A vintage year for Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or

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The 53rd Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or, which took place last weekend on the Dijon-Prenois circuit, fulfilled all its promise starting with ideal weather conditions that helped attract a large crowd. This year 15 000 people flocked to the meeting continuing the progressive increase in spectators, a reward for the organiser Peter Auto for the numerous improvements made to the event since the company took it over again in 2014. The Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or, the oldest race of its kind in Europe in the domain of historic competitions, offered an action-packed programme with ten grids and 16 races retracing the history of motor sport from post-war single-seaters to the Group C cars of the 1980s, which left their mark on the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as the GTs with a grid of almost 60 entrants in Sixties’ endurance, touring cars, Formula 2 and Formula Junior. A total of almost 300 cars were present including the most recent GTs in the Global Endurance Legends Series that carried out several on-track demonstrations.

Among the many amazing cars was Xavier Michon’s 1968 Howmet TX entered for the Classic Endurance Racing grid. It was the first turbine-powered car to win a race and the first one to bear the name of its sponsor, a turbine manufacturer for the aerospace industry: only two of these American sports prototypes were built. The Historic Grand Prix Cars Association grid 1 was also a magnet for enthusiasts as it attracted four Maserati 250Fs, the car in which Juan Manuel Fangio won his fifth Formula 1 World Championship title in 1957. Another jewel in this field was the Ferrari 246 baptised the Dino in homage to the designer of its engine, Alfredo Dino Ferrari, the Commendatore’s son who died in 1956. It was the first Formula 1 car to use this type of engine - and to win with it - and it helped English driver Mike Hawthorn to the 1958 F1 World Championship title. The list of exceptional cars at the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or would be too long to enumerate here, and to give spectators an idea of the quantity and the quality the only answer was a visit to the paddock open to the public!

On the list of drivers was a name that nobody could possibly forget, and for good reason, as it’s one that will forever be associated with the history of the Dijon-Prenois circuit – René Arnoux. He was invited to drive a Shelby Cobra 289 and a BMW M1 and recalled the unforgettable duel between himself and Gilles Villeneuve in the 1979 French Grand Prix: ‘‘It was a red-letter moment in my career as a driver against Gilles who was my best friend. I’m really happy to be taking part in an event like this, and to meet all the passionate enthusiasts who bring back to life these old racing cars which smell of oil, brakes and are tricky to drive. I found that out with the Shelby Cobra, while the BMW M1 that is a more modern design is easier to handle. I remember this car as it raced in the Procar Championship which was a curtain-raiser to European Grands Prix. At the time I didn’t take part as I was under contract to Renault F1. But I remember that the races were hotly contested and the drivers loved the car. If a rendezvous like the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or is meeting with ever-increasing success, it’s due in great part to the fact that modern races, in particular F1, are becoming very bland and the crowd can’t see very much. Here the paddock is open and the public can rub shoulders with the cars and their drivers. That’s what feeds passion''.

This year the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or wasn’t just about historic cars. Also on the programme were some of the jewels from the world of aviation which added excitement to the skies over the circuit on Saturday afternoon. The star of this air show was a 1945 Spitfire powered by a Rolls-Royce engine putting out more than 2000 horsepower. It was a redoubtable fighter plane used by the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain and helped the Allies to win the Second World War. There was also a Sea Fury from 1949 in the colours of the Royal Australian Navy, which flew during the Korean War in particular. And last but not least, a Laird LC-RW300 Speedwing, a two-seater biplane from 1929, the only survivor of the five built by American Company, Laird Aircraft.

The makes’ clubs, other major players in the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or, arrived at the event in even greater numbers than before and were able to take advantage of the on-track runs reserved for them. And finally the public could profit from a varied range of pleasures including the many exhibitors and activities laid on for their enjoyment. While looking forward to the 54th staging that promises to be even better, the next event on the Peter Auto calendar will take place between 30th June and 2nd July on the Monza Autodromo, another circuit packed with history.

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