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2008 Laon Champagne GT - 13th to 15th Sept





In August Hilary spotted an advert in the Historic Rally Car Registers (HRCR) “Old Stager” Magazine for the Continental Car Tours organised Laon Champagne GT event. This was designed to be a taster for the Regularity Events which take place in Europe. Whilst mainly aimed at classic cars modern vehicles were allowed to enter.

After consultation with Ian Butcher and Chris Fieldhouse about the organisers, it was decided that we would make it our first event together with Hilary navigating. Could this end up in the divorce courts? Susan and Ian Butcher then came under extreme pressure to join us for the weekend, having given us positive information about the organisers. This did not take too much persuasion and we had two confirmed HRCR / Quinton Motor Club entries.

Prior to leaving home someone decided to bring November the 5th forward and have a fire in the channel tunnel. After numerous phone calls we were advised that travel plans would now be by ferry to France. As the M20 was now being used as a lorry park a route via the M2 to Dover was used. On arrival at the out skirts of Dover there was at least a 3 mile tail back of vehicles. Like all good rally drivers and navigators a plan to overcome this problem was hatched. At the end of the dual carriageway an illegal U turn was made and the journey to the port completed with a trip through Dover town centre.

At the port a very efficient check in had been set up by Euro Tunnel and we were sent on our way with tickets for the 16.30 hours sailing with Sea France to Calais. This looked good as it was only 10 minutes later than our booked time on the tunnel. At 17.25 hours we had just made it to the check in booth and a now revised travel time of 18.05 hours was given ha! ha! This was not looking good but the planned meal of “Moule (mussels) and chips” on the sea front at Calais was still a possibility.

In the car waiting area chaos ensued and it was soon evident that with the amount of vehicles on the port side they were not going to fit in one

boat, we were going no where fast. Eventually we sailed on the 18.45 boat but with the loss of one hour time difference. The ladies French “Moule and chips” idea had evaporated. So plan B was put into action, park on the car deck and send Ian off through the crowds of people to secure a table in the restaurant. Whilst this was not quite what the ladies had in mind a good meal was had by all, the whole of the crossing being spent in the restaurant. We then made our way to the Hotel Ibis for a well earned rest; the journey to here had taken over 12 hours.

On Saturday morning we started the concentration run of the event, the route took us via the Auto-route to Arras. Here there was time to visit the Wellington Caves that were used in the 2 World Wars and also to partake of a French rustic lunch. The caves, with guided tour, were very interesting and can be highly recommended. Now time to return to the planned route. I parted with my 3€ fee and waited on the road side for Susan and Ian to arrive. After some time we walked into the car park to find Ian’s ticket was not talking to the ticket machine, we think he was trying to cheat the system with an old N.C.P. car park ticket. The problem was soon rectified by a visit to the office and yes Ian did have to pay his 3€. We were soon out of the town and passing through some very nice villages and country side but sadly the promised rain had arrived and spoilt some of the views.

After booking in at the hotel a competitors briefing was held by Jonathan the C.C.T. courier. The various types of navigation and timing were explained and at this stage thoughts of “what have we let ourselves in for?” were going round the room, most of the entries including ourselves had not taken part in an event like this before. Should we go home now to save face? Susan and Ian have had connections with HRCR events before and they were assuring everyone that it would be easier than explained, we will see.

Sunday morning dawned to a clear blue sky and glorious sun. The first attempt at Tulip Diagrams was the transport route to take us to the car park in front of the fantastic Cathedral in Old Town Laon. This made a wonderful backdrop for the competition cars. At 10.00 hours the first car left the start with the others following at 2 minute intervals. Leg 1 which was 39.8 miles including the transport miles was pure regularity working on Tulip Diagrams and set average speeds. At set points along the route we had to record our own times from stop watches carried in the car whilst working on the averages set by the organisers. The route passed along near deserted roads and country lanes through the villages of Presles, Martinigy, Bievres, Chermizy-Ailles, Syvain Locre, Bouchonville, Ployart, Parfondru, Foret Domaniale De Lavergny and then a  transport back to Laon. Back at the town square there were smiles all round and most competitors had got on very well with the superb route instructions, and found their way back to the Cathedral!

 After the coffee break a new type of route instruction was given to us called Jogularity, again to those not in the know very scary. But again assurances were given that Leg 2 would be easier than the first. Instead of Tulip Diagrams we would be guided round more beautiful countryside by landmarks i.e. the green gate, the red door, 6 white poles. There very many of these on the 21.9 mile route and whilst it was much easier on the driver the navigator really had to work hard, with navigating, inserting times and trying to keep the driver to the set 29 m.p.h. average. The route for this leg took in the villages of Presles, Nouvion, Liveral, Cerny, Chamouille, Bievres, Martigny, Montchalons, Bruyerres and back to Laon via another transport route. Now it was time for the 1.5 hour lunch break, this style of rallying is starting to be good fun and very sociable. Hilary was now getting to grips with the navigation and no wrong slots so far and this seemed to be the theme for most of the other novice navigators.

Over lunch in the old town square the usual rally tales were being exchanged but all in all the comments were very favourable and much fun was being had by all. Leg 3 started at 15.00 hours and by this time the local people from Laon were taking great interest in the English cars parked by the cathedral. Amongst them there was a “mint” Mk1 Escort Mexico, an old MG roadster, a TVR, two Lotuses, and a Triumph Herald!

The mileage for this leg including transport runs was 55.3 miles a bit of a sting in the tail but we were experts by now and reading route cards as though we had been doing this type of navigation for years. All went well until the direction to Anizy where the town was closed by a very large fair and many of the competitors were trying to find ways round the diversions. Most of the diversion roads were blocked by parked cars’. There were more vehicles here than on a good day on the M25 and the word “parked” should have been dumped! Competitor cars were seen coming from all directions but our Q.M.C. navigators coped well and cut the route to Fresnes s/s Coucy and then rejoined the planned route. The route now complete and another transport run took us back to the square for afternoon tea. The route for leg 3 was in the Forest of St.Gobain and had the most spectacular scenery and buildings of the whole event passing through Cerny les Bucy, Suzy, Wissingcourt, Brancourt, Quincey Basse, Landricourt, Jumencourt, Coucy la Ville, Fresnes s/s Coucy, Septvaux and St. Nicolas Aux Bois.

Our evening meal was back at the base hotel with the other competitors. Whilst no actual results are declared for this type of event the Q.M.C. crews were advised that we were top of the league and would fair very well on a “proper” rally where marshals are stationed at secret timing points to check on the competitor’s navigation and timing skills. After a total mileage of 126.8 just 3 seconds separated the two Quinton Crews.

After dinner Jonathan awarded each crew with a bottle of champagne which was again a very nice touch to finish a most superb weekend. We would have no hesitation in recommending Continental Car Tour Events, the paperwork and organisation was first class. Included in the price of £179.00 per person was the ferry travel from England to France and back, 2 nights B & B in a very nice hotel, 3 course evening meal, bottle of champagne and the tour. What outstanding value. As beginners we will be back for more perhaps with a classic car next time. A big thank you to Jonathan and C.C.T. for a superb quiet route, we shall return one day to retrace our steps and take time to look at the buildings and villages in more depth and perhaps the ladies will get their “Moule and chips”

Mike Stratton Car 8.