6 reasons why the Tour Auto is France's best hidden gem
I followed the Tour Auto to find out why it deserves a spot among the Goodwood, Pebble Beach, or Le Mans of this world
The Tour Auto really is a petrolhead's dream come true. Incredible cars, beautiful scenery, great racing... And yet it hasn't reached anything like the popularity of Goodwood, Pebble Beach, Le Mans Classic, or even the Mille Miglia.
But I just came back from the a cold and damp Le Mans to watch some loud cars go by. And let me tell you: the Tour Auto absolutely deserves a spot among your favorite events. Here's why!
1. The selection of cars is incredible
Like Le Mans Classic, the Goodwood Revival or the Mille Miglia, the Tour Auto is a continuation of a race that was once filled with majestic and noisy beasts. The original Tour Auto ran between 1951 and 1973, and all models who once took part in it are allowed in the modern version.
Because of that great time spread, the cars that ran the race back then were quite diverse: Citroën Traction Avants and 2CVs early on, and at the end, monsters barely escaped from the Le Mans 24 Hours like Matra MS650s, Ligiers or GT40s. All, on the open roads.
And that diversity is still there, and a huge part of what makes the Tour so special. If you were lucky enough to be sat on the side of the road for a couple of hours during the event, you'd have seen about 300 cars, including a 1956 Citroën Traction, a 1979 BMW M1, a whole bunch of 911s, E-Types and Alfas, some AC Cobras and a pair of GT40s, some Alpines, more Panteras than would be reasonable, old Peugeots, some Ferrari 308 Group 4... And they're all still going around on good old French backroads. Unique!
2. The drivers aren't joking around
Now, many of these cars are incredibly rare, valuable, and pretty. We've established that. But you better believe than the guys behind the wheels are genuine racers, whether they're entired in an outright speed class or a regularity one.
Between the rally stages and the many tracks on the way, there have been many opportunity for a good scrap, and scrap they did. When I caught up with them in Le Mans for the last day of the week-long race, it was showing too: duck-tape everywhere, bent body panels, and some cars that flat out didn't reach us.
You might think it's sad that all these pieces of moving art got damaged; I think it's absolutely brilliant that they were given this opportunity to do what they were always meant to.
3. France is the best place to have roadtrip like this
Starting from Paris, the most beautiful city in the world in my perfectly unbiased opinion, then through some tiny backroads, mountains, volcanoes (!), the winding countryside around Le Mans, and a finish near the beaches of Normandy: the 2019 Tour Auto had it all.
Because I think France is the best place to have a giant 2,500km roadtrip like this. The diversity of the cars was more than matched by the sights. And let's not forget the iconic tracks! But back to that in a minute...
4. Everyone can follow for free!
Nowadays, a ticket to see Le Mans will cost you about 80 euros. And that's quite cheap for what it is, compared to, say, a Formula 1 Grand Prix. But the Tour Auto is free.
Even the entrance to the track is free: how often do you get to wander around at the Le Mans circuit, watching cool cars duke it out, for free?
And one of the best part about this whole "roadtrip across France" thing, is that if you do live in France, there's a good chance the race will come to a road near you. Just grab your car or hitch a ride, brave the remarkably cold weather for this time of year, and just sit on the side of the road for a couple of hours. Enjoy your vintage racing, delivered to you!
5. It's a trip through motorsport history
Dijon-Prenois, Magny-Cours, Charade, Le Mans: if you're even a little bit into motorsport, these names should ring a few bells. And this year's Tour Auto stopped and raced at each of them!
Not to mention the many cool rally stages, reminiscent of the actual Tour de France Automobile, a great popular event back in the day. There is something for each racing fan to reminisce about. And then of course, the cars, the sounds and the smells can also help with that...
6. An atmosphere like no other
Because it's such a petrolhead magnet, because it's free, and because of its roadtrip nature, the atmosphere around the Tour Auto is like nothing I've ever experienced, especially if you happen to follow it from the side of the road.
Everyone is smiling, saluting you like you were old friends. Stopping for a spot of picnic as a GT40 screams by. Bringing the kids to the Dunlop chicane for the first time. Enjoying the scenery. Watching as two mechanics put a Porsche back together after a shunt. There is truly nothing quite like it.
Quite why the Tour Auto isn't 10 times more famous eludes me, I have to say. But now you have been warned. And hopefully I'll see you next year for another week of one of the best car events there is around!
If you happened to like the images in this article (and the words that went with them), you can find more of those by following me on Instagram! I post almost every day, and I'll be doing my best to inondate the place with sights from the Tour Auto.
See you next time, probably for the Le Mans 24 Hours!