A wet and dirty weekend in France for the Daytona - Journées d’Automne 2015

Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona
The Daytona at the Circuit des Ecuyers during Journées d"Automne

The Daytona was back in France for last year's Journées d'Automne event in France.

The third weekend in October last year saw my wife, Danielle, and I heading down to the Champagne region of France in the Daytona for the annual Journées d’Automne event. The format was pretty much the same as the previous years in that we made our way down to the event on the Friday, followed by the track day at the Circuit des Ecuyers on Saturday, and finishing up with a road book-guided drive through the country on Sunday.

As last year we were joined by Mark and Jonny Shears along with Richard and Mandy Plant. Richard and Mandy were in Richard’s newly acquired Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS which made an interesting contrast to the Daytona, with both cars being manufactured in the same year and race versions being arch rivals at Le Mans. Mark and Jonny had planned to make the trip in Jonny’s Alfa GTV, but a delayed restoration saw them in a Morgan Plus 8 loaned by Richard. ‘Ecurie Anglais’ was completed by Paul Thompson and his wife Mo in Paul’s Triumph TR4.

The trip didn't get off to the best of starts as o we discovered a 3 hour delay in services at the Eurotunnel due to what was described as intruder activity at Calais. It was late afternoon by the time we got onto French soil, which meant it would be after dark by the time we got to Fère en Tardenois where Journeées d’Automne is based. In order to save time we stuck to the rather boring autoroute rather than choosing a more interesting cross-country route. Fortunately it was mostly dry and we were able to make reasonable time, the Daytona lapping up the smooth road and 130kph speed limit. This year we had rented a gîte in the small village of Trelou Sur Marne, about 15 minutes’ drive from Fère. The gîte was attached to the small family-owned champagne house, Couvent Fils, and it was rather nice to have a complementary bottle of their product waiting for us in the fridge when we arrived.

The next morning we woke to rain – lots of it. The others headed off to the circuit but as I wasn’t planning on taking the Daytona out on track, Danielle and I stayed behind to have a tour of the Couvent Fils champagne cavé. The champagne was lovely, even though I could only have a small sip since I was driving, and inevitably a case made its way into the Daytona’s boot for the return to England. By the time we finished it was time for lunch so we joined up with the others at the Château de Condé in Condé en Brie. Despite the rain, the short drive from Trélou sur Marne to Condé en Brie was excellent with some incredibly picturesque scenery.

Lunch was a three course affair; perhaps unsurprisingly, the French know how to cater motoring events far better than the British do. Outside, the Daytona and Richard’s Porsche joined a delectable line up of rare classics at the front of the château. After lunch we made our way to the circuit following a gorgeous and very rare Alfa Romeo TZ. It was still raining and as we arrived the driver’s side wiper blade on the Daytona decided to go out of sync and catch on the windscreen frame, causing the blade to come apart. Annoyingly I didn't have any spare wiper blades with me this year (I actually had a spare set with me on the previous year’s trip), but an application of RainX meant I could still drive the car in the wet.

With it being so wet, Danielle and I took the opportunity to check out some of the sponsor's stands. I was particularly taken with the blue Molton jacket from Cadot, but the Daytona’s already-full boot precluded any further shopping activities. As darkness began to fall we headed back to the gîte to prepare for the evening, stopping to top off the fuel tank on the way.

One of the key parts of the event is the dinner and party on Saturday evening but with the recent passing of my father fresh in our minds, Danielle and I decided we would miss this most social event, and so as the others headed off to the party we had a quiet evening back at the gîte.

The rain finally abetted in the evening and it was more or less dry when we headed out for the morning rendezvous in the main square in Fère en Tardenois. I had made the journey on the D2 from Trélou sur Marne to Fère a couple of times already over the weekend, but this was the first time I had driven it in daylight and in the dry. In these conditions it was another cracking piece of road, especially as it was only our little troupe of cars on it at the time.

We tucked into coffee and croissants in Fère en Tardenois as everyone assembled and around 9:30 we headed off on the morning’s drive. Quite a lot of mud had been dragged onto the roads by the recent rain and inspecting the Daytona at the mid-way rest stop in Laon, a few tweets were sent to Perfection Valet’s Richard Tipper saying that his services would definitely be required in the next few days to restore the Daytona’s shine. The route took us along lovely French country roads and through lots of unspoilt villages. Parts of the route were quite twisty and the big Daytona felt a little unwieldy at times, especially compared to the early Porsche 911s that were driven by quite a number of the entrants. On reflection, it was probably a mistake to brim the 127-litre tank the night before. The fuel adds a lot of weight to the car (not to mention the crate of champagne) and probably contributed to us catching the exhausts on the ground a couple of times on some of the more bumpy sections of road. Despite this, driving the Daytona on these roads with the wonderful eclectic mix of classic cars was the highlight of my motoring year. The whole drive ran to some 130km and finished up at the Château Barive. Once again we were treated to another three course lunch and a glass of Veuve Clicquot to conclude the event.

The Château Barive was rather closer to the Eurotunnel than our start point and we made good time back, despite an unscheduled stop for Jonny and Mark to check the rear tyre on the Morgan for a slow puncture. Their tyre did require some more air in it which was provided by a helpful truck driver using the compressed air system from his truck.  Once at the tunnel we were pleased to discover it was very quiet there and this time we more or less drove straight onto our train.

Back in the UK and, for the second year running, the left light pod would not deploy as I left the tunnel necessitating a quick stop at the first petrol station to deploy it manually. It rained once again on the journey home but the RainX kept the majority of the water from the screen. A few days later Richard Tipper duly arrived to detail the Daytona and he even managed to reassemble the wiper blade, although it still has a slight bend in it so I will replace it before the MOT is due.

Compared to the mechanical issues that we had suffered on the previous two Journées d’Automne a broken wiper blade was rather trivial, and despite spending most of the weekend in rainy and damp conditions I was very impressed with the way they car ran, since it's been a little temperamental in wet conditions in the past.

Even with the rain, the Journées d’Automne remains my favourite classic car event and once again huge thanks to the organisers Étienne Raynaud, Guiliame Le Metayer, Jean-Philippe Braud and the team at Pro First.