A classic event in its own right
On the occasion of the 50th French Grand Prix, held at Rouen-Les-Essarts in 1964, the Automobile Club de France created the Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or (Grand Prix of the Golden Age). It was one of the first historic racing events of its kind and after many years at Montlhéry, it is since a few years hosted by the Dijon-Prenois circuit. This year's 50th anniversary event was organised for the first time by Peter Auto again since the mid-1980s. This has resulted in a merger of the Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or traditional single seater races with Peter Auto's familiar sports car grids. The pair of touring car races meant that the full spectrum of circuit racing was represented at this year's anniversary edition. Fittingly, the very Brabham that was driven to victory in the French Grand Prix by Dan Gurney back in 1964 was in the entry this year, piloted by fellow American James King. He was honoured after his race and he in turn could convey a message of thanks from Dan Gurney and his wife Evie for celebrating his victory at Rouen 50 years ago.
Following several days of rain, the weather changed to beautiful blue skies and scorching temperatures. Our photographers braved the near tropical conditions and ventured around the undulating track with this 280-shot gallery
as the rewarding result.
This year's Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or featured two separate one-hour touring car races; the U2TC (Under 2-Litre Touring Cars) for mid-1960s machinery and the HTC (Heritage Touring Cars) for racers through to the 1980s. Although it also included some BMWs and a lone Mini, the U2TC race was dominated by Lotus Cortinas and Alfa Romeo GTAs. Fastest of all was Frank Stippler, who shared a GTA with German Alfa Romeo expert and car owner Alexander Furiani. Starting from pole, Furiani managed to keep tabs on a slightly quicker Andy Wolfe and was helped by a safety car. This enabled Audi works driver Stippler to take control of the race and grab victory ahead of Wolfe. The very hot conditions had decimated the HTC field even before the race started with five of the 18 cars not even lining up for the start. There were no such issues for Eric Mestdagh Pierre-Alain Thibaut with the quickest of the seven BMW 3.0 CLs in the entry. They claimed pole and went on to win the race over a minute ahead of Richard Postins, who had started from the back of the grid with his Rover TWR Vitesse.
Considering the event's roots, it is only natural that single seaters play a significant part in the Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or and no fewer than three different fields were present; two for Grand Prix cars with 1961 as the cut-off year (give or take a few Coopers) and one for Formula Juniors. Dominating the pair of pre-1966 races was Miles Griffiths in John Bond-Smith's ex-Yeoman Credit Cooper T51. Unfortunately, King could not repeat Gurney's victory with the Brabham as a fuel pick-up issue thwarted his first attempt and his fight back up the order in race two was abruptly halted after a run-in with Mr John of B in the ex-John Surtees Lola Mk4A. Tony Wood won both pre-1961 rounds in his unique TecMec Maserati. In race one, it did take him until the very last lap to pass Josef Rettenmaier in his newly acquired Maserati 250F Piccolo, who had grabbed the lead at the start. In the two Formula Junior races for the FIA Lurani Trophy, it was very much a three-way battle between Jonathan Hugues, Pierre Tonetti (both in Brabhams) and Manfredo Rossi di Montelara. Hugues eventually won both 25-minute races with Rossi and Tonetti less than half a second behind in race one, while the two Italians reversed their order in race two.
Trofeo Nastro Rosso
With just 14 cars participating in the opening practice session, the Trofeo Nastro Rosso entry did not excel in quantity but it certainly made up for it in quality. Regulars like Carlo Vogele with the Nürburgring 1000 km winning Maserati 300S or Carlos Monteverde in his Ferrari 250 LM were joined at Dijon for example by Stefan and Josef Rettenmaier in a Maserati 300S and Tipo 61 Birdcage respectively. Freshly repaired after occurring some accident damage during the previous round at Spa-Francorchamps, the 250 LM of Monteverde was once again firing on all cylinders. The London-based Brazilian grabbed pole position but in both 45-minute races he was beaten to the first corner by the grunt of Michael Erlich's V8-engined and flame spitting Bizzarrini 5300 GT. Monteverde got by Erlich in both races on the same corner (Parabolique), once down the inside and once around the outside of the Bizzarrini. Another entertaining battle that lasted the better part of two races was that of Carlo Vogele vs. Josef Rettenmaier for third, settled both times in favour of the latter and his Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage.
There were no concerns over the number of entries for the two-hour Sixties' Endurance race as nearly 60 cars lined up for free practice, which really explored the limits of the relatively short track. After a messy qualifying session, the Jaguar E-Type shared by Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson topped the charts and would start from pole. The lead was short-lived as the E-Type did not run flawless and was forced to retire within the hour. We were then treated to a race-long battle between the Cobras of Yvan Mahe and David Hart/Hans Hugenholtz. Mahe had to pace himself due to overheating issues but a second safety car session late in the race allowed his Ford V8 to cool down sufficiently to complete the final laps at full pelt and the Frenchman crossed the line first. Immediately after the race, it was revealed that he could have taken it a little easier as the Dutch pairing was handed a three-lap penalty for passing under the safety car. This promoted the Cobras of Ludovic Caron and Jean-Marc Merlin to second and third respectively.
Classic Endurance Racing 1
This one-hour race for late 1960s and early 1970s sports prototype and GT racers featured a classic David vs Goliath fight at the sharp end of the field. Goliaths to be more precise as Martin O'Connell and his Chevron B19 faced a whole fleet of V8-engined Lola T70s. He held the advantage over the undulating sections of the track, while the Lolas could unleash all their power down the long straight. It was nevertheless O'Connell who claimed pole but not surprisingly, he was swamped during the run up to the first corner. As several T70s dropped down the order or out of the race altogether, the race came down to David Hart with his genuine Mk3B T70 and O'Connell in the little Chevron. After a brief battle, Hart grabbed the lead and a mistake during the pit-stops cost O'Connell dearly. An issue with the brakes on the T70 turned the tables around once more as Hart could not keep up his early pace but he did manage to finish second. Pierre-Alain France was third in another T70. The GT class was won by German pro Wolfgang Kaufmann in a Porsche 911 RSR.
Classic Endurance Racing 2
Wether it was the extreme heat or the fragile nature of the highly tuned 1970s machinery but the CER 2 event was plagued with issues. Of the 22 cars that started the weekend, only 17 started the race and after one hour only 11 were running. Quickest of all in qualifying was the winner of the previous round at Spa-Francorchamps, Patrice Lafargue with his flame-spitting Lola. However, he had a disastrous start and was in a race-long chase of the leaders until he was prompted to retire with just over 10 minutes to go. Martin O'Connell looked set to make two out of two with a slightly more modern Chevron B36 and although he crossed the line in first, the winner of the Mugello round was handed a 10-second penalty for exceeding the track limits. He had been followed closely across the line by Philippe Scemama in his newly acquired DFV-engined Lola T290, who was declared the winner, while O'Connell was classified second. Third was was for Yves Scemama in his familiar green Sauber C5. Nicolas d'Ieteren placed first in the GT class with the final Porsche 935 K3 built. The very first K3 was also entered but a suspension issue prevented it from even staring the race.
An action-packed weekend on one of Europe's most beautiful tracks and under clear blue skies; what more can an enthusiast want? Not surprisingly quite a few people flocked to the circuit, many of whom as part of a club, who were allowed to show their cars inside the perimeter of the circuit. That meant that spectators, who walked around the track could watch the racing on one side, while admiring a colourful mix of classic and also more modern machines on the other. We focused on the on-track action, as can be seen in our class-by-class 280-shot gallery