One day at the race / Une journée à la course

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This weekend the acorns went on a different kind of outdoor adventure.
One that echoed with revving engines and reeked of petrol fumes.
One that attracted great crowds and involved a fair bit of waiting around.
Yet one that definitely qualified as an unforgettable family adventure.

For my brother Sylvain is an amateur rally driver. Every year he takes part in ten local or regional races with his unmistakable Opel Manta 400. My parents are his designated pit crew. The rest of the family, his adoring fan club.

Opel Manta 400

Every year on the last weekend of July, Sylvain enters the Rallye de la Fourme, held around the town of Ambert in the Puy-de-Dôme département, Auvergne. The race is split into three rounds of two special stages, run against the clock on closed roads, and with a pit stop after each round.

My parents had left at dawn to set up their paddock for the day, under their trusty green gazebo. A few hours later, the acorns and myself went along with my sister-in-law Séverine and her two daughters, for a glorious day at the race.

Sylvain, having just completed the opening round of the rally, soon arrived for his first pit stop.


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Ce weekend, les graines de chêne ont pris part à une aventure un peu différente.
Une aventure qui résonnait du vrombissement des moteurs et sentait les gaz d’échappement.
Une aventure qui attira une foule de spectateurs et demanda d’attendre patiemment.
Et pourtant une aventure qui est devenue un rendez-vous annuel immanquable.

Car mon frère Sylvain est pilote amateur de rallye. Chaque année, il participe à une petite dizaine de courses locales et régionales au volant de son Opel Manta 400. Mes parents forment son équipe d’assistance, et le reste de la famille, son fan club dévoué.

Rallye de la Fourme

Chaque année au dernier weekend de juillet, Sylvain court dans le Rallye régional de la Fourme, à Ambert dans le Puy-de-Dôme. Le rallye compte trois tours de deux spéciales chacun, courues contre la montre sur des routes fermées, et avec une assistance à la fin de chaque tour.

Mes parents étaient partis à l’aube pour installer l’assistance sous leur fidèle tonnelle verte. Quelques heures plus tard, les graines de chêne et moi, accompagnées de ma belle-sœur Séverine et de ses deux filles, les avons rejoints pour une belle journée à la course.

Sylvain, ayant juste terminé le premier tour du rallye, arriva bientôt pour l’assistance.

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His car had not performed well in the first round, for no reason he could fathom. While my parents filled up the petrol tank, Sylvain changed the spark plugs, just for the sake of doing something.

Jedi and Squirrel watched his every move, eager to help in any small way, thankful for just being there, at the heart of it. Understandably, their uncle’s race car is a source of endless fascination for them. They look up to Sylvain with boundless pride and admiration. Needless to say, he sets the ‘cool factor’ pretty high.

After 40 minutes or so Sylvain and his navigator strapped themselves in again. With one last wave for the gang of six children in awe, they drove off to the start line in a billow of dust.


La voiture n’avait pas bien roulé dans le premier tour, sans qu’il puisse comprendre pourquoi. Pendant que mes parents faisaient le plein, Sylvain changea les bougies d’allumage, sans conviction, juste pour faire quelque chose.

Jedi et Ecureuil n’en perdirent pas une miette, brûlant d’envie de l’aider, simplement heureux d’être là, au cœur de l’action. Evidemment, la voiture de course de leur oncle est une source de fascination immense pour eux. Sylvain le pilote leur inspire une fierté infinie et une admiration mêlée de crainte. Inutile de dire qu’il place la barre de coolitude très haut !

Au bout de quelque 40 minutes, Sylvain et son co-pilote se sont réinstallés dans les sièges-baquets. Sur un dernier signe de la main pour les six enfants sidérés, ils sont repartis vers la ligne de départ dans un nuage de poussière.

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A few minutes later Séverine and myself left with the children to go and watch the race. We found a good spot near a tight hairpin bend at the end of the second special stage. We saw two dozen cars before Sylvain’s Opel Manta, with its number 33, came along. All six children were up on their feet and cheered loudly as his car beautifully drifted around the hairpin bend, before roaring up the hill towards the finish line.

Notice how the front wheels are fully turned to the right, to allow the rear wheels to gently drift around the tight hairpin bend. Lightning McQueen’s motto ‘Turn right to go left’ also applies in rallying!


Quelques minutes plus tard, Séverine et moi sommes parties avec les enfants pour aller regarder la course. Nous avons trouvé un bon coin près de l’épingle à cheveux de Grandrif, à la fin de la deuxième spéciale.

Deux douzaines de voitures sont passées avant que l’Opel Manta de Sylvain, portant le numéro 33, arrive enfin. Les six enfants se mirent debout pour l’acclamer bruyamment, comme sa voiture négociait le virage en un dérapage magnifiquement contrôlé, avant de vrombir à nouveau en direction de la ligne d’arrivée.

Notez comme les roues avant sont braquées complètement à droite pour laisser le train arrière glisser dans l’épingle serrée. La formule de Flash McQueen “Tourner à droite pour aller à gauche” marche aussi en rallye !

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Soon after his passage we upped the sticks and navigated around road closures to another hairpin bend on the first special stage. The final round hadn’t started yet, so we found ourselves very close to the course, with the children sitting on the straw bales lining the bend.

Again Sylvain took it beautifully, drawing much cheering and clapping from the appreciating crowd, not least from his gang of delighted young fans. 

With his unique car, Sylvain has made a name for himself as a skillful driver who enjoys giving rally fans a bit of a show. Even if it means losing a few tenths of a second over his rivals.


Peu après son passage, nous sommes repartis et, traçant un itinéraire hésitant entre hameaux désertés et routes fermées pour cause de course automobile, nous avons rallié une autre épingle à cheveux, cette fois à Vareilles dans la première spéciale.

Le troisième et dernier tour n’avait pas encore commencé, aussi nous sommes-nous retrouvés aux premières loges. Les enfants s’assirent sur les énormes bottes de paille sur le pourtour extérieur de l’épingle.

Cette fois encore, Sylvain la négocia d’une main experte, s’attirant les applaudissements admiratifs de la foule de connaisseurs, et de notre troupe de fans en culottes courtes.

Avec sa voiture immédiatement reconnaissable, Sylvain s’est forgé une réputation de pilote chevronné qui aime faire un peu de spectacle pour les amateurs de rallye massés en bord de route. Même s’il y perd parfois quelques dizièmes de seconde sur ses concurrents. 

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At the end of the day, Sylvain’s driving skills were not enough to make up for the mystery mechanical problems of the first round. He took the fifth place in his car group, and finished 16th overall.

Oblivious to his disappointment, the acorns gave him a winner’s welcome when he arrived back at the pit stop. Squirrel has already decided he will be a race driver when he grows up!


Finalement, le pilotage expert de Sylvain ne suffit pas à rattraper le retard causé par le mystérieux problème mécanique du premier tour. Il termina à la cinquième place de son groupe et seizième au classement général.

Inconscients de son mécontentement, les graines de chêne l’accueillirent en vainqueur quand il rentra au parc d’assistance à Arlanc. Ecureuil a déjà décidé qu’il veut être pilote de rallye quand il sera grand !

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Potty Adventures   diaryofanimperfectmumCountry Kids  ethannevelyn.com

Tammymum  Suitcases and Sandcastles  Lou Messugo

14 Responses to “One day at the race / Une journée à la course

  • Magique ! Bravo, quel résumé !! J’avais déjà adoré lire celui de l’an dernier (ou de l’année d’avant) ! Le rallye version famille Vaucanson : un pilote talentueux, une voiture de légende, une équipe familiale, dévouée, fière mais modeste, le fan club de folie… Juste MAGIC !! Vous êtes top ! En lisant, j’imaginais leurs regards pleins d’étoiles pour leur super tonton et papa, et ça, c’est encore mieux que tout le reste, ça n’a pas de prix, à mon avis… Ca me rappelle le Haut Lignon 2013 où j’avais “rencontré” 2 neveux de Sylvain dans l’épingle de Tence, leur joie et leur fierté de venir voir leur tonton Sylvain… Bravo à tous, à toi Sylvain Vaucanson, à ton copilote Théo, bien sûr mais aussi et à tes parents, à ta petite famille et à tes soeurs et leur famille ! Merci de nous avoir fait partager ce petit concentré de bonheur avec comme toile de fond un super joli rallye !

    • Wow Cathy, quel commentaire fabuleux !!! Vous allez nous faire tous rougir . Je m’en vais de ce pas le faire lire à mes parents
      Mille mercis d’avoir pris le temps d’écrire ces quelques mots si gentils !

  • What a wonderful day out, and 5th place seems pretty wonderful in light of some unknown difficulties! This is something my family would really enjoy! #mainylovessummer
    Hilary recently posted…InstaLA! Part 3: Art Explosion

    • Fifth place isn’t so bad, is it? But he’s used to finishing 2nd or 3rd in his group, and in the top 10 overall, hence the dissatisfaction. Watching such a race is surprisingly fun for the whole family!
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • What a fantastic day out. How exciting! 5th place is awesome considering he had mechanical problems. #mainylovessummer

  • Oh my boys would have such envy at this post. they all see themselves as little mini rally drivers – perhaps that’a all boys? I keep having to warn my older two they are not in rally cars when they are driving their little cars around the Cornish lanes! as for me, this makes me miss France, I adore cycling the little lanes like this, though not when one of these rally races is taking place! It is easy to see how the Acorns were so taken with the whole day and how they have the coolest Uncle around.

    Thank you for sharing such an exciting event with me on #CountryKids
    Fiona Cambouropoulos recently posted…Country Kids 12th August

    • How scary that must be for you! My brother also had that phase of driving regular cars like a maniac on local roads. I guess he never outgrew it, he just bought a real race car and became a better driver!
      Thank you for the lovely comment, and I’ll post more about our summer in France soon, when I get round to sorting out my photos and writing the posts! 😉

  • What a great event to be a part of, we’d love to watch something like that #CountryKids

    • I’ve never been a huge fan of motorsport, but rallying turned out incredibly fun and exciting, especially when you know someone racing!
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • What an interesting post and such a great set of photos too, they would make wonderful postcards:) 5th also seems really good to me.
    I have enjoyed having you as part of the linkup.
    Mainy
    #mainylovessummer
    mainy recently posted…A One Off Summer Linky #mainylovessummer

  • We are on the route of the annual Swiss Normandy car rally but I have to admit it is not my favourite day. We are effectively shut in (or out) for the day and my poor animals hate the noise from the cars … but it is extremely popular and a few cars went off the road last year making it more exciting for spectators … if not the drivers. Does your brother perhaps take part in this rally too? #AllAboutFrance

  • I can totally understand the nuisance of having a rally go by your house, race cars are so noisy! We’ve only ever experienced the excitement of being “on the inside” because of my brother. He’s never done the Swiss Normandy rally – the farthest he’s ever been so far was for the Cevennes rally a few years back. Rallying is an expensive and time-consuming hobby! 😉

  • Congrats to your brother on his 5th place. I have friends that are rally race photographers and they were at the final round of the World Rally Championship at Coffs Harbour, Australia just this weekend (16-19 Nov) but ended up having to take photographs and clips with their mobiles as all their professional photographic gear got stolen!! I am sure I’ll hear more of it on their return. What a supportive team your brother has #AllAboutFrance
    Annette @ A French Collection recently posted…French House Chic by Jane Webster

  • I can only imagine how excited and proud your kids are watching their uncle scream around the bends and I love it that your parents are his pit crew. i have a friend who used to work for WRC and took me to the Monaco Rally one year but anything to do with loud cars isn’t really my thing. However, my boys loved it! Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance
    Phoebe | Lou Messugo recently posted…All About France #33

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