Motorsport stars come out for 23rd Tour Auto Optic

PANIS, COMAS, BARTH, LARROUSSE, SCHWARZ, BRASSEUR, HOLTZ AND MAYETTE AT THE START! Former F1 and rally drivers, team bosses, famous co-drivers and an actor are among the well-known names entered for the 23rd Tour Auto Optic 2ooo.

Rendezvous on 7th April in the Grand Palais (Paris) to see the 235 historic cars on display, which will take part in the 23rd Tour Auto Optic 2ooo.

The next day the Tour field will leave Paris at dawn to head for Marseille over a 2000-km itinerary via Dijon, Mulhouse, Aix-les-Bains and Valence. They will do battle on special stages on closed roads and on the Dijon-Prénois, Anneau du Rhin, Bresse and Paul Ricard circuits.

It looks like being a hotly-contested event with two former French F1 drivers Olivier Panis (Gr 4 Ferrari 308) and Eric Comas (Gr 4 Lancia Stratos), Jurgen Barth a former winner of the Le Mans 24 hours, and a former world rally championship driver Armin Schwarz plus numerous amateurs who are no slouches behind the wheel!

Among the celebrities is Gerard Holtz France 2 TV anchor man and a Tour Auto regular (four participations), who will fight his corner in a Ford Mustang. Gregory Galiffi (D8) will drive an Alfa Romeo. Also on the entry list are actors Arsene Jiroyan, and Alexandre Brasseur, another enthusiast, in a Jaguar Mk 1.

Olivier Panis, Erik Comas, Jürgen Barth, Gerard Larrousse, Alexandre Brasseur, GErard Holtz and Muriel Mayette, who all raced last year, will again line up at the start. Olivier Panis’ Grand Prix career lasted 10 seasons (1994-2004) and it included 158 races plus victory at Monaco in 1996. Erik Comas’ scorecard reads 59 Grands Prix over 4 seasons in F1 (1991-1994) with some good results. The two drivers left their mark on a decade of French F1 before quitting the top category; they then turned their hand to other branches of the sport with the same passion as proved by their participation in the Tour Auto Optic 2ooo. Comas, who won the Group H category in the 2013 Tour Auto, is putting his title on the line at the wheel of his 1974 Group IV Lancia Stratos. Panis will again team up with his former boss and friend Jean-Paul Driot (DAMS) in a 1981 Group IV Michelotto Ferrari 308. Jurgen Barth (former works Porsche driver and winner of the Le Mans 24 hours in 1977) and Gerard Larrousse (2-time Le Mans 24-Hours winner in 1973-74) are entered in a 2.8-litre Porsche 911 RSR (1973) and a BMW (as the road closer in the event). With no less than 150 rally races, Armin Schwarz is most definitely a "seasoned" veteran in WRC. Throughout his career he has raced in numerous cars: Audi 200 Quattro, Toyota Celica GT-Four, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Escort WRC, Skoda Octavia WRC, and Hyundai Accent WRC. With his full-bore racing style, he will be one of the main attractions at the Tour Auto Optic 2ooo which he will contest for the first time at the wheel of a legendary Lancia Stratos. The Parisians will be able to come and see him in the Grand Palais on Monday 7th April before he sets off for Marseille where he will arrive on 12th April. The American driver Zak Brown, who has raced in single-seaters and GTs, will be at the start too. He has been at the head of Just Marketing International (the biggest marketing company in motor sport) for several years. He is also chairman of the United Autosports team entered in GT and historic races in the USA, in which he is associated with Bobby Rahal, another great name in the history of motor racing, who has also taken part in the Tour. Denis Giraudet, Didier Auriol’s, Juha Kankkunen’s and François Delacour’s former co-driver, will again be in the right-hand seat of a 1966 Porsche 906. Actor, Alexandre Brasseur (following in the footsteps of his father Claude and grandfather Pierre) will be back in a 1959 Jaguar Mk1. Also entered is TV host Gérard Holtz who will be accompanied by his wife Muriel Mayette (general administrator of the Comedie Francaise). The latter competed in the 2013 event as their honeymoon!

MONDAY 7TH APRIL: THE TOUR OPTIC 2OOO ON DISPLAY IN THE GRAND PALAIS 

The Grand Palais, inaugurated for the 1900 Great Exhibition, is a unique monument in the heart of Paris. Its fantastic architecture of  stone, glass and metal has left millions of visitors open-mouthed with admiration. It also hosted the Paris Motor Show between 1901  and 1961. This exceptional setting has been the theatre of innumerable exhibitions, so it is the appropriate setting in which to display objets d’art, fashion shows and collectors’ cars. On display in the Grand Palais will be more than 200 cars taking part in the 23rd event with their coachwork polished to a glossy sheen and their engines fine-tuned to perfection. They are ready to set off the following morning on the roads of France to cover almost 2000 km: they will reach Marseille five days later. TUESDAY 8TH APRIL (1st leg): PARIS-DIJON (1 special stage + the Dijon-Prenois circuit) Just as dawn is breaking the cars will leave the Grand Palais to go to the Chateau Vaux-Le-Vicomte where the official start of the 2014 event will be given. The Vaux-Le-Vicomte domain is the creation of three men hired by Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister: landscape gardener Andre Le Notre, architect Louis Le Vau and painter/decorator Charles Le Brun. Together they created a perfect harmony between architecture and landscape, a benchmark in the 17th century, in fact. On its inauguration on 17th August 1661, Vaux-Le-Vicomte aroused the greed of Louis XIV and it then became an architectural model for the whole of Europe. After the first special stage and lunch in the Renaissance style Chateau de Bussy, the drivers will head for the renowned Dijon-Prenois circuit for the first battle of the week. Once the adrenaline has calmed down, the Tour field will go to Dijon, the end of the first leg on the opening day. It is the Cote d’Or prefecture and former capital of the Dukes of Burgundy. The town is a favorite destination for tourists as it has a rich historical and architectural heritage enhanced by the gastronomic reputation of the region. WEDNESDAY 9TH APRIL (2nd leg): DIJON-MULHOUSE (2 special stages + the Anneau du Rhin circuit) The day after the warm-up leg the drivers in the Tour Auto Optic 2ooo will tackle two special stages before the lunch break in the Chateau of Hollansbourg. This medieval fortress dating from the 13th century stands 600 m above sea level on the mountainous border between Alsace and Lorraine. The drivers will then go to the Anneau du Rhin for a race on the track. It was constructed in 1996 by industrialists Marc Rinaldi, his son François and his daughter-in-law Caroline Bugatti (Ettore’s granddaughter), with the Spengler family (whose son Bruno won the 2012 German Touring Car Championship). The privately-owned track measures around 4 km and is installed in the Blitzheim commune in the Haut Rhin between Colmar, Mulhouse and the German border. The second leg of the Tour Auto will finish in Mulhouse at the Cite de l’Automobile, which houses the famous Schlumpf Brothers’ (Hans and Fritz) Collection that has the largest number of Bugattis in the world, among other automotive gems.

THURSDAY 10TH APRIL (3rd leg): MULHOUSE / AIX-LES-BAINS (2 special stages and the La Bresse circuit) Leaving Mulhouse the drivers will be faced with a 475-km journey, the longest leg of the 2014 event. Following the road book they will arrive at the day’s first special stage, after which comes lunch in the Chateau de Rotalier. Built between 1694 and 1703, then revamped in 1776 it as a typical 18th century manor. Afterwards, they will take on the second road stage of the day followed by a battle on the 3-km long La Bresse circuit. At the end of a very full programme, the entrants in the Tour Auto Optic 2ooo will arrive in the spa resort of Aix-les- Bains in the Savoy region on the banks of the biggest natural lake in France, the Bourget Lake. FRIDAY 11TH APRIL (4th leg): AIX LES BAINS – VALENCE (3 special stages) The second-last day will be a real test of men and machines even if there is no circuit event on the programme. Instead they attack three stages on closed roads, which will really sort them out. After the first battle against the stop watch (and one another) in the morning, they will enjoy a lunch break in the Couvent des Carmes. This 14th century building overlooks the Isère valley on the green slopes of the Vercors massif. It is on the edge of a fortified medieval town in the heart of an exceptional natural environment. There is a museum on the history of the French Dauphins in the most striking part of the convent. Once this page in the history of French heritage has been turned, the cars will compete in the other two stages of the day after which they will go to Valence. This town, situated in heart of the Rhone corridor, is often called the door to the south of France. SATURDAY 12TH APRIL (5th leg): VALENCE-MARSEILLE (1 special stage + the Paul Ricard circuit) This is the final leg and the leading crews will get up at the crack of dawn for the start of the last timed stage, which will bring the 1950-km 2014 event to a close. The road section will be followed by races on the very tricky Paul Ricard circuit, which may well decide the final outcome. After a lunch at the circuit the drivers in the Tour Auto will wend their way from the Le Castellet plateau to sea level and Marseille. After Nice in 2012 and La Rochelle in 2013 and many other towns prior to that, the tradition of finishes in seaside resorts continues. This ancient city, which has a rich historic and urban heritage, is one of the biggest towns on the Mediterranean. In 2013, the Phocaean port was the European Cultural Capital. This year, it will be the theatre of the finish of the 23rd Tour Auto Optic 2ooo