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Vintage Grand Prix racing in Pau, southwest France

relive the glories of Grand Prix races from times gone by

Enthusiasts of all things old, oily and beautiful should make their way to southwest France this weekend to watch the Grand Prix de Pau Historique. Famous vintage cars from the golden ages of motor racing will compete against each other on a challenging circuit through the city centre.

The Grand Prix de Pau is a stopover in the Formula 3 circuit and takes place on the third weekend of May. Since 2009, Peter Auto, promoters of the Formula 3 race, in combination with the city of Pau and ASAC Basco-Béarnais, have organized the Grand Prix de Pau Historique one week before the main competition, to attract fans of vintage cars which, while perhaps not quite as fast or fuel-efficient as their Formula 3 counterparts, more than make up for any technical shortcomings by their abundance of personality.

Two categories of race are on offer. The first gives spectators a chance to relive the glories of Grand Prix races from times gone by and the second assemble sports cars from the twentieth century's most popular motoring periods to compete against each other.

The Grand Prix races group real Grand Prix models according to the era they were driven in order to restage races as they would have been in those times. The Trophée Junior assembles drivers of Grand Prix cars containing multi cylinder engines. The cars date from 1957-1963, and include both front engine (such as Stanguellini and Elva) and rear engine designs (such as Lotus and Lola). The Trophée des Pyrénées features cars from 1966-1981, equipped with a Ford 1600 Kent engine, the type of car in which Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher first made their mark. The Trophée Argentin focuses on front engine cars from the period 1945-1961, the start of the modern period of racing and stars Alfa Romeos and Maseratis. The Trophée de Pau covers the same era for rear engine cars, bringing together Brabham, Lotus and Cooper racers.

Three trophies are on offer for the sports cars races. The first of these, the Trophée Légende, is for pre-war models only. Bugatti, Delage and ERA designs are among the classics which will be competing for a place on the podium. The Trophée Phil Hill offers AC Cobra, Ferrari GT, Lotus 15 and Jaguar Type E models from the swinging sixties. If you want to round off your sixties experience, Italian Job style, the Trophée Mini Classic will pit a fleet of today’s finest mini drivers against each other. Morris, Wolsely and Riley Elf MK1 cars of pre-1966 construction will feature in this final race of the May 11th/12th weekend.

The vintage racing cars will follow the same circuit as that which the Formula 3 cars will face the following week. Sometimes called “little Monte Carlo”, the Pau Grand Prix circuit takes place in the streets of Pau. It is narrow, winding and punishes the smallest mistake, demanding great technical ability from the driver. Since 1933, when the circuit was transformed into an urban one, many of the greats of motorcar racing have made their mark here, from Juan Manuel Fangio to Lewis Hamilton. The circuit has remained essentially unchanged since its pre-war days.

Not all of the vintage cars coming to Pau for the weekend will participate in races. Those which prefer to sit it out serenely from the sidelines will be available for viewing to spectators in the exhibition area. 700 vintage cars will congregate on the luxurious grounds of the Parc Beaumont, beside Pau’s casino. There they will compete for public popularity, the most difficult prize of them all. Those whose interest is stirred by the sight of these motorised wonders could decide to stay in one of the city's hotels or bed and breakfasts until the following week to watch the Grand Prix itself.