A grand start
For the 2013 edition of the Tour Auto retrospective, Le Grand Palais
in Paris once again served as the event's starting point. The spectacular exhibition hall has traditionally hosted the Paris Auto Salon and also the start of the contemporary Tour de France Automobiles
. The entrants and their rides gathered in the Grand Palais on the day before the start for scrutineering, which gave the public a unique opportunity to get a closer look at the 250 historic cars before they roared off into the French countryside early the following morning. This field was made up of cars of a type that raced in the original Tour de France between 1951 and 1973, as well as slightly later rally cars of particular interest like the Ferrari 308 GTB Group 4 and the Lancia Stratos Group 4. Eligible for the outright victory, however, were only the competition cars built before 1966. Among the start cars on the entry list was the AC Shelby Cobra Daytona originally raced by Bob Bondurant and Jochen Neerpasch in the 1964 Tour de France. This time it was entrusted to 1999 Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack, who had already successfully raced the valuable machine in historic events in recent years. The 2013 Tour Auto also paid tribute to the Aston Martin centenary with a strong entry from the British manufacturer. In the tradition of the Paris Auto Salon, Ferrari used the opportunity to show their brand new LaFerrari
for the first time to the French public.
We were also on hand in Le Grand Palais
to get first glimpse of what would be in store for us in the five days to come. It also forms the starting point of our action-packed 260-shot gallery
, which covers the 22nd annual Tour Auto from start to finish.
Stage 1: Paris - Orleans
While the cars departed first thing on Tuesday from Le Grand Palais
, the official start of the opening leg was given in front of the Chateau de Dampierre in Senlisse to the west of Paris. During this stage the competitors were treated to two rally stages on closed off roads and an outing on the Le Mans Bugatti circuit. For the cars in the competition groups, the objective was simply to set the fastest time possible. In the regularity classes consistency was key as the entrants were sent out to match a predetermined average speed. Crossing through relatively flat lands, dominated by seemingly endless crop fields, the roads connecting the stages were certainly not France's finest. Among the sights of the day were the imposing cathedral in Chartres and the 14th century masonry bridge crossing the Loire river in Beaugency. Although it was still early days, it looked like the fight for the outright victory would be between the standard Shelby Cobras and Jaguar E-Types. The GT40s and Cobra Daytona did prove slightly quicker but they were understandably given a higher performance coefficient to balance the field.
Stage 2: Orleans - Vichy
The entrants had little time to enjoy the impressive array of historic buildings in the city of Orleans, some dating back to the 4th century, as the start of the Tour Auto's second leg was given at 7 am on Wednesday morning. Compared to the previous day, the landscape changed little but the route passed by some of the many great castles built along the Loire. Among them was the Chateau de Chambord, which is arguably the greatest and certainly the largest of all. The competitors also briefly passed by the Chateau de Cheverny, which inspired Tintin author Herge when drawing up the Chateau de Moulinsart or Marlinspike Hall; Captain Haddock's country house. The circuit of the day was Magny Cours, which is as flat as the surrounding countryside. For the Shelby Cobra Daytona, the rally effectively ended at the French Grand Prix circuit when the differential failed. The car was repaired but during the remainder of the week, it was only let loose on the circuits. Overcoming its coefficient, the GT40 of Christopher Lillington-Price and Timothy Huxley grabbed the lead. This was one of the rally's longest days with the final competitor completing the second rally stage as late as 9:20 pm.
Stage 3: Vichy - Albi
Upon leaving the historic city of Vichy, the competitors received a first glimpse of what was in store for the third leg: mountains! After a quick blast on the highway, they reached the ancient volcanic range dominated by the legendary Puy de Dome. Virtually seamlessly, the road ran into the Massif Central
mountain range with peaks as high as 1,886 m (6,188 ft). Due to the long winter in Europe, there was still snow in abundance on the mountains providing startling vistas. Running over mountain passes and through small villages, this was the 2013 Tour Auto's most scintillating stage. Although for some like the very brave Stephane Sabates and Cathy Legat in a massive Ford Galaxy, it must have been quite a challenge. Icing on the cake for this day was an evening visit to the Albi circuit. Effectively using the perimeter road of the local airfield, this high speed track can be compared to the Goodwood Motor Circuit. The stage proved particularly gruelling with several cars falling victim of the opening hill-climb stage and others being penalised for making repairs outside of the allocated time. Thanks to a very consistent and flawless race so far, the day ended with Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson in the former's Cobra at the top of the leader board.
Stage 4: Albi - Limoges
Built along the Tarn river, Albi is one of France's oldest cities where humans first settled over 5,000 years ago. It also formed the southern most tip of this year's Tour Auto and from here the route was directed to the north and west. Finishing in Limoges, the fourth stage directed the competitors through some of the country's most famous wine regions like the Cahors. There were subtle differences to the schedule as for the first time the regularity classes were first on the road after what must have been a very short night. The fourth leg was also the only one which did not include a visit to a track. Instead, the route featured three road stages. Another change was in the weather with the sunny spells of the previous days replaced by clouds and eventually rain. This also brought a premature end of the rally for Pierre le Gloahec and Alexandre Bertrand, who started the day without a windshield in their Jaguar Mk1. The day ended with a change of leaders as Monteverde and Pearson were slapped with a one-minute penalty, apparently for a traffic infringement (speeding). This promoted the Jaguar E-Type of longtime competitor Jean-Pierre Lajournade and Christophe Bouchet to the lead with a 21 second gap over the ex-Le Mans Cobra.
Stage 5: Limoges - La Rochelle
After four gruelling days, the Tour Auto finished off with a relatively short stage between one of France's artistic capitals Limoges and the historic port city of La Rochelle. Run over just 300 km, the leg included just a single road stage and a visit to the Val de Vienne circuit near the city of Le Vigeant. Having made up 9 seconds on the day's only special stage, Monteverde started the race on the circuit with a 12-second deficit. Lajournade managed to stay close to the Brazilian until a late spin from the Frenchman saw the lead change for a final time. Unfortunately, Monteverde fell ill after the race and could not complete the final section to the finish, leaving Pearson to receive the spills of victory by himself. Judging from the way he handled the bottle of champagne, he certainly looked no stranger to winning. The unfortunate Lajournade did recover from his spin and placed second, adding another podium finish to his record. Third was Ludovic Caron and his co-driver Didier David in another Cobra.
For most competitors and their valiant support crews reaching the finish alone was an achievement more than worth celebrating. At the finish in La Rochelle we caught up with former CART and Le Mans racer and World Speed record holder Charlie Nearburg, who made his first Tour Auto appearance. He ranked competing in the rally among his absolute finest experiences. A feeling no doubt shared by most of the other competitors. Fastest finisher of all was former F1-racer Erik Comas and his co-pilot Isabelle de Sadeleer, who won their class with a fabulously howling Lancia Stratos Group IV. Top honours in the regularity class went to Jean-Francois and Francois Nicoules in a Ford Mustang, and the Index of Performance was won by Frederic Puren and Caroline Bertrand in an early Porsche 356.
We followed the Tour Auto from the start to finish for the first time with this 260-shot gallery
as a most rewarding result.