The circuit des Remparts was born in 1939. Now entering its 78th year, the Circuit has a strong history. Here are some excerpts.

Le Grand Circuit de Vitesse Automobile des Remparts (The Great Circuit of Automobile Speed of the Remparts) from 1939 to 1955

1938 The Charente sector of the l’ACDSVC (Automobile Club Deux Sèvres Vendée Charente), and in particular Dr Pierre Roy, whose vision gave birth to the project of bringing racing cars into the centre of the City of the Valois (Angoulême), starting the subsequent year.

1939 Monsieur GUILLON, mayor of the city of Angoulême, along with his Municipal Council and the prefectoral authorities, validated the “Grand Circuit de Vitesse Automobile des Remparts” on 02 July 1939, but it was immediately given the nickname “Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême. The course measured 1279m including two short, straight lines, three right-angle-bends, one large rapid corner, and three hairpin turns.

Angouleme Circuit des Remparts map

The course is unique as it remains completely unchanged since this date. It is, along with Monaco et Pau, one of the last city-centre automobile circuits.

2 July 1939 -Inaugural Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême

Angouleme 1939 - affiche officielle Circuit des Remparts

Nine drivers joined the very first Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême, and among them were some of the most prestigious racing names of the day : Maurice Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Wimille, René Bonnet, and Raymond Sommer, who won the race and set the best time at 1mn 10s in his Alfa Romeo 308 running the N°2. The trial on the 1.279 km course consisted of two qualifying rounds of 40 laps each (with a total distance of 51.16 km) and a finale of 70 laps (with a total distance of 89.53 km).

The cars represented the very best of 1939 : Bugatti 59 for Jean-Pierre Wimille, and a squad of 35, 37 et 51. There were Delahaye 135, one Maserati 4CL and 6CL, the Records l’Amilcar MCO, one Salmson GP, one MG K3 and one Amilcar C6 belonging to local boy « Toto » Guyard, nicknamed « Wimille of Charente ».

Due to the declaration of WWII two months after the first Circuit des Remparts, the trials were suspended for eight years. We would have to wait until 13-14 and 15 June 1947 for a second Angoulême race.

13-14 and 15 June 1947 – Return of the Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême

The automotive landscape has changed…. the world has changed! In addition to the automobile race, the Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême has also become a theatre of automotive competition and an “American style” bicycle race of intermediate sprints involving teams of two riders.

The trials, still on the same 1.279 km course, are longer than in 1939 because they include two elimination rounds, each of 55 laps race length (with a total distance of 70.345km) and a final round of 80 laps (102.32km).

The principal development since 1939 is that engine capacity is now limited to 2 litres in Angoulême. Exit the 3.6 litre Delahaye and Jean-Pierre Wimille’s 4.9 litre Bugatti 59, and enter the smaller, sharper engines : Simca, Salmson, Amilcar, Cisitalia, Frazer-Nash.  Looking back to the seven cars on the starting line in 1939, not one of them has returned in 1947! The [Bugatti] 59 was the brand’s pre-war swan song; Bugatti is no longer able to compete with the “new brands.”

One more defining feature of the 1947 race is the line-up. Three manufacturers are behind the wheel of their own cars : Amédée Gordini “the wizard” is driving his Simca Gordini, and René Bonnet is introducing the most recent version of his DB (for Deutsch-Bonnet) with a drive-train from the celebrated Citroën Traction Avant. This really is the era of “manufacturing without a patent”!  The third, Eugène Martin, well-known Parisian mechanic, takes the victory in his Frazer-Nash BMW – getting the best out of a BMW engine in a car whose bodywork he constructed himself.

The battle is fierce because Raymond Sommer and a « little newcomer» called Robert Manzon, both driving the new Italian Cisitalia, tied for best time in 1mn 7s and 9/10.

11 July 1948 – Prince Igor

Angoulême - affiche officielle 1948 par Geo Ham

The third Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême is limited to cars with an engine capacity of less than 2 litres (or one litre including compressor) and maintains the number of elimination rounds set in 1947.

Nineteen contestants are on the line-up, the most important being Simca-Gordini et Cisitalia.  There is even more bespoke manufacturing as seen in the Jicey, Monnier, Veritas, Simca Roux and even René Berté.

The very exacting lay-out of the Charentais Circuit, with its tight turns, hair-pin bends, and considerable drop over a short distance, lends itself to smaller, lighter and more manageable cars. This is to the detriment of the more powerful and often heavier cars which need more space for maximum performance – and is of course also true today.

This year it’s Igor Troubetzkoy, better known as Prince Igor, who takes the win in a Simca-Gordini under the N°20. Robert Manzon holds the best lap record for a second year running with a 1mn 4s 9/10, also in a Simca Gordini.

12 June 1949 – Enter the Prancing Horse

Angoulême - affiche officielle 1949 par Geo Ham

The race saw the first participation of a now legendary brand : FERRARI with two 166 F2, here equipped with a 2-litre V12 in compliance with the rules on limited engine capacity. They are in the hands of British Duddley-Folland and Italian Count Bruno Sterzy.  The Ferraris began their carreer at the Turin Grand Prix, but it was their victory at the ACF (Automobile Club de France) Grand Prix on the Gueux Circuit à Reims that excited automotive sport enthusiasts.

This year the supremacy of foreign car brands marks the end of the reign of Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Salmson, Talbot and Amilcar. The glory of the French automobile brand is sadly ended.

Competing against Count Sterzy’s powerful Ferrari pushes the Grand “Pétoulet” Maurice Trintignant to modify his technique and tactics, which wins him the trial in his Simca-Gordini – he takes the best lap time with 1mn 3s.

You might be asking yourself how Maurice Trintignant acquired his uncommon nickname. As the story goes, Maurice Trintignant wanted to participate in the first automobile race after the war, in the Bois de Boulogne on 9 September 1945. He removed his Bugatti from the shed where it hid during the war, but during the trials the motor suddenly stopped working.  His mechanic searched and searched for the problem and found that the petrol filter was blocked…by mouse “pétoules” (we will let you guess the meaning). When his friend and fellow driver Jean-Pierre Wimille asked what was the matter, Trintignant replied, as he often did, with a Provençal word – there are mouse pétoules in the filter. Wimille found this so funny that he gave him the nickname “Pétoule,” by which he has been known ever since.

Le 11 June 1950 – Fangio !

Juan-Manuel Fangio originally expected the previous year, brings El Maestro’s touch to his Maserati 4CLT, leading it to victory with the fastest lap with 1mn 3s 9/10. A second famous Argentine, José-Froilàn Gonzalez, raises his Maserati A6GC F2 to the third step of the podium. And André Simon slides his Ferrari 2L into second place.

The Circuit des Remparts diversifies this year, welcoming a grid of Formula 2, 500cc Racers and even Side-Cars ! La Cooper, equipped with a 500 cc JAP engine and driven by Raymond Sommer, the Circuit des Remparts’ first-ever champion, hovers over the grid in front of the DB Panhard Monomill, which appears for the first time this year.

On 21 April 1950, celebrated sports writer Charles FAROUX, writes a glowing account of Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême which headlines Équipe magazine.

10 June 1951 – Horses in the Rain

This rainy sixth edition stands out primarily for the return of a wide range of automobile brands, and the continued participation of drivers whose names have become icons, forever linked with the Charente Race – names like Bonnet, Fisher, Manzon, Prince Igor and of course the formidable Trintignant. It is the first time that the new brand HWM (for Hersham and Walton Motors) runs in the Angoulême race, brought by Lance Macklin who comes in second. It’s Rudolf Fisher who takes first in his Ferrari 212. The surprise comes from Michel Aunaud in his very quick DB Panhard, which steals third place from much more powerful cars.

Despite all this, regulatory changes and the new organisation of Formula 1 put the breaks on the Circuit des Remparts d’Angoulême.  As a result, the years 1952 and 53 are reduced to only a Touring Car Rally, and in 1954 there is no race at all.

5 June 1955 – Everything Changes

Michel Aunaud’s historic result four years earlier proved that a small capacity car was capable of going head to head with the F2’s. Because of this, the public are now offered two trials : one reserved to motorised open cars by Panhard, Renault or BMW, the Criterium of the Remparts, and the second reserved to Monomills Panhard. (The loop came full circle, in 2012 with the return of a Monomill grid.) Yvon Carlus takes the Critérium des Remparts with two elimination rounds of 20 laps (25,580km) and a final of 40 laps (51,160km) with his Panhard Dyna Spéciale N°30.

The Monomill course is composed of two elimination trials of 30 laps (38,370km) and a 70-lap final (89,530km). Louis Cornet takes the first trial and Pierre Chennevoy the second. But it will be Pierre Savary who calls the shots and wins the final.

1955 also marks a major evolution in the world of the automobile. Henceforth, automobile sports move to permanent tracks, specially laid out for this purpose. It is no longer permitted to start new inner-city races, and the old ones, such as Angoulême, are subject to strict regulation. One by one they begin disappear (Albi, Reims, Rouen…). The disaster at Le Mans on 11 June 1955, six days after the Angoulême race, results in an immediate shut-down of all urban circuits.

It will be many years before the Circuit des Remparts lives again in the city.

More to come…

Octane recently published a superb article on the history of the Circuit des Remparts, signed by Douglas Hallawel.  You can download the article here, thanks to the kind authorisation given by Chris Bietz, Chief Editor of Octane.

the story of Circuit des Remparts by Octane

Octane recently published a superb article on the history of the Circuit des Remparts, signed by Douglas Hallawel. You can download the article here, thanks to the kind authorisation given by Chris Bietz, Chief Editor of Octane.