Long distance truck drivers - I don’t know how they do it, really I don’t. Yesterday we’d covered just over 1000 kilometres but the drive had really taken it out of us. I went to bed at nine and had a great nights sleep but, when I woke this morning, the last thing I wanted to do was get back in the saddle and drive any further. But the thought of getting home was driving me on and it was a necessary evil.
After we’d had la petit dejeuner (breakfast to us anglophiles) we decided that we really should take advantage of our proximity to the historic Cathedral du Notre-Dame de Reims and headed down on foot to check it out. We’d spotted it last night whilst we’d driven round looking for a parking space - it would have been hard not to - but it was only as we walked the two or three blocks from the hotel that we really begun to appreciate the true scale of the place. I am a firm atheist and, as a result, I am largely unmoved by religious buildings but there’s no way that such an imposing building could fail to impress anyone. Even me.
After spending time wandering around the inside of the historic building - it was here where all French kings were crowned before the populace decided to demonstrate their disapproval of their monarchy by beheading them - we headed off to the outskirts of the town to visit a place of a worship much closer to my own heart.
Le Circuit de Gueux had been established way back in 1926 and, in the years that followed, its series of long straight public roads bore witness to numerous international motor races. It was one of the classic venues but in 1966, after 14 Grand Prix, Formula One departed and the circuit fell into disrepair. International racing continued to be held at the circuit but the demise of the Grand Prix hit the area hard. There were several attempts to bring the venue up to the required safety requirements of the time but they all failed and, in 1972, the Automobile Club de Champagne held one final race, packed up their equipment and left, never to return.
Since then the once busy tribunes have sat, abandoned and largely forgotten, overlooking the pitlane which had once seen the legendary Alfred Neubauer pit his awe-inspiring Silver Arrows in competition with the Auto Unions. The advertising hoardings fading and the paint peeling, the decaying circuit buildings have presented an incongruous sight to motorists passing along the Route Nationale 31 for years.
Inspired by events across the Channel which had seen a very successful annual historic race meeting see a return of racing to Goodwood - a circuit on the south coast of England which was abandoned at a similar time - interest in le Circuit de Gueux had returned and plans were even made for a revival meeting in 1997 but the circuit was destined to remain a relic of the past as these plans, like so many before them, failed to come together. In the end the fate of the circuit was sealed when, in 2002, bulldozers, excavators and graders arrived to re-profile areas of the road system. With several large chunks of the track now missing, and with a couple of huge roundabouts now built on other areas of the track, the circuit now commonly referred to simply as Reims is destined to remain a ghost track. Locals have formed a group and have started preservation works on some of the buildings which remain; it somehow feels right this way.
In these days of ‘progress’ which see us losing increasing numbers of classic challenges from our circuits in the name of safety it is a beautiful thing that we have places such as Reims where we can go and pay homage to the greats of yesteryear. As signs dotted around the old pit garages urge us, ‘Memoire des pilotes - respect du site’. Amen.
And with that it was time to make a break for home. We arrived back at the Eurotunnel terminal outside Calais three hours before our scheduled crossing but, rather than a lengthy wait, we were quickly ushered onto the next train with minimal wait and, before we knew it, we were rolling off the train and heading out on to a wet, busy and incredibly bumpy M20 towards a miserable looking London. Welcome home.
Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity
Previous: Monte Carlo or Bust
Next: Ready for the off. Kinda.