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Zoute Grand Prix and Concours 2011 – Report and Photos

Report and photos by Dirk de Jager

In 2010, the Bourgoo brothers of Belgium realized a dream with setting up the first rally organized by the Zoute Automobile Club. The Bourgoo’s, who run the Bentley dealership in the high-society town of Knokke-Zoute on the Belgian coast, have always enjoyed driving rallies and wanted to bring the same experience to their region and also involve the city in its planning.

Since last year went smoothly they decided to expand the experience for the 2011 edition with an extra day for a Concours d’Elegance and not necessarily with the same cars that drove the Rally. Set again for the middle of October, this is a bit of a risky move to place an event that late on the calendar in Belgium.

For the rally this doesn’t matter as much, as several of the entrants have driven multiple rallies before, and if the weather is bad, then the weather is bad, as long as they can enjoy driving their cars. But for a Concours d’Elegance this late date means high probability of rain. This was the case in the weeks leading up to the event, but luckily for everybody involved, the entire duration of the rally and the Concours it turned out to be surprisingly warm with clear blue skies.

Since the arrival and the Concours presentation is held at one of the busiest squares of the city–right by the ocean and the preferred shopping street–it seemed only fitting by the organization to add more “flair” to the show for the spectator. On different podia around the streets all the modern brands had the chance to display their latest offerings such as Bugatti, McLaren, Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, to name a few.

The 2011 Zoute Grand Prix rally itself was run over two days with 155 cars lining up at the shoreline with roughly 250 km of driving each day. Divided in two categories, one for regularity and the other in Ballade. The regularity group consisted of approximately 100 cars, although the pre-war group was relatively small and the most common marques were Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Austin-Healey.

On the first day the route was set along the coast visiting Belgian biscuit maker Jules Destrooper for a lunch break. Although the road book was very clear, a surprisingly amount of people managed to get lost. As it turned out the Regularity and Ballade road books where different. Since the Ballade group didn’t do the time trials, they were given different routes. This meant that often they drove together and then split up in different directions only to sometimes cross each other later on or to rejoin. This added to some confusion as the “pack mentality” showed itself: follow the leader. Trusting too much in the person in front of you and not double checking the road book fast enough meant that many cars had to turn around again. All in all, everybody was happy with the chosen route that took participants around Belgian farmland.

For the second day the 2011 Zoute Grand Prix rally went into the direction of Ieper (Ypres), a region well known for its battles during World War I. This day’s route offered scenic routes through woods, fields and hilly countryside that was appreciated. The lunch stop was the world-renowned horse breeder Dion Arabians, with the meal set between the horses while some top horses paraded around for show.

In the evening the “show” continued with the gala dinner, with the meal provided by Michelin two-star chef Yves Mattagne and a special setting as well. A large tent was placed on the first hole of the Knokke Golf course. On one side of the tent were windows, while the other side were the parked rally cars lit up with spot lights so the dinner guests could enjoy the sight of the classic cars lined up at night.

The top three spots for the 2011 Zoute Grand Prix went to Porsches. Third place went to a Porsche 356 SC Cabriolet, a Porsche 911S took second and, fitting for a rally, a Porsche 904 GTS took home top honors. For Sunday the Concours cars would arrive at the Knokke Golf club in the morning to be judged.

Although the Zoute Concours d’Elegance only had 31 cars on display, the quality of the cars was high. Organizers did have some difficulties locating enough cars in the beginning, yet this turned out to be mostly about the date and the fear of standing in the rain with the cars. Fortunately, several owners agreed to bring some of their prized possessions to the lawn.

On the show field was a 1921 Ballot 2LS; a 1965 Ferrari 500 Superfast ordered new by Peter Sellers; a one-off 1955 Jaguar Michelotti (based on a Jaguar D-Type) that won the Cup Special and Unique Bodywork; a 1940 Jaguar SS100 previously owned by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone; a 1966 Ford GT40 that is street legal since Ford used it as their press car; and a first-family-owned 1939 Bugatti 57C Aravis Cabriolet Letourneur and Marchand that gets exercised on a regular basis.

More headline cars at the 2011 Zoute Concours d’Elegance included a 1938 Wanderer W25K Cabriolet, plus a 1938 Rolls Royce Phantom III Four Seater Sport Phaeton built for the Maharaja Shaheb of Morvi (and one of four Phantom III convertibles). It was no wonder this car won a special jury prize, the Cup de Coeur.

Best of Show went to the rare 1953 Siata 8V 208CS Balbo. As one of nine built, this car was the Torino Motor show car and was sold new to the United States where it had an active racing career, including Sebring 12 Hours. The Siata was cut into four pieces in the early 1980s for storage reasons and stayed that way until it changed hands in 2006. Its current owner sent the car through a multi-year restoration project to bring this lovely car back on the road. And so he did only five months ago when the car was presented at the 2011 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance after the car had just been finished for a week.

Despite a few hiccups in the event, at the end of the 2011 Zoute Grand Prix and Concours d’Elegance there were smiling faces, with the general response that visitors and owners are looking forward to next year’s edition to be held from 4 to 7 October 2012. Let’s hope the same wonderful weather comes again!

Zoute Grand Prix Rally and Concours d’Elegance 2011 (click image for larger picture and description)

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[Source: Dirk de Jager]