A classic road rally
First held in 1899 (four years before the first bicycle race of the same name), the Tour de France was one of the great road rallies, ran in its original guise through to 1986. It was particularly hotly disputed during the 1950s and 1960s, when Ferrari dominated with various iterations of the 250 GT model. Since 1992, a retrospective event (now known as the Tour Auto) has been staged annually by Peter Auto, inviting cars of a type that originally competed between 1950 and the late 1970s. Spread over several regularity and competition classes, the 2014 edition attracted a capacity field of around 250 historic racing cars. Among these were striking machinery like the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Breadvan poster car but also Shelby Cobras, Alfa Romeo GTAs and a choice of Porsches. Among the more unusual cars entered was a BMW 700, similar to the car that won the Index of Performance back in 1960. In addition to the gentleman drivers/entrants, several well known drivers were also found behind the wheel like Emmanuele Pirro, Erik Comas and Olivier Panis, who partnered with his former DAMS team principal Jean-Paul Driot.
Our photographers chased the field over some of the most scenic roads of France and on tracks like Dijon-Prenois and Paul Ricard / Le Castellet all the way to the finish in Marseille. The result is this action-packed 300-shot gallery
Leg 1: Paris - Dijon
After an escorted run from the Grand Palais in Paris to Maincy, the 2014 Tour Auto officially started in front of the stately Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The route of the opening leg followed undulating roads past a timed special stage to the famous Dijon-Prenois circuit for late afternoon races and then on to the day's finish place Dijon, in the heart of the Bourgogne region. As always, cars up to 1966 are eligible for the outright victory, while the rest of the field fights for class honours. Frenchman Ludovic Caron made his intentions clear with his AC Shelby Cobra by clinching victory on the narrow roads of the first special stage. He immediately opened a gap of seven seconds of last year's runner up Jean Pierre Lajournade in his Jaguar E-Type. Caron stamped his authority on the field at Dijon-Prenois, closely beating another front runner Shaun Lynn in his ex-Willment Cobra, which he shared with Kevin Kivlochan. Didier Sirgue arrived in Dijon leading the class of the most modern cars with his Group IV DeTomaso Pantera, while father and daughter Mollenkamp topped the regularity tables with their Lotus Elan.
Leg 2: Dijon - Mulhouse
From Dijon the route first went north on the highway before turning to the east through the Vosges mountains over the Col du Bonhomme peak to the finish in Mulhouse. The 402 km leg featured two special stages, one on the flat roads in the Haute Marne region, the second on the hills of the Vosges. Before reaching the finish, the competitors ventured onto the Anneau du Rhin circuit for the first time in Tour Auto history. This tree-lined track combined a long back straight with a section of more challenging corners and a high-speed chicane. Caron continued his impressive run by winning the two special stages. He finally had to admit defeat at the track where the race was won by Chris Wilson in his striking Ford GT40. Caron did arrive at the Musee Nationale de l'Automobile, the former Schlumpf Collection Museum, with a comfortable lead over Lajournade and Lynn. Sirgue also managed to expand his class lead in his Pantera, ending the second day a clear 38 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. It was all change in the regularity group with Alain Raynal and Christophe Figaret grabbing the lead in a Jaguar XK140 Roadster.
Leg 3: Mulhouse - Aix-les-Bains
With 475 km, this was the longest leg of the Tour Auto and accordingly started at the creek of dawn. After a short run on the highway, the day started in earnest with the first of a pair of timed special stages. The route then followed the Doubs river through the very scenic Jura area, which is very reminiscent of the Swiss Alps with lovely green meadows and blue lakes. After a visit to the Circuit de Bresse, the competitors were sent south again to the foot of the French Alps. The finish town was Aix-les-Bains, which lined the shores of France's largest natural lake; Lac du Bourget. Considering the hilly region, both special stages were run on tight, twisty and undulating roads. Both of these were once again won by Caron in the Cobra he has raced for many years both on road and track. Shaun Lynn clinched his first victory of the event by winning on the tight Circuit de Bresse with his bright red Cobra. Despite being served a 40-second penalty a day earlier, Caron still ended the third leg with a healthy 34 seconds lead over Lajournade. Unfortunately for Sirgue, he lost valuable time on leg 3, gifting the lead to Olivier Panis in the all-white 308 GTB he shared with Jean-Paul Driot. Maintaining their one-second lead, Raynal and Figaret continued to lead the regularity class.
Leg 4: Aix-les-Bains - Valence
Heading south once again, the fourth leg featured three special stage and was the only leg without a visit to a track. Another change was that for the first time, the regularity grids lead the way, allowing the participants in the competition class to slightly sleep in for the first time of the week. The day kicked off with a proper hill climb up the Massif de l'Epine, followed by an excursion through mountainous areas alongside snow-covered peaks and through the impressive gorges of the Bourne rivers. Back in the Isere valley, the 304 km stage finished in Valence on the shores of the Rhone river. The penultimate leg, and especially the relatively short second stage, proved decisive. It was here that Caron lost valuable time, hitting a dirt bank after running wide in a difficult left hander that would catch out several more competitors. Despite incurring damage and losing nearly four minutes, he did manage to win the third stage. Keeping his nose clean, Lynn emerged in the lead as Lajournade was penalised 60 seconds for an infraction of the highway code. In the G/H/I classes, it was Sirgue, who regained the lead after a very strong day. With Raynal and Figaret dropping to third, two Alpine A110s moved up to lead the regularity class.
Leg 5: Valence - Marseille
At the start of Leg 5, there were just a single special stage, a visit to the high speed Paul Ricard circuit and 384 km that separated the competitors from the finish in the Vieux Port
of Marseille on the Mediterranean Sea shore. Running through the much-loved Provence region, the route of leg 5 was lined by vineyards and olive tree orchards. The legendary Mont Ventoux also formed a scenic backdrop but the snow-covered top could unfortunately not yet be crossed yet. Lajournade desperately tried to make up the ground lost to Lynn and won the opening stage. At Paul Ricard, Lynn had a better start but decided not to take any risks and just followed Lajournade to cross the line a safe two seconds behind. He had good reason to be cautious, as he had arrived at Paul Ricard in the lead before but then his trusty Cobra let him down. Playing it safe for five days and avoiding penalties were what in the end earned Lynn the outright victory in the 2014 Tour Auto. After another difficult day, Sirgue dropped down the order once again, promoting Chistophe van Riet and Kristoffer Cartenian in their Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7. The Alpine A110s held on to score a double win in the regularity class with Georges Henri Meylan and Julien Stervinou taking top honours.
After 1,979 gruelling kilometres, the 2014 Tour Auto drew to a close in a sunny Marseille. Not only were the competitors treated to a particularly undulating route with beautiful backdrops, the weather was also in their favour with sunny skies for all five days. The French tourism board could not do a better job of promoting the country than the this year's Tour Auto did. With Shaun Lynn and Kevin Kivlochan the Tour Auto has a more than deserving winning pair. They combined raw speed with the restraint and consistency required to take the top honours. For a look at the event from start to finish, we can now only refer to our exclusive leg-by-leg 300-shot gallery