The blue and green car passes by, and then the blue and white one. We jump again in our BMW and try to make our time back. Four or five cars slipped between the Matra and us, and our mind begins to feel a bit flustered. Why? Because a strong and loud race engine soundtrack echoes between the trees, and the only things in our sight are a Mercedes Sprinter and a Renault Mégane… Believe me, it is very weird.
As we enter a village, we spot a little group of officials not following the roadbook and heading for the town hall square. As we arrive, it’s the jackpot! The white Matra is parked, and its crew is enjoying a breakfast at the café on the other side of the street. As we fancy a croissant with a coffee, we also stop and take a break. Not a long one tho, because as my friend Guilhem gets out of the bakery, the Matra crew appears. And I realise we are talking about VIPs!
Definitely the most incredible event of the year: the Tour Auto Optic 2000…
As written on the sides of the car, it was originally entered in the 1971 edition of the Tour Auto, with driver Gérard Larrousse and co-pilot and Johnny Rives. But 50 years after it’s overall victory, it’s none other than Richard Mille and Nicolas Todt who are making this French masterpiece roar in its homelands again!
With a reputation like his, and a co-pilot from the Todt family, I am expecting Richard Mille to be a focused and inaccessible guy. Wrong! He comes out of the café, relaxed, and begins to make jokes to the herd of petrolheads surrounding his car.
I spot he is not wearing a watch, so I engage a little conversation in French:
“So, you’re telling me that Richard Mille doesn’t wear watches?”
“No, never during the holidays!” he responds.
I then switch the subject to something that is on my mind since the beginning:
“Can you tell me what is this big box hanging behind your car? Is it a starter motor coupled with batteries?” I ask.
“Precisely! It is more convenient for us nowadays to carry these instead of using the old method…” he says with a smile.
“Why? What was it like?”
“Well… the Matra Team mechanics were following the car during the stages and every time the car needed to start, they rammed into the big pole at the rear of the car to push start the engine.”
We then looked at each other with our eyes all sparkles, probably both wondering how, at the time, they really considered this as the best option they had.
Then, time to get back on the road. Mr. Mille engages the starting procedure and a mechanic rushes to the carburetors to give them a generous spray of octane boosted goodness. At the switch of a button, the engine fires up and, facing this amazing racket, my heart suddenly decided to switch into high flow mode. Now in a cloud of blue smoke, everyone, stunned, can’t do anything other than being absorbed by the blue and white OVNI that is making the entire village rumble.
We take a shortcut and intercept the spaceship at a junction. YES!!! We are the first in line!
For a few miles, we cruise along with the V12 symphony right in our ears. We enter the motorway and I laugh at the two guys inside that are going 130 km/h with no helmet, no roof, and no windscreen! Richard is even pressing his cap down with one of his hands for it to not fly away.
It has been a real dream of mine to hear a Matra V12 for quite some time, but I couldn’t imagine my first encounter with one would be like this! I mean, who would have predicted that the first time for me hearing such a melody would be in the passenger seat of my best friend’s BMW, trying to catch up with one on the motorway of central France?
After a complicated time at a toll, we lose the blue rocket. But after the best sounding V12 of all time comes the best sounding straight 6 in the form of a BMW M1 Procar, itself following one of the only four Ferrari 308 GTB to ever been modified to Group B specification. Then, a few miles later, the first bimmer ever to feature an M badge is joined by the first ever BMW to wear the famous blue, purple and red colors, the original Batmobile: the E9 3.0 CSL.
OK Paul, is your mind blown yet?
We don’t have time to think! Because after an unfortunate detour, we end up behind the Pescarolo blue and green Matra, and this time we are on a twisty road, not a motorway!
I could go on and on about what’s next, but I am running out of superlatives to describe the madness of what my friend Amos and I were living. Hell, even our Fanta can self-exploded into the car at this moment!
It’s exhausted and numb that we finally arrive at the Dijon-Prenois racetrack. On the grounds of the best Formula 1 battle in history (Villeneuve VS Arnoux in the last laps of the 1979 French GP), the cars begin to race hard. But I think I haven’t had the same night as them; because every bench, every stair, every grass patch looks to me like a nice bed to take a nap. So, I will not be able to really speak about what happened after this moment.