Rallye de Paris - March 2007

I don’t know what happens in the South during March but there must be some serious distractions that we don’t know about. Apart from the Pilks in their unique AC Aceca, the TOPS team consisted of Geoff Stamper and Brian Murray in Stamper’s ex works Le Mans TR2 and us in our old E type from Cumbria plus Mike and Diana Milligan in their V8 Healey 5000 from deepest Aberdeenshire. We crossed overnight from Hull to Zeebrugge and were in Paris for lunch on a pavement in shirtsleeves on the Thursday - real Paris in spring weather. We did a bit of culture including the Musee d’Orsay which is brilliant and I am never bored by the stunning architecture of their bridges.

After signing on which is refreshingly laid back, we had a ‘team dinner’ joined by Flavien and Vanessa Marcais as well as Nick Faure and Tony Merrick who had come in a 911 Porsche Carrera RSR - a real hooligan’s car if ever there was one. Versatile too. He had the whole hotel awake one morning as he filled the underground garage with noise and fumes just to charge his mobile phone. Well I suppose 350 bhp would get the job done. 
Saturday morning saw us depart from the Eiffel Tower with our ‘tulip’ road book for the 177 miles to Magny Cours picking up a few rally stamps on the way. Not the most exciting drive but the circuit made up for it.  After a practice session when you can have a real go if you want to, the competitive element is to drive one lap behind a pace car which pulls off and you do the next lap at what ever pace you like but the object is to drive the subsequent three laps at the same speed exactly.  Not rocket science but with the variable traffic, not dull either.
Lunch was ‘French’ and very good but I fear political correctness is creeping in.  There was no wine as there has been in previous years. Some women complained.  Nick Faure asked if I would like to ride shotgun in the RSR which was the quickest car on the event. Great fun - the car being the same spec. as the ’75 car he drove at Le Mans. It goes like stink which I expected but the braking is something else. I really needed my full harness, particularly round Magny Cours which is hard on brakes. Loved it.  After the circuit sessions, which involved commendably little ‘hurry up and wait’, we set off for Baume, 100 miles away on some great roads.

The following morning, 35 miles to the circuit at Dijon for a similar session but it rained. Not a lot but just enough to activate all the oil and rubber. People were spinning off gracefully into the scenery all over the place. Happily without damage but one Porsche returning from his scenic trip caused me a slight ‘moment’.   
Lunch and prize giving followed and we were surprised to find that Stamper and Murray had won class 1 (16th overall) and we had won class 2 (7th overall) so TOPS were not disgraced. We received a suitably vulgar pot each together with some fancy oil. 
There were 200 entries with about half being made up of post 2000 cars so plenty of modern Ferraris, Lambos, Maseratis, Porsches etc. if that is what turns you on. Stamper’s 1954 TR2 was the oldest, so not a ‘classic’ event as such, more an enthusiast’s event.         
We hit main roads and we almost made Zeebrugge but as we finally cleared a huge traffic jam near Lille, Milligan’s Healey blew an oil pipe on the motorway with predictably messy results. He set off across the fields to a farmhouse and was taken to phone for recovery by Mrs Farmer and then we saw Mr. coming through the rain carrying a bottle of wine and glasses. What a nice man. The fact that what we really needed was a cup of tea has nothing to do with it. We relished the thought of breaking endless laws concerning drinking on the hard shoulder.  After an unscheduled night in Tournai, we removed the offending pipe to the cooler and found a huge agricultural workshop that could make up a new one so, having established that he had not run the big ends, we made Zeebrugge 24 hours late but no problem. 
That’s the fourth Rallye de Paris we have done. Herv
é Charbonneaux and Rallystory are proper enthusiasts who run good events and it is a great excuse to set off on a jolly to France when nothing else is going on at home.