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The remains of Rouen-les-Essarts

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Amidst fierce protests by the French lorry drivers and farmers against fuel prices me and the family went on a short vacation to Picardy and Normandy. We stayed in a renovated farmer's house near the Croix-en-Ternois track (close to Abbeville) and from there made the short trip down South to Rouen. After a short visit to the city centre we drove in the direction of Elbeuf, finding the Les Essarts track with the help of Darren Galpin's World Track Database at GEL Motorsport. Strangely, the city gave us the same impression as the track: they looked great from a distance but up close they were in a sorry state, the only difference being the silence at the track - occasionally interrupted by the sound of a passing car - while the city was noisy and crowded with people in a hurry.

Also, almost every landmark of what was once a great car racing circuit had been torn down, replaced or - as in the case of the famous cobbled Nouveau Monde hairpin - asphalted over. "This is it?" cried my wife as she guided our Subaru onto the beginning of the start/finish straight. "It's just a piece of road!" As we crested the brow just ahead of the paddock, our lowest expectations weren't even met when we saw nothing but two pieces of fence lining the road on each side before my lawfully wedded racing driver plunged the Legacy AWD into the first of the famous sweeps. "Ah, this is beginning to look like something!" she shouted as she manhandled the car through the sinuous piece of downhill stretch while trying to keep it on the legal side of the road. The turns followed each other up more quickly before we reached the final one, which fiercefully tightened into a second apex before a view opened up to the road to Elbeuf... and to Nouveau Monde hairpin, almost invisible unless you know it's there. Within a blink of a second we had reached it. "Turn in!" I screamed, with Darren's map still in my lap. "Here! Here!" Already a bit off-line the Scooby was thrown into the 180-degree bend, its rear-wheel drive kicking it back into position before the front wheels pulled the car out of the corner. Our kid in the back certainly enjoyed the ride. "Mommy am the driver!" he quipped in his quaint two-year-old's version of the Dutch language.

Then followed the much narrower part climbing up to L'Etoile, broken in two by the Virage Samson, a sharp off-camber lefthander followed by the Virage de Beauval, a tight right turn which will have sorted the men from the boys in the old days. Reaching the L'Etoile crossing it looked like we had ended up at a hippie campsite, all sorts of very second-hand cars slowly trundling into the forest connection road that was created after the autoroute A13 cut off the back part of the circuit. Zigzagging in between the many parked cars, most of its owners going out for a walk with the dog, we joined the original track at the intersection with the road leading to the nearby village of Les Essarts. Here the Armco was still lining the track, a small sign of the road's former glorious use.

After that, having swapped seats we circled the track a couple more times to take some pictures and then said goodbye. We had already seen it was impossible to test those sweeps as they ought to be tested, as the oncoming traffic would have kept us from taking the racing line. In all, it was an experience to forget and remember. It was forgetful since the local authorities had done nothing to preserve the grandstands and the pit buildings and had even dared to actively destroy any visible memory of the place's former use. But it was an hour to remember as well since the main roads that used to form the circuit are still there, every bit as majestic as that famous Fangio picture of the Maestro at ill will with his 250F and one of those sweeps will forever keep on telling you.

The town doesn't pride itself with the track...

This is where the grandstands used to be

An ugly trench crosses straight through the old pitlane

All that is left of the Rouen pitlane

The final sweep tightens towards the exit

It's not hard to overlook the hairpin

You almost come to a halt when circling Nouveau Monde

Some famous names are on these signs