brave participants quite unaware that even those who survived would be halted at Bordeaux. Such was the carnage on that fateful day that the event became known as ‘The Race to Death’, and the very nature of motorsport would be changed forever. The era of great city-to-city races was finished, and racing would henceforth be confined to circuits.
Now the Paris-Madrid Rally aims to complete the course at last, albeit at a more relaxed pace. “In 1903, the start was set for 3am,” said Simon Hope last night, addressing an unusually elegant rally competitors’ briefing and black-tie reception in the gilded room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. “But our first car doesn’t leave until 06.30, so you can all have a lie-in…”
Of course the re-run is a regularity rally, not a race, but the sense of occasion is palpable. Entrants have already been impressed by the grandeur of the start venue, the period-look rally documents and the quality of the competing cars, with no fewer than 18 marques represented.
Most of the crews appeared relaxed and confident, although the rally mechanics had already been called upon to solve a few last-minute problems; the Hall/Winterbourne Delahaye 135 had suffered a deranged tripmeter sensor, for example, and was up on axle stands even as its crew quaffed Champagne at the reception. How many of these magnificent machines will reach Madrid? Watch this space…
Day 1 – The Reporter’s View, by Mattijs Diepraam of Octane Magazine NL
So you travel to Paris by train, pick up someone else’s 1928 Riley Brooklands at Versailles, then have three days of fun with it, leave it in Madrid and fly back home on the Monday morning, just in time for tea and biscuits at the office? That’s not really living the true rally life, is it?
I know what it looks like, and I can’t deny any of the above. But it’s what reporters do. We have a go on other people’s assorted and hopefully paid-for instruments and play a tune for many more to enjoy. In my case, I would be telling the story of the Paris-Madrid rally and its epic 1903 predecessor for readers of the Dutch and German editions of Octane magazine.
And believe me, it’s hard work. As others sit at the bar, releasing the tensions from a tough day, I will still be taking notes and making sure I haven’t missed any of the juicy adventures of our fellow competitors. Yesterday, while they were strolling among the gardens of the Trianon Palace Hotel, having breezed through scrutineering, my navigating photographer Bruno De Regge was scrambling to get the first pictures. And at the evening reception, as everyone enjoyed the bubbly, it was immediately obvious that poor reporters can’t afford a black-tie dress code. It was nice, however, to meet some of the Dutch and German runners and riders who didn’t yet know me, after which we talked about their cars, preparations and expectations.
The first day of the rally was pretty tough in itself. Being relatively unfamiliar with the Riley, I had to acquaint myself with the car in the Parisian morning rush-hour, which is not the best preparation one can have. That said, the day went pretty well, with Bruno avoiding any errors tulip-wise. We did miss out the start and finish of the first regularity, which cost us a bag of points, but we scored well enough on the second regularity that afternoon, taking zero penalties on the three-minute section.
And then we had some peculiar technical problems, all technically due to inexperience. The first was the result of Bruno shuffling about in the little Riley’s cramped interior (as photographers do) and accidentally sitting on the brake line, which rendered the car unmovable. Of course, after he climbed out the problem solved itself mysteriously, only for us to be caught out again 15 minutes later. That cost us half an hour. Then, in the afternoon, my apparent bullying of the brake pedal resulted in the pedal catch not doing its work properly anymore. That also cost us some time. Thankfully, we had Maarten Hoeben on hand, who with his wife Anja followed us doggedly in their Healey (since their own Riley had been left at home with a cooling issue). It’s very nice to have a dedicated Riley mechanic on hand…
The weather was not so nice, however. In an open car with only a tiny aero screen for protection, the midday hailstorm was torture but apart from that we didn’t suffer too much from the cold. The rain at the end of the afternoon didn’t bother us anymore, as we were already wet through but could almost smell the hotel restaurant. In all, we had great fun, and it was good to meet so many wonderful people. I’m sure tomorrow will be even better.
Day 2 – Angouleme to Pamplona
Of one thing we may be sure. Crews in open cars who suffered the stinging assault of yesterday’s hail and rain did not draw back the curtains of their Angouleme hotel rooms this morning and jump for joy at the sight of a leaden sky.
Yet fragments of blue on the southern horizon fulfilled their promise, and day two of the Paris-Madrid rally turned out to be a glorious one.
There were a few problems, of course. Navigation posed numerous conundrums, particularly for the Hall/Winterbourne Delahaye, still without a working trip meter but running well since yesterday’s fuel starvation issue was solved. However, more serious mechnical breakages sadly meant that the Steinhauser Bentley (half-shaft) and the Bessade Gladiator (crank) were unable even to join the second day’s drive into Spain.
And what a drive… From endlessly straight avenues south of Cadillac to the convoluted twists of the Pyrenees, there were roads here to thrill every driver.
Unfortunately they proved a little too much for some. The Stephenson Invicta used up all its brakes, the Hyde/Lyne Buick spent a lot of time on a trailer and as your correspondent retired to bath and bed the McNeeley/Liu Triumph was jacked up in the Pamplona hotel car park with brake problems, although the H&H mechanics were at least confident of fixing them.
The rally has already exceeded the distance covered by the 1903 race that inspired it, and tomorrow promises further excitement and more sunshine. Madrid here we come…
Day 2 – The Reporter’s View
What a brilliant day it has been. Wonderful roads, superb views and vistas, great cameraderie, and weather much better than we expected.
I very much enjoyed the drive through the vineyards, where we took some time to make a few dramatic pictures. Then my navigating photographer, Bruno switched seats with Anja in our ‘back-up’ car for some car-to-car shots, before we rushed to the lunch area. The morning test went rather well, but we missed our spot for the afternoon test by quite a margin. And it wasn’t even due our journalistic duties – we simply lost too much time finding a petrol station with 98 octane fuel. Oh well…
The long stretches after Cadillac weren’t so adventurous but we managed to make it fun by following the Jessens’ Bugatti T13 Brescia, which is a demon in the corners. But then we reached the mountains, with thick black clouds looming over them. Still, they produced only a drop or two of rain, right at the moment we crossed the border into Spain. After that, Bruno went into sleep mode as I attacked the 68 curvy km of the N135. That was hard work. The Riley’s gear ratios are more suited to a circuit than a mountain pass, with second being too short and third being too long. The 1100cc engine isn’t all that torquey either, so I had my hands full.
The most wonderful thing of the day, however, were the people – the multitudes standing by the side of the road, waving us on, and the crowd at the Plaza del Castillo. My Octane magazine story will have to wait to be published in two months’ time but I think I will be on Facebook a thousand times tonight. Tomorrow must be epic if it’s to top today.
Day 3 – Pamplona to Madrid
And so the historic Paris-Madrid rally roared on into the sun-bleached landscape of northern Spain, enjoying clear skies and making rapid progress through the cool morning air on wide, traffic-free roads.
This was farther than any competitor in the original Paris-Madrid race had gone, of course, yet it provided vivid insights into the daunting challenges they faced 110 years ago. First Peter Hall and Heidi Winterbourne discovered what it was like to drive through a packed crowd, as they took a wrong turn in the town of Agreda and found themselves circling a small square in their Delahaye 135, leaving an assembled brass band in utter disarray. Then came the first regularity test of the day on a sinuous track of loose and dusty gravel, very similar to the roads of 1903, where the first and only accident of the 2013 event occurred when the half-spun Riley Brooklands of Mattijs Diepraam and Bruno de Regge came to rest in the long grass. Fortunately there was no injury to either of them.
The regularity was immediately followed by an entertaining timed test around a tight pattern of cones, where a small, nimble car and/or at least one crew member with good spatial awareness proved a distinct advantage.
The subsequent lunch halt was a delight, with crews enjoying a coffee in the picturesque square of Almazan as a sizeable crowd of interested locals were joined by a First Communion party in all their finery.
Ominously dark clouds were a reminder of the first day’s weather as the rally approached the great city of Madrid on its somewhat bewildering motorway network but the majority of participants found the airport bathed in sunshine. That the airport wasn’t supposed to be on the rally route was a source of some consternation but, like their 1903 forerunners, vintage rallyists are nothing if not determined. All were pleased to find the official finish line and sink a well-deserved glass of Champagne.
The evening’s black-tie prizegiving was held in the luxurious Madrid Ritz, where the winning 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C of Alastair Caldwell and Catriona Rings took pride of place on the terrace, its gorgeous blood-red Superleggera bodywork, by Touring of Milan, glittering under the lights.
It was perhaps no great surprise that this most advanced of pre-war machines should be victorious in the hands of a famously quick driver and an infallible navigator, but immense credit is due to every single participant in the 2013 Paris-Madrid Rally. As anyone present in the hotel bar that night can testify, it had been a truly memorable event.
Day 3 – The Reporter’s View
The final leg of the Paris-Madrid rally started out as a dream drive through some impressive countryside. Admittedly, the North of the Iberian peninsula isn’t as picturesque as, say, Italy. It has barren rocky plains with bits of industry willfully scattered all over them, which on a Sunday look even more abandoned than they would on a working Monday in this cash-strapped country. We found a different kind of beauty, though, with snowy mountains acting as a haunting backdrop to vultures circling in the clear blue sky. This was going to be a glorious drive to Madrid.
The vultures might have been an omen… After a first day spent struggling with the right amount of throttle needed to rev-match during the double-clutching downchanges, and progressively getting to grips with the process during the second day, I was really into the zone that Sunday morning. In a practical as well as a spiritual sense, the Riley and I were now matching each other’s revs as well. So it was in good spirits that we arrived at the first test, still with plenty of time in hand. We were not even delayed by a second car-to-car photo shoot, with Anja in our Healey ‘service car’ switching with my navigating photographer, Bruno, on a particularly long stretch between two roadbook instructions.
Had this promoted a degree of over-confidence? If so, two very nasty off-camber left-handers on the final gravel test dealt squashed it pretty quickly. This was serious stuff! Let’s be careful out here! As the test continued I shouted “This is the best bit yet!” to Bruno, who nodded in agreement.
Fifteen seconds later, we ran out of road.
It was the most difficult corner of the entire route from Paris to Madrid, and it bit me. The sharp right turn came right after a crest, the dusty track immediately dipping down some three metres. From some way back I had seen where the road continued into the distance, so I extrapolated what the corner would probably look like, and braked some more, just to be on the safe side. But from the moment I negotiated the crest I knew I was in trouble, that sudden dip swallowing all the margin of error I had allowed for. The back of the car, unweighted over the crest, was always going to overtake the front the moment I turned the steering wheel. Straight ahead of us was a piece of land covered by grass at least two feet high. But was it land? Perhaps it was a swamp, or perhaps the grass was hiding a ditch. I didn’t want to take the gamble, and made the split-second decision to try and make the corner after all. From that moment, it all snowballed. The car caught a gulley on the left-hand side of the road, then hit a rock and slewed to the right. I quickly tried to apply opposite lock but I just couldn’t manage it in time, the steerig wheel being so big and Bruno occupying the space I needed for my left arm to do the work. We hit some more rocks at the side of the road, and that was it. The flat left front tyre wouldn’t have been a problem, since we carried a spare, but the front left shock absorber was terminally broken as well.
Is this confirmation that car journos can’t actually drive? Well, I guess anybody might have been caught out there. In fact, many of the drivers who went ahead of us said they had a narrow escape, and these were generally the slower veteran cars. Those coming after us were of course warned, first by ourselves waving them down to a slower speed, and then from the very start of the test when everyone was informed we’d gone off. It was even more frustating to see Julian Bronson’s Riley come right after us and dive into the grass in avoidance, yet continue quite safely. He simply drove right through it and emerged unscathed on the other side. So my first, instinctive idea was the better one after all! But there was no point crying over spilt milk.
And so, in the end, we travelled on to Madrid by train, having been given a lift to Zaragoza by the service crew.
What struck me most about these past few days was the true sense of cameradreie and mutual concern among the competitors. When we finally arrived at the Madrid Ritz, still in our dusty overalls, people hurried over to ask about our well-being, with second-place man Rudi Friedrichs notably interrupting his conversation right at the other end of the hotel’s garden to come and see us: “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you, and in good health.” My countrymen from the Netherlands were equally gracious and supportive. The sporting spirit among these men and women of pre-war rallying is simply amazing.
I would also like to make special mention of the rally recovery crew, who succeeded in being both resourceful and caring. I can tell you, that’s an accomplishment. I was especially impressed by mechanic Toby Kilner and Dr John Llewellyn, while Andrew Wenman proved to be excellent company during our improvised journey to Madrid, managing to make us feel a lot better after some very dim moments.
All things considered, the Paris-Madrid Rally deserves to become a regular feature on the calendar, and I hope to be back. With one Riley Brooklands knocked out, and the Hoeben and Weichenberger examples failing to appear thanks to their cooling issues, Team Riley wants revenge…
Aiming to shadow the course of the 1903 Paris-Madrid race as closely as possible, we explored roads less travelled in France and Spain to chart a truly evocative route
Recce Day 1 – Versailles
We left the UK on Sunday as we had a meeting with the Mayor of Versailles’ office early on Monday and wanted to be fresh and ready for the occasion. Le Tunnel was as easy as ever and we were soon on the motorway to Paris. We took the A16 which passes by Boulogne and Amiens, as it’s generally much quieter than the alternative A26/A1.
In Paris, Versailles is well signposted on the A86 before you disappear into a low tunnel and magically pop out in the historic heart of Versailles. It really couldn’t be easier. We easily found our hotel for the evening, the Pullman, which is a stone’s throw from the Palace and right opposite the Hotel de Ville – the town hall.
We had time for a quick visit to the magnificent Palace de Versailles which is an extraordinary building with fabulous gardens. Built by Louis XIV from 1668 to 1680 as the centre of government and a place to house his mistress(es), it was later extended by the ill-fated Louis XVI to include a (slightly) smaller palace for Queen Marie Antoinette, La Petit Trianon, which is now the Trianon Palace Hotel. Just behind the hotel, surrounded by flocks of sheep, you may still see the Queen’s toy farm, where she played at being a peasant, no doubt fortified by plenty of cake. You should allow yourself time for a good look round as it is well worth a visit.
Recce Day 2 – Leg 1, Paris to Angouleme
468km / 292miles: 7-9 hours
A big day, as the approval of the Mayor of Versailles is fundamental to the rally going ahead. We arrived in plenty of time and were directed up the magnificent central staircase, which, it has to be said, needs a new stair carpet. We imagine budgets are rather constrained for that sort of thing at the moment. The current Hotel de Ville dates from the 1899 and reflects the magnificence of the nearby Palace complex.
Madame Lombard, the head of events in the town, relayed the Mayor’s approval and enthusiasm for the event and confirmed that they will do everything possible to assist its smooth running. However, the Mayor does not run the Palace, so we must make a further application to use the parking area in front of the main building as our start point.
The rally will have to start early on May 24th as the city roads get very busy in the morning rush hour. However, it will still be comfortably later than the start of the 1903 race, which set off in darkness. The original route was run on the best roads available, most of which were dirt, and most of which are now either motorways or dual carriageways so are not suitable for vintage and classic cars. We therefore took the decision to use the original route only where it has since been bypassed by motorways, or is a necessary way into or through towns.
The start is a case in point, as we must use the original route out of Versailles. We took advice from Madame Lombard, and found a route that only invoved right turns, avoiding the need to cross any traffic. This worked like a dream and we were soon heading for Rambouillet, which is on the original route, now designated the N10. From there we turned onto the D150 towards Chartres, leading us out in the countryside on the sort of wonderful roads only the French can provide. Smooth and sweeping, they are a real pleasure to drive.
Just outside the village of Gallardon we will have our first tests of the day at the small glider aerodrome of Bailleau-Armenonville. Then its on the D28 to skirt round Chartres and shadow the N10 to Chateaudun. By now it will be mid-morning and you will be gasping for a cup of coffee so we arranged a lovely stop at Moisy, where local croissants will also be available. The next town of note is Blois, which we skirt around to avoid the traffic, then drop down and cross the river Loire. At Montrichard we have our next set of tests, and a comfort break – lunch will be just down the road at the Auberge de Montpoupon.
At Angles-sur-l’Anglin we have the opportunity of a quick stop before crossing the river and heading for L’Iisle-Jourdain , Saint Claud, and Angouleme. We suggest you top up with fuel on the way in, to avoid the inevitable rush in the morning.
As we arrived late in Angouleme we checked into the Mercure Hotel, which has ample rooms and accessible underground parking. Just as importantly it is also next to Les Halles, a covered market space with plenty of parking in the centre of the town. With meetings scheduled for the following day we took the opportunity to look round the town and eat at a local restaurant.
Recce Day 3 – Leg 2, Angouleme to Pamplona
437km / 273miles: 7-9 hours
This morning we had a meeting at the Mayor of Angouleme’s office, although unfortunately not with the Mayor himself, who is a confirmed motoring enthusiast. We also made contact with Laurent Sazerac, the moving force behind the Circuit International des Ramparts, one of the finest classic car events on the calendar. He knows the Mayor well. We also raised the possibility of the Paris-Madrid crews driving a lap of the Ramparts before leaving the town. At this stage we understand that the necesary road closures are unlikely but it is still open to discussion.
Heading out of Angouleme we realised that the N10, the original road taken by the 1903 race, is now dual carriageway and not suitable for our event. Instead we decided to use the D674, a broadly parallel route and much more pleasant drive. At every stage we must make a compromise between following the original route, using roads suitable for older cars, making the journey interesting and covering the distance in a reasonable time.
Bearing those points in mind we enjoyed a beautiful drive along the D674 to La Roche Chalais. From there we took onto the D21 that crosses the River Dronne and continues to the D17, where we turn towards Lussac, Montagne and St Georges, all great wine producing villages. Running alongside the vineyards we drop down to St Emilion.
On the recce we arrived after noon, so the place was buzzing with tourists and wine aficionados. The Chief of Police was happy to discuss matters and showed us a stack of papers from other car clubs and organisations with similar requests for reserved parking. Normally they involve fewer cars, which may be accommodated in the centre, but as there will be 50 of us he has allocated a good car park at the entrance to the town. In fact it’s ideal and provides easy access to the centre and many of the wine warehouses.
On the rally we intend this to be an early coffee stop, so the town will be relatively quiet (apparently tourists don’t start arriving in any numbers before 11am). The wine merchants are very obliging, so you may make a selection and have it shipped home – we wouldn’t want to strain your suspension! There are plenty of places for a little ‘degustation’ so you will have to be disciplined around here.
Moving on, we crossed the Dordogne at Branne and the Garonne at Cadillac. This is a quintessentially French drive on tree-lined avenues, with some beautifully surfaced, arrow-straight roads and countless sleepy villages. eaching Mont-de-Marsan we take the ring road to avoid the town centre. There’s a pretty important air base here so don’t be surprised by low-flying fighter jets!
As we leave the town we will stop for our lunch break – a grand hog-roast BBQ. Then following the D993 we reach Orthez, an ancient Roman town on the east-west route from Tarbes to Bayonne. We follow the old Roman road for a short while before crossing the Pau and heading for the beautiful town of Salies-de-Bearn, which stands on the Saleys river and is well worth a stop to look round. This is a largely unexplored area of France and if you have time you should explore the town of Sauveterre-de-Bear as well, particularly le Pont de la Legende.
From here we head straight for St Jean Pied de Port, the gateway to the Pyrenees. Just eight kilometres later you cross into Spain and start the climb through the mountains. This particular pass has its fair share of twists and turns but never rises above 1070 metres; it is one of the easier routes, and suitable for the older cars. The last 50km of the day is the drive down into Pamplona, with sweeping bends and superb views of the valley below.
In Pamplona we will take the cars into the main square and a public welcome before dinner. On the recce we stayed in the town centre and although we saw no hotels big enough to accommodate the rally we found plenty of good restaurants, bars and entertainment.
Recce Day 4 – Leg 3, Pamplona to Madrid
375km / 234miles: 6-8 hours
We spent the morning surveying hotels in Pamplona and found plenty of establishments with good rooms but no parking. We therefore favour the Iruna Park Hotel, which not only has good club rooms but also ample space for vehicles. We would be lying if we said it was pretty, but once inside it is perfect for a group of 100 or more, especialy if we arrange dinner in one of the restaurants on the town square.
We had a few route options out of Pamplona. One was via Logrono and Burgos but this is mostly motorway and dual carriageway so not appropriate. We could have gone via Vitoria, Burgos and Valadolid, but once again the roads are all modern and it is a long way. The answer was to head South on the N121 to Valtierra, cross onto the N113 to Agreda then take the much more minor CL101 to Madrid, via Almazan.
At Agreda, which you will reach in about an hour and a half, you should top up with fuel, as there are few petrol stations on the route today. The next easily accessed one is at Almazan, some 100km farther on.
Just outside Agreda we found a superb test location. An area has been cleared, marked out and surfaced for industrial units, but with no money for development we are left with a superb tarmac test area, not to mention several graded gravel tracks on the nearby hillsides. Expect multiple challenges here!
There has evidently been some EU-funded investment in the area as the roads are new, wide and smooth and there are countlress windmills, of the power generating variety, on the horizon. We soon entered the town of Almazan, which has a superb old square with a hotel and bar on one side, and the civic offices on the other. We met the chief of police and, in broken Spanish on our part and English on his, we established that the rally would be very welcome. We shall write to the Mayor to confirm our visit.
Although it was lunchtime the town seemed very sleepy with barely a soul in evidence. Imagine our surprise on our return journey when we found ourselves hemmed in by a partying crowd of several hundred, perhaps a thousand people, who were out on the streets celebrating Ascension Day. It is a major festival in these parts.
An hour and a half from Almazan you will reach the Castillo de Jadraque. Situated in La Mancha, it is sometimes called the Castle of Cid as it is mentioned in the poem Cantar del Mio Cid, which tells the story of the Spanish hero El Cid who was instrumental in liberating Spain from Moorish governance. The 15th century fortress that survives today would be an ideal spot for a break and hopefully a test or two.
From here we are on the home run. We will end the competition at Tortola de Henares and neutralise the last section, as the the traffic is unpredictable on the main roads leading into Madrid. To avoid the congested centre we will finish in the Parque Juan Carlos 1, which is situated near the airport on the east side of the city, and use taxis to reach the gala dinner and prizegiving at the Ritz.
So there you have it. Paris-Madrid in three days, which is more than the unfortunate racers of 1903 ever managed. It should be great fun. See you in Versailles!
Frequently Asked Questions
Anyone 17 years old and above, with a full driving licence and a spirit of adventure, can enter our rallies. No previous rally experience is necessary, nor is a competition licence. We provide guidance in all aspects of car preparation and navigation, including training on how to use our roadbooks.