One of the highlights of 2016 for me was competing at Saint Goueno in France. Entries have just opened for 2017 and although I don’t think I’ll enter next year in the GT86, I haven’t ruled out a quick trip over there to watch and meet up with some of the people we met last year.
When I got the email to say entries were open, I had a look at the website and found a couple of photos of me which I hadn’t seen before…
Before we left England Brittany Ferries sent us a text warning us of delays disembarking because of a port workers’ strike. In actual fact it worked out fine as this gave us an extra hour in bed. They also warned us of fuel shortages due to the French tanker drivers going on strike, so we planned to fill up before getting on the ferry at Portsmouth. However, I completely forgot this and we arrived in Saint Malo with only half a tank of diesel in the Accord. However, on Thursday night we went for a meal in Moncontour, where we stayed in 2013, and the small family owned petrol station there let us have as much as we wanted. The weather forecast from before we left the UK until we returned was dire (and in fact we have heard since returning that people were killed in thunderstorms in northern France) but for us it was warm and sunny as you will see from the photos. So, many a warning but in fact everything worked out perfectly.
We arrived at the gite, which we were sharing with some other competitors, just before lunch on Thursday and called Anne, who had organised the accommodation, and were invited to a barbecue lunch at the lake in Saint Goueno. We left the Lotus on the trailer at the gite and headed for the lake which was a sight to behold with race cars and trailers everywhere! This set the scene for the whole four days. Good food, lots of wine and good company. After lunch we returned to the gite to collect the Lotus and moved it into the paddock in Saint Goueno and then headed north to Moncontour.
Friday was spent wandering around the paddock, meeting people and watching historic regularity cars going up the hill, and then signing on and getting our race numbers. In the evening in the salle des fêtes in the village there was meal for all drivers and their crews and live music – the first night of a music festival that was run in conjunction with the motor racing. The Saint Goueno Course de Coteis a round of the French Hillclimb Championship so all the top teams and drivers were present. Unlike in the UK where events are run by motor clubs, this event is run by the local community and the Saint-Goueno Hillclimb Masters (in which I was entered) is a separate event for UK and Irish drivers that is run alongside the main French event.
On Saturday we had an untimed sighting run plus two timed practice runs. The hill is 3.2 km long (over 2 km longer than Loton Park), it’s 3.5 km from the paddock to the start line and then over a kilometer back to the paddock on the return road. So, very different to a British hillclimb. My first time was 1 min 59 secs but over the weekend I improved on every single run to finish with a 1.53.201 on my third run on the Sunday. This placed me 31st out of 69 and second in class behind Peter Cummins in a Darrian T90 GTR.
The Lotus ran faultlessly, which was a big relief after the recent problems which necessitated a new alternator and clutch, and it was very well received by the French who declared it tres cool. It was the only Elise present though there was a roadgoing Europa which was lined up ahead of me for most runs. There was a long break on Sunday for lunch, which was laid on in a huge tent near the hairpin. Aperitifs and wine with the meal. Very French 😉 Then after the event, on Sunday night all the drivers in the Masters were provided with a free farewell meal in the salle des fêtes.
Back in 2013 I blogged about the differences between UK and this French hillclimb (see Saint Goueno 2013) but being a pilote this year I noticed two more differences: 1) if you catch a slower car you are allowed to overtake it and 2) they don’t use timing struts (which begs the question, why do we?).
All in all it was a terrific event which was exceptionally well organised by very friendly and welcoming people. A big thank you to John and Wendy, Graham and Eddie and everyone else whose names escape me now. Merci!
Back in 2012 I was talking to Gordon Hick in the paddock at Loton Park and he was telling me that the previous weekend he had been in France doing a hillclimb in Brittany. He described how the whole village embraced the three day event and how there was a wonderful atmosphere, with music and wine and good food.
The following year Jacqui and drove down in her S2000 to see for ourselves. Everything Gordon had said was true though we were still unprepared for the wonderful welcome we received, the abundance of bars and food tents in the paddock and the huge number of people spectating. That was in 2013 and our visit was of course recounted in this blog.
This winter Jacqui said we should go back for a long weekend. I thought she meant to watch, but no, to compete in the Lotus. Best not to argue with the wife, so I got on the website to get the dates (last weekend in May) only to find that competitors had to pre-register in December and that a list of lucky drivers would be published in January. So it was perfect timing and I paid my ten euros (I think it was) to pre-register and crossed my fingers. Then on January 17 the list was posted and there was my name on it. I felt very privileged.
I’ve already booked the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo on the Thursday night, returning on the Monday morning. Next I will have to buy an FHR (Frontal Head Restraint) for my new helmet and a fire extinguisher – both required in France – and accommodation also has to be arranged.
The entry fee was very reasonable at €220 but the ferry was a bit steep at £575 with a cabin. This all comes out of my racing budget so I may not be doing as much travelling up and down the country chasing HSA points this year, focussing instead on my local hill, Loton Park.
The Van Diemen is at Aldon Automotive to have its brakes looked at and I am supposed to be getting on with the bodywork but I’ve been distracted, first with my other blog Cars on Streets and now with putting together the fourth and final video from our visit to Saint Goueno hillclimb in France earlier in the year, and of course there’s Christmas. Have a merry one!
The fourth video from Saint-Goueno… Now this may seem like a random selection of 78 clips clumsily put together, but in fact it was shot over two days and should show the course, bend by bend, in order, from start to finish. But then again, it is just a bunch of cars going round corners. Love it!
Well this video editing business is much more time consuming than I had imagined. This is the first video I’ve compiled and is just a montage of paddock scenes and I’ll probably have to change the audio track unfortunately. I’ll do the racing sequences some other time, but right now I have to get ready for the Graham Hill Trophy Sprint at Curborough tomorrow.
This wasn’t the first European hillclimb I’ve been to but it’s the only one I’ve been to since I started competing. I first heard about Saint Goueno from Gordon Hick in the paddock at Loton Park last year. He had just done La Pommeraye and Saint-Gouéno and I thought it would be good fun to enter Saint Gouéno myself this year. However, the cost of getting legal for the French was a little too much for me (new helmet, Hans device, seat belts and fire extinguisher) so Jacqui and I decided to go and watch instead. Unfortunately Gordon was not to be there as last weekend he broke his diff on the start line at La Pommeraye and so had to return to Wales.
We stayed about 25 minutes away in the medieval hilltop town of Moncontour and would highly recommend the Chambres D’hôtes A La Garde Ducale in the square. It’s a B&B in that they don’t serve evening meals but there’s an excellent restaurant opposite and a couple of good bars which also do snacks and we were always able to find a space to park right outside in the square. There’s lots of entertainment laid on in Saint Gouéno but as we weren’t staying down there we didn’t attend anything. I know those who did recommend that too.
So how was it different to going to Prescott or Loton or Shelsley? Here are some observations about how it differs from British hillclimbs;
It was longer. 3.2 kilometers. That compares with 1.3 km at Loton Park. The road from the paddock to the start is 3.5 km and feels much longer when on foot in the midday sun. I know as I dragged Jacqui down it to see the start. If you go to watch, don’t do this; walk down the side of the track through the woods – much shorter and shadier.
The event is filmed from multiple cameras and there’s a huge video screen at the Fer à Cheval hairpin so you can sit there and watch the cars coming up the hill on the screen long before they come into view and then watch them after they disappear from sight and head to the finish line.
There was free wine and beer in the paddock. I have no idea why but much appreciated!
The cars seemed to be released at shorter intervals than in the UK. I’m not sure if that is true, but it certainly seemed that cars passed you more frequently than at Loton for example.
There were lots of families there for a day out and lots and lots of dogs. (I like dogs by the way, just that they are frowned upon at UK events).
There were lots of food tents and barbecues and marquees like at Le Mans where you could go and have a glass of wine and see the times.
The event went on longer in the day (but it is lighter later in France).
The newspaper I saw on the Monday morning reported 15,000 people attended but my French isn’t very good and I don’t know whether that is for the two days or each – probably for the whole weekend. Certainly there was a large number of people there, but not annoyingly so like at Silverstone for example.
The weather was very kind to us and it was a great event. The track is interesting with fast esses, sweeping curves and tight corners and you can walk the entire length if you wish. There was also a good variety of cars. For once I didn’t take any photos but I did take a video camera and when I’ve done some editing I’ll upload something. Don’t hold your breath as I’m even more an amateur with a video camera than a still camera, but if you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get an email alert when I do upload it.