Introducing Tour Auto as the cars head south from Paris to Vichy via the Magny Cours race track.
Classic racers might not be your thing but the back road route probably is – plotted below, blow-by-blow.
The cars assembled over the weekend in the Grand Palais in central Paris but the official start of Tour Auto was at Chateau de Courances, 47Km (30 miles) south east of the capital.
Built in 1630, the chateau gardens are said to be among the finest in France.
The first car away this morning, at 07:30, was a 1960 Aston Martin DB4 GT driven by Ian Dalglish and Gordon McCulloch.
Ahead lies the longest of the event’s five legs, 499km to Vichy in central France via the Magny Cours race track.
Almost three hundreds competitors have entered. The cars – which must be built between 1947 and 1981, be approved for road use and have FIA Historic Car papers – are split into five period classes (E to I) and six performance categories in four groups: Series Production Touring cars (T) and Competition Touring cars (TC); Standard Grand Touring cars (GT) and Competition Grand Touring Cars (GTS); Grand Touring Prototypes (GTP); and Sports Prototypes (TSRC).
The competition element takes two forms, both ‘special stage’ timed courses on race tracks or closed roads, and ‘regularity tests’ where entrants have a target time over a course and earn penalties for arriving too early or too late.
Aside from all the fabulous motors – Tour Auto is a best-of-the-best-of-the-best kind of event, see pictures below – particularly interesting is the route. It changes every year and is – mostly – confined to back roads.
Apart from a short stretch on the A6 and A77 first off, today’s route is on the tiniest roads on the map, roughly shadowing Route National 7 apart from a dogleg out to Auxerre.
The landscape is almost perfectly flat then, turning rolling later.
Vichy, on the River Allier, was the original glamorous spa town and attracted royalty from all over Europe. It lost its footing thanks to hosting the collaborationist government during WW2 but is now fighting its way back, helped by the very recently opened motorway link – A719 – to the A71 and Clermont Ferrand.