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2011 Dix Mille Tours
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For the second year Peter Auto organised the 'Dix Mille Tours' (Ten Thousand Laps) historic race meeting at the ultra modern Paul Ricard circuit. This seems contradictory but with its large tarmac run-offs, the 'High Tech Test Track' actually allows participants to drive their cars on the limit with far less risk of damage than on classic tracks. Since last year's inaugural event, Peter Auto has also held similar races at Navarra (Dix Mille Tours) and Spa Francorchamps (Spa Classic) this spring. Set fixtures of these meetings are the Classic Endurance Racing (CER) races, the Trofeo Nastro Rosso and the Sixties' Endurance race. This weekend the schedule was completed by rounds for the Group C Championship and the Challenge Asave. What all these have in common is the emphasis on endurance with races lasting at least 45 minutes. Several clubs were invited to the paddocks and allowed on the track during the lunch breaks and at the end of each of the three days. The event also featured the dynamic debut of the McLaren MP4-12C in France.
Our photographers ventured to the South of France and experienced first hand why the track's long straight is called 'Mistral'. Dodging the, at times, 100 km/h winds, they have returned with this action packed 200-shot gallery.

Challenge Asave
Open to production-based GT and Touring cars from 1947 through to 1978, the French Challenge Asave presented a colourful grid. The bulk of the field consisted of Porsche 911s, Corvettes, Lotus Elans and Alfa Romeos but there were also several rather more unusual machines. These ranged from a Diva GT to a Vauxhall Magnum and a brightly liveried Chevrolet Camaro. Another interesting sight was the Volvo 122 S, which was painted in Swedish sported an 'Apprenti' sticker to indicate it was piloted by a learner driver. In this case the latter was no doubt a a nod to owner/driver Gerard Lepron's tender age of 81.
After qualifying the top of the first eight places were filled by four Corvettes, in the odd positions, and four 911s, in the even positions. Unfortunately the pole sitting Corvette did not line up for the race. This gave the early lead to Christophe Terriou with his 911 RSR. The superior handling of his Porsche however proved no match for the grunt of the big V8s, even though this race was run with a chicane halfway down the straight. After an hour it was Franck Metzger in a Corvette who crossed the line first, ahead of two Porsches.

Sixties' Endurance
Of a slightly earlier vintage were the sports and prototype racers that participated in this two-hour marathon, which formed the finale for the weekend. The Sixties' Endurance grid was of an altogether different calibre with Cobras, E-Types, a Ferrari 250 GT SWB and an Aston Martin DB4 GT taking to the track. Among the rarest machines on the grid was the Morgan SLR shared by John Emberson and Bill Wykeham. One of just three built and in highly original condition, the roof still sported faint traces of the name sticker of the late, legendary Morgan stalwart Chris Lawrence. He had not only raced the car but was also responsible for its design. With their modestly engined machine, the two Morgan drivers did remarkably well in qualifying, being beaten only by E-Types and a variety of V8 machines. The quickest of all was Alberto Francioni in the Iso A3C, he shared with Fredy Barth. As the two-hour race unfolded, it was the very well driven driver TVR of the father and son combination of Michael and Sean McInerney that emerged in the lead. It proved to be a very hard fought victory as Ludovic Caron was a very close (0.151 s) second with the pole sitter claiming third. The SLR Morgan finished a commendable 9th and first in class.

Trofeo Nastro Rosso
Celebrating 'La Dolce Vita', the Trofeo Nastro Rosso (Red Ribbon Trophy) was open to all Italian GT and sports racers built up to 1966. A somewhat modest field lined up for two 45-minute races consisting of a selection of Ferraris, two Maseratis, an Alfa Romeo, an Iso and a Bizzarrini. The most interesting machines were the two Maseratis, both of the 300S type. Among them was the car in which Stirling Moss had scored the first of his victories in the Nurburgring 1000 km races back in 1956. A quick glance at the list showed that Ferrari 275 GTB was clearly the car to have for the race. The very quick Belgian racer Vincent Gaye, for example, had swapped his very familiar silver 250 GT SWB for a faster 275 GTB/C. The switch was immediately vindicated as he placed the competition spec 275 on pole. He nevertheless had to bow to the Francioni/Barth piloted Iso in each of the two races. Having not put in a representative lap in qualifying, the V8 machine had to start from the back of the grid twice but that did not stop the Swiss entered Iso from claiming both wins.

Group C
A sight not quickly forgotten was that of the Bob Berridge and Gareth Evans piloted Sauber-Mercedes C11 thundering down long Mistral straight, not spoiled by a chicane for this race. Sadly the limited spectator access meant that only very few were fortunate to witness it in person. The straight provided the mechanics with overtime as, almost without exception, all the Group C cars needed their gear ratios adjusted during the first practice. Even though fitted with a set of gears especially flown in from Australia, Berridge still hit the limiter before the end of the Mistral, topping out a still very impressive 330 km/h. To put his effort in perspective, the lap of 1:46.148 he set in qualifying would have just put him on pole for the Le Mans Series held earlier this year. The C11 was started in the race by Evans and he was challenged early on by Katsu Kubota in the equally impressive Nissan R90C. Unfortunately, the two V8-engined machines had a small coming together, which damaged both rear wings. Kubota made it back to the pits to retire, while Evans and Berridge soldiered on with a dangerously bent rear wing to take the win. Second was for Peter Harburg and Wayne Park in the Blaupunkt Porsche 962C, while third and first in C2 was for Mike Donovan in a Cosworth-engined Spice SE88C.

As during all of Peter Auto's historic only events, the popular Classic Endurance Racing (CER) was split into two this weekend with the earliest GT and Prototype racers competing in the CER 1 event. The season regulars were joined by some exciting American entries in the form of the evocative Ferrari 512M of Steven Read and Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal in a relatively modest Lola T212. Displaying his abundance of skill, the latter always looked to go deceivingly slow but in fact was right up there with the much larger engined Ferraris and Lolas. Never looking slow is Paul Knapfield and accordingly he quickly discarded of the pole-sitting Lola T70 of Bernard Thuner in his Ferrari 512M and built up a healthy lead until his race was cut short just minutes before he had completed the hour-long event. Nursing a flu, Thuner had driven a very calculated race and after re-passing several cars in the second half, he emerged on top following Knapfield's misfortune. Behind the Swiss ace, an interesting battle unfolded between Bobby Rahal and Martin O'Connell in the Chevron that had been started by Sandy Watson. The two were nose to tail going into the final lap with Rahal holding the advantage. The seasoned English historic racer was in top form all weekend and not even Rahal could hold him back.

Qualifying for the more modern of the two Classic Endurance Racing groups was greatly affected by the strong Mistral and Rafale winds that swept the circuit on Friday. This provided a tail wind down the straight from which Russell Busst in his blue Chevron B31 had made the most use. No matter how hard they tried, none of his rivals managed to better the time during the second qualifying that was run on the relatively calmer Saturday afternoon. In the race Busst was quickly passed by the more powerful V8-engined Lolas of Michel Quiniou and Dominique Guenat down the long straight. The two Frenchmen both stopped early, allowing Busst to put in some undisturbed and very quick laps, which allowed him to jump his two rivals. Patrice Lafargue did much the same with his Lola that also only had a four-cylinder engine. Making best use of his four-cylinder engine, however, was once again Martin O'Connell in the Sandy Watson started Chevron B36. He quickly sliced through the field and by the time Busst realised who was chasing him down, it was too late to respond. So on a track that should have favoured big engined machinery, the podium for this race was filled with three cars powered by a relatively modest four-cylinder engine.

With sports racers from the 1950s through to the early 1990s on track, the Dix Mille Tours provided a very exciting look at the sport's rich history. Each of the races was hotly disputed but despite running in close company and at very high speeds, remarkably few, if any, major incidents happened. The only real casualties were several engines, which struggled to cope with the strains of the long straights. Despite the great show put during all three days, spectator numbers were limited, which might be down to the limited viewing options offered by the Paul Ricard track. Unfortunately there is very limited space (literally) for improvements, so the court-side view of the awe-inspiring Mistral straight will most likely remain a rare privilege. Our action-packed 200-shot gallery hopefully reveals that we used that privilege very well.

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Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Pieter Melissen and Wouter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com