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  • Vanden Eynde Roland
    Hello colleagues, I spent a very nice weekend in France and saw three vastly different, but entertaining, race meetings. The European Rallycross championship
    Message 1 of 331 , Sep 3, 2013
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      Hello colleagues,

      I spent a very nice weekend in France and saw three vastly different, but entertaining, race meetings.

      The European Rallycross championship is becoming very popular and I wanted to get a piece of the action. The event closest to home was at Lohéac in France. And thus I started out at 6.00 a.m. on Saturday for the 7 hour drive to this quaint village in Brittany (or Bretagne in French and Breizh in the local Celtic language). It wasn't a pleasant drive, because the weather was dull (it drizzled hard at times) and there was much tourist traffic. It only went better for the last 15 miles, once I passed Rennes. Lohéac is a nice, but very quiet village, which was put on the map thanks to the wealthy book editor Michel Hommell. He built a splendid car museum (Manoir de l'automobile), with both a road track and an autocross track and to cap it all of, he also constructs fibreglass sports cars on Peugeot chassis. A few years ago, I visited the museum and met French racer Guillaume Greuet, who staged a race on the paved road track with his fellow instructors just for my benefit. Back then Lohéac was quiet, but not last Saturday. This year the rallycross championship has many star participants among which former rally world champion Petter Solberg. For Lohéac, the organisers secured the participation of non other than Sébastien Loeb, the nine times rally world champ, who currently is the overall most popular French sportsman. The result was staggering. When I arrived at 1.00 p.m., just in time for the qualifying pole shootout, the place was packed. When after a stroll through the paddock, I tried to secure a nice viewing spot for the heat races, I had to stand in the second line behind the enclosure for handicapped spectators. It was the only part of the track where there was still space. At the end of the meeting, at 5.30 p.m. there were five lines of spectators behind me. And they were expecting almost a third more spectators for the Sunday. The track is splendid, and has an unusual layout. The joker lap is shorter , but much twistier, than the normal lap. That made for very interesting races as one was never sure where a car would end up after its joker lap. The weather was very nice as well and so the only negative point was that they ran out of food and drink at 1.30 p.m. (with still four hours of meeting to go).

      After the race, I headed for Rennes, to find a place to stay. Unfortunately, local first division football (soccer to most of you) club Stade Rennes had a home game and all hotels near the ring road were fully booked. To cut a long story short, it took me another 75 minutes to find a hotel that was open and not fully booked because of a marriage. But it was a very good one (Hôtel Lion d'Or at Saint Bryce en Cogles). I had a splendid room and an excellent dinner for a very decent price.

      Sunday morning started with a very good breakfast at 7.30 a.m. By 8.15, I was on the road to Bec de Mortagne (Haute-Normandie). Every race category has its iconic track (Indianapolis for IndyCars, Daytona for NASCAR, Knoxville for sprints, etc.). Bec de Mortagne is the equivalent for French autocross and banger racing. Twice a year they hold two day meetings and this time they had an evening banger meeting on the Saturday and a non contact autocross one (for small saloons, called Fun Cars) on Sunday. The track is a very nice clay course on a hilltop. The only real problem is that the spectators are rather far from the track. The format of this meeting with participants from all over the North of France and even from Luxemburg, was a tad unusual. Every one of the over 70 drivers would participate in 15 races. Each race had 15 participants and they got from 15 to 1 point according to their finishing position. The races were short and very entertaining and they followed each other at a frantic pace. Between 11.00 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., I saw 22 races.

      It was time to get out of the quiet and lovely Normandy countryside to go to my last meeting of the trip, a late afternoon banger race on a 400 m dirt oval at Lorrez le Bocage, near Fontainebleau (Île de France). These meetings cater for mild banging and heavy banging classes. I'm not a fan at all of heavy banging, so I only stayed for an hour or so to watch the non banging classes perform. After that, I got on the road for two hours to stay in the town of Compiègne. My stay was a little less posh than that of the previous day, for I slept in an Ibis Budget hotel and dined in the adjacent Grill Courtepaille.

      Monday morning started at 6.30 a.m. with a surprisingly good early breakfast at the Ibis Budget. Then I drove up to Villeneuve d'Asq for some French grocery shopping for Aline and me. I missed opening time (8.30 a.m.) by three minutes but managed to get out again 50 minutes later and arrive at Aline's place at 10.45 a.m. and at work just before noon.

      Next weekend I'll drive a bit less, as I plan to go to Francorchamps on Saturday and add two more autocrosses (one in Belgium and one in the Netherlands) on Sunday.

      Roland

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    • Vanden Eynde Roland
      Hello colleagues, Long before I found out trackchasing ever existed, I had a habit of going to some late season races on southern French road courses. I ve
      Message 331 of 331 , Nov 12, 2013
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        Hello colleagues,

        Long before I found out trackchasing ever existed, I had a habit of going to some late season races on southern French road courses. I've long since exhausted those new track opportunities, but still there are a few French road courses I have to visit. Last weekend I added a rather remarkable one to my portfolio.

        Why drive an entire day if a high speed train brings you there in half that time? Since I discovered the multitude of possibilities of the French high speed trains, I like to take advantage of their services whenever suitable. Unlike my two previous train travels, this time, I couldn't get round Paris, but still that wasn't such a problem. I boarded a train to Paris Nord just past 11.15 a.m. and 75 minutes later it got me to Paris. In the north station of Paris, I had 85 minutes to get to Paris Bercy station by underground. It only took me 25 minutes to do so and I had ample time to take my numbered seat on the train to Clermont-Ferrand. Another 90 minutes later I got there. I had booked a hotel (Hotel des Commerçants) only yards from the railway station. The weather was a little cold, but sunny and after a long walk I had enough of an appetite to go for an early steak dinner at a Hippopotamus. These are chain restaurants a bit reminiscent of Applebee's.

        On Saturday morning I got back to the railway station to fetch my hire car at Sixt. They gave an excellent rate and handed me a Renault Twingo with only 75 miles on the clock. Unlike in Montréal, I didn't add thousands of miles to it, as my target for the day was less than 35 miles from the town centre. The French tyre manufacturer Michelin has its roots in Clermont-Ferrand and the centrepiece of those roots is its research centre at Ladoux (Auvergne region). This complex, officially called "Centre de recherche Michelin de Ladoux", is a beauty. It's in lush green surroundings. Inside a 5 mile high speed trioval, it harbours several testing grounds for dry weather tyre testing, wet weather tyre testing, braking, etc. The dry weather testing is done on a 2770 metres long flat track with numerous corners. It is on this track that twice a year countable races are held. Last Saturday, two Porsche clubs (one local and one Swiss) held a sprint and endurance meeting. This being a tyre test track, it has neither pit lane nor specific paddock area. I had to park my hire car on a piece of concrete where trailers and cars of team members were parked. Another part of that concrete area was turned into an improvised pit lane. In the morning, they held three 20 minute sprint races for various Porsche classes, while after a two hour lunch break (although there was only a local hot dog stand to get food from), allcomers got on the track for a two hour endurance race. The twisty nature of the track made for good racing, but the track surface was rather slick and there were spins galore. But as this track was surrounded by large grassy runoff areas, no cars were severely damaged. Not being a great fan of Porsches (I like Ferraris and Maseratis better), I left halfway the endurance race and had a nice drive in the hills surrounding Clermont-Ferrand. The entire landscape consists of extinct volcanoes and it's really gorgeous. I got back into town at dusk, handed the car back in and after another nice dinner, I had a good night sleep.

        Sunday morning, I got on the train back to Paris. Just like on Friday, the journey went by smoothly. So much for my contribution to tracks in November, as the rest of the month will not involve any new trackchasing for me.

        Roland

        -----------------------------------------
        Visit our website! http://www.nbb.be

        "DISCLAIMER: The content of this e-mail message should not be
        construed as binding on the part of the National Bank of Belgium
        (NBB) unless otherwise and previously stated. The opinions
        expressed in this message are solely those of the author and do not
        necessarily reflect NBB viewpoints, particularly when the content
        of this message, or part thereof, is private by nature or does not
        fall within the professional scope of its author."
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