Reims-Gueux: An Old Circuit In Modern Times

The main grandstands at Reims-Gueux. [Mark Gero Photo]

The main grandstands at Reims-Gueux. [Mark Gero Photo]

by Mark Gero

In 2014, I was on vacation around the city of Reims, France, famous for its Mumms champagne. But it was not for this. After viewing the site of the old school house where the Nazis surrendered to the Allies in 1945, my gearhead type of attitude knew that at one time, there was a racing circuit nearby where the French Grand Prix used to be held, and that it had been in a way, restored. But as hard as I could find, the location of the circuit was not possible to find, or as a matter of fact, I had other things to find, and the hotel concierge was not helping. I was determined to find it before I ever stopped going to France.

Move forward to 2016. In fact, July, where I had my last chance of seeing this circuit, which now after two years of research, now could be located. Following a showery night, I picked up early and left for the town of Thillois, which was just west of Reims. Then west again to the AutoRoute D 27. From there and only after a few miles of driving on narrow country roads, I finally looked ahead, and to my surprise, there it was, and in very good shape as well.

If I would have come back here in 2003, I might have wanted to make a U-turn and leave the sight. But thanks to a few heart minded souls who wanted to keep history alive, this did not happen. Although the south part of the stands is for safety reasons, not accessible to sit down on, everything in the main grandstands on both sides are repainted just to look like what it was when the last French Grand Prix was run there in 1966. Despite the south side of the stands are not permissible to access, the north side is, and you can climb up the back stairs to see what the main grandstands really look like, and can imagine what it was like to see as you look down to view Juan Manuel Fangio, Sterling Moss, Mike Hawthorn and Jim Clark as the best in the world raced each other.

The circuit itself has changed many times, first when it was opened in 1926 of its original design of 4.8 miles per lap. Through the second world war and into the 1950’s, the circuit remained the same until 1952, when it was four tenths of a mile shorter. For the next two years, organizers could not make up their minds of how to use to determine the final diameter of the course and finally in 1954, the final 5.1-mile variation was laid out, which remained until a sports car race in 1969 concluded competition on this classic course.

In 2002, bulldozers actually were expected to demolish the stands, and even a few items were knocked down. But politics came in, and a few investors from the local region decided to restore some of the stands, which today are viewable.

In my small but powerful Renault Twingo, I drove the seven turn 1954 course, which heads west, then a right handed turn, which puts you back onto the D26 highway heading east back to Reims. Then a roundabout heads you back on the D27 and to the main straightaway and the grandstands. It was narrow and I could not even imagine if the F1 cars of today with its high speeds could never challenge the tight roads unless the downforce was super high. It was lucky that those cars were quite a bit slower. It also shows that open roads are no longer widely used and after 1966, more closed circuits were used.

A big surprise were the small pit boxes. In today’s standards, the pits at most tracks now are twice the size, which means that very little equipment was needed for the cars. The timekeeping was done just a few feet east in a small building that is splashed in green and white, with the colors of British Petroleum in plain sight. The results of the race were put up in a huge sign that looks today like a big radar dish for airplanes.

Even if there was plenty to see, it gives you a good idea of what the course was like back then and how much it has come around to modern standards for other circuits today.

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