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Marc Sonnery

Volume 44 Issue 13

Jun 22, 2019

  A quarter century: that is how long this event has existed and the heavens collaborated with the very sudden and unquestionable arrival of summer with 80 degrees and not a cloud in sight all weekend. This meant that affluence was up and revenue from the cancer charity drive as well.

    A quarter century: that is how long this event has existed and the heavens collaborated with the very sudden and unquestionable arrival of summer with 80 degrees and not a cloud in sight all weekend. This meant that affluence was up and revenue from the cancer charity drive as well.

    45,000 people attended between Thursday and Sunday, about €300,000 was raised. A very good year bringing revenue accumulated to the benefit of the Poitiers Hospital research center close to five million Euros in 25 years.

    This is unique not only in the Ferrari universe but also in the classic car world so take notice and clap hands; I certainly do, trying to help in any way possible having had cancer in my own family, it concerns us all.

    This year it was my good fortune to convince the owner of the Breadvan, Austrian Martin Halusa, to bring it along with his 212 Export which we had arranged for him to display on the Sport et Collection stand at Retromobile back in February.

    It is always a pleasure to return to this event in a gorgeous region about five hours south of Paris with the same driving time west from Geneva called Circuit du Val de Vienne. It is a very green, bucolic countryside, picturesque with the amazing viaduct on the Vienne river nearby and a slower pace of life. But there can be some surprises as I found out on the way there.

    The gendarme came out of nowhere.

    He suddenly stood in the middle of the road in this village 50 km before the circuit and pointed at a parking lot where his colleagues awaited politely notifying me I was speeding. I had seen no radar I said calmly but was told it was the pistol type and their colleague was obviously well hidden.

    Seconds later a convoy of Maranello cars passes through and a red Testarossa is waived in for “service”. As I am told I was 35 kph over the limit; the TR driver is informed he was 45 over and thus loses his license on the spot for a month. Thus goes the law in France, beyond 40 over you are in trouble.

    His anguished girlfriend explains she can’t drive the car as he absorbs the shock. I explain who I am and offer to drive his car to the track with him if she will drive my Alfa but he is too upset and frustrated to even think and as their friends arrive I wish him luck and drive on.

    Somehow my gendarme was very polite after noticing I was a journalist and my ticket still has not arrived 12 days later: occasionally the power of the press justifies its fourth estate appellation as it once did in the Adirondacks during a 2000 FNA road rally in a 550 Maranello!

    The Circuit du Val de Vienne near the village of Le Vigeant is a high quality modern track built less than two decades ago with a straight apt to satisfy the appetites of the biggest engines and an entertaining mid-section you have to figure out to be really quick.

    Track time during Sport et Collection is divided into logical groups by era, type and they succeed each other diligently even if someone beaches his car in the kitty litter it is quickly retrieved, any mess sorted and the light at pit exit is soon green again.

    On Friday, sessions go all the way to midnight, a rarity as the track is far enough away from any village, most circuits are fighting noise hassles - as I saw at Lime Rock during an article test drive in September where sonometers track decibel levels and any offenders get summoned to pitlane - and could never even dream of late evening sessions.

    Speaking of pit lane how does the charity drive work? Like Columbus’s egg it is a simple yet brilliant idea once you think about it.

    First the press campaign ahead of the event clarifies its caritative purpose, then members of the public who wish to partake go to the charity’s booth next to the ticket office and pay €35 for a few laps in a Ferrari (it could be any other exotic present as well).

    They stand in line just outside pitlane end where a line of Ferrari and other fast car owners willing to partake await them. It looks like the taxi line at your local airport as marshals help members of the public unfamiliar with these low cramped cars get comfortable and put on their seat belt or harness, also making sure they have no keys or other protruding items likely to damage upholstery.

    A vast majority of Ferrari owners attending play along; the event is characterized by a wonderful friendly relaxed and generous atmosphere, helped by being far away from large cities and their inherent unpleasant manners. In fact even the Breadvan and 212 Export gave lots of rides. Of course someone in one of the new Monza SP1s could not but then his or her seat choice shows a different approach to life, doesn’t it? Many 2-seater race cars also joined the charity lapping.

    So when do we see this at a US event? I was explaining it to John Barnes of Cavallino during Retromobile and he mentioned that perhaps his event should include that; here is your cue, John!

    As always there were plenty of important and historic Ferraris amongst the hundreds partaking. The record actually stands at 510 one year; though that peak was not approached in 2019.

    British Ferrari royalty was once again present in the person of David Piper who has come for many years.  He brought his 365 P and his 250 LM, driven by Mike Knight veteran racer who used to own a racing school for decades at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France.

    Geneva’s Marc Caveng was there with his 512 M S/N 1050 giving ample earfuls of its mighty V12 to spectators. It was sold new to Scuderia Picchio Rosso of Corrado Manfredini who raced it with Giancarlo Gagliardi at Monza, Spa, Le Mans and Imola without major results. It was later owned for many years by Polish Prince Sanguszko. He resided in France and was very close to the Pozzi team.

    The “evil enemy” of the 512 was also present in the shape of not one but two Porsche 917s, one driven by Le Mans organizing club ACO President Pierre Fillon and the other was one that did the 1980 Le Mans 11 years after its introduction.

    A new addition was the presence of two 599 FXX with full factory assistance. It was certainly impressive to observe the level of professionalism and high technology these cars ooze. Each had a series of tiny stickers indicating at which tracks they had been driven including F1 circuits on several continents, what a way to do it!

    A Swiss registered 250 GT SWB was very active on track and caused a funny moment when at the start of a session which would begin with a Le Mans start; i.e., drivers running to their cars. It tried to sneak into pole position beforehand which resulted in much scolding and a red-faced driver.

    Classic Ferraris in the concours area of the paddock, road rally or pits included several Daytonas, smooth and Plexi nose, a 330 GTC, 250 GTE, 246 GTs (more popular in Europe than GTS) a 365 GT 2 + 2, a couple of BB512s, a 308 GTB Group 4 rally car ex-Ecurie Charles Pozzi and a personal favorite, the 275 GTB/4 of the late Jean Claude Bajol in light blue with dark blue stripe.

    In this world of over restored shiny looking trailer queens it is always a treat  to admire it “dans son jus” (in its juice as we say in French, meaning unrestored) it is certainly no concours wallflower as it has been driven hard for decades and is currently owned by Bajol’s brother.

    Jean Claude was a major character in every sense of the word in the French Ferrari scene in the 1960s to the 1990s and apart of owning GTO, a 330 P and other major Ferraris without the slightest care in the world for their cosmetic appearance.

    Jess Pourret long ago drew a cartoon of the cars in his farm used as barn hay-shelves by egg laying hens!

    That 275 GTB/4 just exudes history and I wish there was a magical camera in it to show me all its adventures. It is still in the family in the hands of his brother, also unrestored, well conserved but not by oil and grease.

    A 250 GTO was also present in David Piper’s pit but it is a 250 GTE which he transformed long before it became fashionable to do so and is proud of how it has stood the test of time.

    Beyond that there were a few hundred production Ferraris from 308s to current models, including quite a few Challenge cars from 348 to the newest as well as some GT racers.

    Non Ferraris included a display by the ROFGO Gulf collection of half a dozen of their cars, this managed by Adrian Hamilton of ROFGO Duncan Hamilton though he was not in attendance. It included everything from an original GT40, a third 917 and a Mirage Le Mans car as well as the wonderful 1960s team transporter.

    Paganis, Bugatti EB 110, Veyron and Chiron were also displayed and several dealers had up to a dozen recent Ferraris at hand.

    A storied Jaguar D-Type was presented by Jaguar Heritage who had a very smart setup worthy of those huge F1 team motorhomes visible at European Grand Prix. I had a ride in it and it was very pleasant through the engine is rougher, not as smooth as Maranello’s equivalent period racers.

    Another display had every French car to have won Le Mans and almost all were the actual 1st place car though the 1923 Chenard & Walker that won the first edition vanished long ago and was replaced by one of its siblings. The most recent one was the 908 that won in 2009.

    On track there were Alpines from the 1960s to a 1978 A442 identical to the Le Mans winning car of Jaussaud and future Ferrari driver Pironi.

    Earlier cars such as Bugatti 35s, all kinds of Porsche from humble road cars to a 906 and some 1990s F1 car.

    There was a Tyrrell, ex-Mika Salo, for example, GT40s, 1960s Mustangs, a Maserati MC12 and a GranTurismo GT4 race car which I rode in. Most impressive with 800 pounds less weight slick tires and proper track brakes and suspension!

    Another ride in the 212 Export with Alex Ames was a pleasure, gorgeous sound, a very light car, nimble on its dainty tires and its inside rear view mirror seemed straight out of a 1950s lady’s purse, tiny and not good for much other than looking like an antique but then again what Ferrari “conduttore” looked in his mirror back then?!

    A different kind of noise made its presence indubitably felt each day, the Patrouille de France, the Air Force’s national aerobatics team who proceeded to give long mind-blowing displays complete with flying straight at each other at warp speed just near but not over the paddock, formation figures, group loopings, candle flights where they shoot straight up, stop, fall and zoom back down or 45 degree flights just fast enough to not fall out of the sky; three dimensional drifting you could say.

    Certainly among the best I have ever seen. They were honored at the gala dinner and were interesting to meet, very smart modern-day gladiators. Just four days later they were flying above the Normandy cliff top June 6 anniversary in front of Presidents Macron, Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May and German leader Angela Merkel; all in a weeks work!

    The army was also present with a couple of tanks and armored vehicles as well as large weapons in a program focused on kids to generate future soldiers and judging by the wonder on the faces of those who had been helped into a tank it works! They weren’t allowed to take it home though.

    The touring rally taking place Saturday is always very popular with about 200 cars taking part. It starts mid-morning in the square of the nearby village of L’Isle Jourdain as spectators sit at cafe terraces each car comes to the starting gantry and the driver is asked a few questions over the PA system by the speaker before being sent on his way.

    There is no competitive element as this takes place on open roads; spirited driving within reason is tolerated but any speed through villages and towns absolutely not. It winds through the countryside taking in pretty valleys, villages and stops at a spectacular château for the buffet lunch, then all cars gradually arrive in the paddock at the circuit around 4 PM.

    The gala dinner in a giant awning beside the paddock saw the award ceremonies take place with the Breadvan the star of the weekend unsurprisingly winning Best of Show, it had been positioned in the gala dining room in front of the stage.

    The heads of cancer research at the Poitiers Hospital gave their speeches to much applause and Jean Pierre Doury the organizer was saluted for his tireless efforts to create and continue this event year after year.

    After dinner all enjoyed the ambiance of the village section of the paddock with nice champagne bars and couches as well as luxury vendors during the day and live bands and dancing at night.

    The area had a supercar display with 288 GTO and a LaFerrari amongst others. A champagne fountain was started with a pyramid of glasses to celebrate a quarter century of Sport et Collection.

    The traditional Sunday lunchtime parade where all Ferraris present do a few slow laps three abreast behind the pace car boisterously honking their horns in honor of the charity is a nice touch while the afternoon winds down the weekend with more sessions.

    Organizer Jean Pierre Doury and his team were very happy with this edition and rightly so; it was a complete success with no incidents on track and flawless execution.

    If you wish to attend next year you will be able to enter via the website which is below; it is hoped more participants from the UK, Benelux, Germany, Switzerland, and of course Italy and the US, will join this noble endeavor and fun weekend in good company.

    All necessary advice will be given and the website will have an English language version next year.


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