Report and photos by Dirk de Jager
The 4th Circuit des Ardennes Historic event was held 30 June to 3 July, 2011 on the Circuit des Ardennes in Bastogne, Belgium.
In the early days of motoring the few “races” that where held consisted of racing from city to city on public roads. The problem with these popular races was that the spectators only got to see the cars go by one time. Baron Pierre de Crawhez (1875-1925), an important early motoring pioneer, developed the idea of a closed-off race course that would allow spectators to see the cars several times during a race.
First held in 1902, the triangle-shaped course was 63km long with a starting point in Bastogne going to Habay la Neuve and back via Neufchateau. The “Circuit des Ardennes” became the world’s first racetrack; the concept was copied in 1903 by the Gordon Bennett Trophy that also abandoned city to city races. While an innovating concept, the races on the Circuit des Ardennes only lasted until 1907.
A Circuit des Ardennes Historic revival was first staged in 2002 to commemorate the pioneers of motor racing on the 100th anniversary of the first race. Subsequent revivals are staged every three years, with the 4th edition taking place in 2011. The Historic Circuit des Ardennes 2011 entry list consisted of more than 500 cars, ranging from 1900 to 1970, including 80 pre-1918 cars and a staggering 170 entrants from the Interbellum.
For the oldest cars (pre-1918) there was a small tour on Friday around the city and a quarter mile race. Held at the outskirts of Bastogne, the quarter mile run was placed on a road going slightly downhill to give the oldest competitors some fighting chance to get up to speed. The fastest time of the day went to a 1913 Rolls Royce reaching 70km/h. Fittingly, this “high speed” run was held towards the roundabout of “Circuit des Ardennes” where the monument honouring Baron de Crawhez is located.
For Saturday the day’s route was only 111 km long and was reserved for the cars up to 1918 and the Bugatti group. Here you could see cars with names like Gobron Nagant, Germain, De Dion Bouton, Brillie Schneider and Stevens Duryea that helped shape the motoring world but didn’t survive those early days. Other included marques that either made it to after 2nd World War or that are perhaps on your driveway today included Adler, Daimler, Delage, Vauxhall, Ford, Studebaker, Renault, Rolls-Royce, Peugeot, Fiat and many others. Driving around the hilly country side proved to be challenging for several of these cars as going uphill isn’t always the easiest thing. As some owners said, “Don’t worry, we will make it, just give us some extra time.” And make it they did albeit at their own pace. The sense of camaraderie and bravery amongst the early owners showed up during the day since the weather was fairly cold, although luckily dry, and some contestants needed a push up some of the steeper hills. Everybody looked out for each other though and no entrants were left behind.
Picking a favorite out of this group is fairly difficult since many of these cars are to most people unknown. Looking at the engineering of automobiles over 100 years old is fascinating, as is trying to figure out how some of the earliest horseless motor carriages work. This was on the minds of a lot of people at the several stops when visitors could pour over every detail while the cars were parked in the villages.
For the final day of the Historique Circuit des Ardennes 2011 weekend the route was 210 km long, with sunny and warm weather for the more than 400 cars lined up on the starting grid. The cars ranged from 1919 to 1970, including a group of 25 Bugattis and a group of ten Packards. Pre-war entrants included all the familiar names with a few peculiar ones such as Belgian manufacturers Excelsior, Minerva and FN. As to other rare gems on the road there where a Donnet-Zedel, Alcyon, Berliet and a Peerless. Some of the cars that attracted a lot of attention were a pretty Wanderer W25, a Renault Nervasport and the sporting sound of an Alfa Romeo 8C Monza. Of course you can never go wrong with arriving in a Bugatti either.
The pace on the final day was slightly higher compared to Saturday yet everybody enjoyed the nice scenery and followed the easy road book. Even with so many cars on route there never seemed to be any major delays or problems. Coupled with the warm weather, this was perfect for the visitors that lined up the roads to enjoy the long caravan and a good beer.
Back in Bastogne all entrants raved about their day and are already looking forward to the next edition of the Historic Circuit des Ardennes in 2014! Now all I still need to do is find somebody that is willing to lend me two cars so I can participate in both days.
Historic Circuit des Ardennes 2011 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture and description)
[Source: Dirk de Jager]