D27, Reims, France

This Great Road was initially published in issue 103 of Total 911.

This seemingly ordinary label masks one of the most famous roads in the history of road racing. In fact, older enthusiasts might recognise the name Thillois, the 40mph curve which led into the start/finish straight of that most famous of grand prix circuits, Reims.

Unlike Britain, France had many road circuits – over 50 were in use in the Fifties. Reims first saw competition in 1926, and in the Fifties and Sixties alternated with Rouen Les Essarts as the home of the French Grand Prix. Effectively comprising three sides of a triangle, the longest being the Route Nationale 31 to Paris, the 4.8-mile course was the fastest race track in Europe. The 2.0-litre Porsche 906 was hitting 175mph before braking to negotiate Thillois.

Reims Circuit Straights

Length of drive: 1,600m

Points of interest:

  • Original grandstands
  • Pit buildings and garages
  • Cafe at Thillois corner (barely changed since the Fifties)

Food and accomodation: Holiday Inn, Reims

Location: Reims, east central France

Latitude: 49.15

The moves to make racing safer ultimately sounded its death knell. Reims staged its last GP in 1966, F2 and F3 endured for a couple more seasons, and by 1972 there wasn’t enough money to justify the road closures needed to keep racing going. Much of the track infrastructure was removed, but the famous Wimille grandstand, the timekeepers’ pavilion and the pit buildings and garages were left, remaining for years an atmospheric if ghostly reminder of a bygone age.

Then the casual and needless demolition by the local authority of the historic buildings at Rouen les Essarts in 1999 alerted historians and enthusiasts of the danger to what remained at Reims, and since 2002 les Amis du circuit de Gueux have been active in restoring the infrastructure and renewing the characteristic painted advertisements. Gatherings such as the 40th anniversary of the Porsche Carrera 2.7 RS have helped generate revenue to continue this vital work.

It’s possible to drive around 85 per cent of the old circuit. A new roundabout at Gueux has abolished part of the old course, and the 1.5-mile straight on the RN31 has been dualled, but the D27 as it falls toward the pits then rises towards Gueux is unchanged. Standing before these monuments to motorsport is an evocative and emotional experience. If a return to competition seems unlikely, for petrolheads Reims will always be a place of homage.

D27 Reims

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