Green Notebook from the Dead Sea

No, it’s true, I’m not visiting the Dead Sea, at least not THAT Dead Sea. However, not far from where I live in Normandy there is a place called  Mortemer, which in English means Dead Sea… The name comes from the Middle Ages when, I guess, the valley in question was a worthless flooded marsh. Then someone worked out how to drain the place and soon there were fish-filled ponds and a rather grand Cistercian Abbey was constructed. England’s King Henry I liked the area (he was also the Duke of Normandy) and came often to hunt. Alas one day he ate too many nasty-looking fish called lampreys in a village nearby and shuffled off his regal coil. His funeral procession went from there to Reading in Berkshire – which was quite an achievement in 1185…

Anyway, to sum up the next 850 years in two sentences: the monks had a grand old time until they were massacred by French revolutionaries, at which point the abbey became a splendid ruin and the murdered monks haunted the place enthusiastically. There is even a story of a ghostly monk emerging from the forests to guide a downed RAF man to (relative) safety in World War II.

I could go on telling stories about the area for a while yet, but you have come to this blog to read of motor racing and so we must wind our way down the valley of the stream they call the Fouillebroc to the village of Lisors.

Until recently one of the locals used to fly a Red Bull Racing flag in his (or her) garden, although I never stopped to ask why there was such passion for the Austrian fizzy drink team. Perhaps the home belongs to a Pierre Gasly fan, as the AlphaTauri driver comes from Rouen, just 20 miles to the west. Jean-Eric Vergne (once a Red Bull driver) is also quite local, having grown up 30 miles to the east, while Esteban Ocon, who has never been blessed with Red Bull cash, spent his childhood in Evreux, 35 miles to the south-west. So, the point I am trying to make here is that this is racing country, at least in the modern era. Obviously it isn’t far either from the old home of the French Grand Prix at Rouen Les Essarts.

One could also mention that Dieppe is not far away (to the north) but that might get us into a discussion about whether it is a good idea to pair Gasly and Ocon at Alpine in 2023… which seems to be under intense discussion in Alpineland. The duo were best buddies when they were eight, but fell out at the age of about 12 and have been rivals ever since. There are scandalous tales of family punch-ups and the like, although I don’t know if these are true, but there is obviously a risk of trouble (or at least disunity) if Alpine decides to go fully Norman.

Those who don’t know might argue that the French will choose French drivers because the apocryphal Monsieur Chauvin (after whom chauvinism was named) came from France, but when one looks closely at the Alpine team it is about as French as an Eccles Cake, with Otmar Szafnauer being a Romanian who grew up in Detroit and the only French words that are widely known at Enstone are “bonjour” and “merde”. We will see soon enough what Alpine decides. Last week the team held a private test in Hungary for Nyck de Vries, Antonio Giovinazzi and Jack Doohan, although the tub-thumpers in the French media continue to insist that Gasly is the man.

Anyway, back to Lisors… It’s a picturesque spot with a village green, a duck pond and the pretty church. Beside the church is an old farm from where one can buy proper old school charcuterie. It is not exactly a motorsport mecca… except that Lisors is also the home of the Circuit de Grosse Haie, or the Big Hedge Circuit if you wishes to ruin the romance and translate the words into English.

This, however, is a good description of the circuit, because it really is hidden behind a very big hedge.

This is the home track of the Auto Rodeo Club of Lisors (ARCL) and for years I’ve been meaning to go along to see what happens behind the hedge. The other day, seeing that they had an event and I was not in Russia (as had once been planned) we paid €7 a head to go and see whatever action there was to be found. It’s not that I was missing racing after two weekends off – an F1 calendar these days gives one plenty of races to watch – but rather it was out of curiosity.

Every now and then, I think it is good to go and see something other than F1… to remind oneself that there is more to the sport than Grand Prix racing. F1 is sometimes a place that floats along on its own cloud, up where the cuckoos fly, and it has been a while since I went to a local hillclimb, or to a minor formula race. If nothing else, it reminds one that the sport is about passion.

The racing, it said on the sign in front of the hedge, was “Fun-Cars”. The track, I knew from Google Earth, was a basic 600 metres of wiggly dirt, although I hadn’t realised that the surface of the circuit was actually embedded into the landscape, so that  the cars were basically racing along between walls of earth. This made spectating a bit of a challenge, but it was clear that it was pretty safe as getting a car to jump out of “the ditch” would be quite an achievement.

To be quite honest, the first impression was not great. These were not the shiny and polished machinery that one is used to seeing at Grands Prix. Far from it. Most of them looked like real wrecks with much-beaten metal panels daubed with whatever paint might have come to hand. The only sponsorship came from the local butcher and similar such establishments.

But, after watching a string of five-lap heats in quick succession, the conclusion was that Fun-Car lived up to its name. It was not about composites, aerodynamics and tyre compounds. It was all about tuning up an engine, sticking it into what at some point used to be a car and then going racing, fiddling with the suspension a little to make the machine ride the bumps – and then just going for it. In theory contact is frowned upon, but in reality the cars were bouncing off one another all the time, and most of them bore the scars of their fights (and the subsequent repairs).

What I can say beyond that is that if there was any paddock gossip behind the big hedge, it certainly wasn’t about F1.

On to Singapore…

22 thoughts on “Green Notebook from the Dead Sea

  1. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of grass roots racing, but I’ve never seen under the grass racing. What a remarkable way to police track limits!

  2. Hi Joe,

    Question: I was wondering about Nikita Mazepin, has he been called up for his military obligations?



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  3. I am not surprised Henry I died after eating Lampreys. I was served with them at a business lunch in Geneva, (l’empereur in French) and thought I was going to die. They taste a bit like the fermented shark that Icelanders like to eat. Disgusting.

  4. Joe, can you speak at all to the rumours that Ricciardo is planning a full on assault for the Fun Cars title in ’23?

    1. He has no chance. Fernando has added it to the mythical triple crown TM. The greatest (self proclaimed) driver will prevail.

  5. Joe – I do enjoy your Green Book ( not just for F1 insight ) and real world observations. As you wil see I’m an English/Scottish Mort I mer

  6. I am sure that, like me, many come to read whatever you want to write about. I always enjoy the historical tours you take us on.

    The threat of liability lawsuits has killed grassroots racing in Ontario, Canada and I would imagine through most of Canada. There just aren’t places to go, have some fun racing and not be into tens of thousands of dollars in cost.

    1. Has ice racing also disappeared? I usenoo🥹d to enjoy that back in the nineties uyyyyyyyyyiyiyyyiyoiyioyoyiyyoyoyoyyyiuuuiuuon Lac MacGregor north of Ottawa.Uiyiuiuiyiuiuiyyukpyjjuyjypjyy

  7. Hey Joe, you should try a UK Autograss meeting if you ever get a chance. Some spectacular racing in 10 different classes, all ON grass!

    1. Yay! Autograss racing. I live a couple of miles from the track at Radford in Worcestershire. Last Sunday the air was filled with the sound of highly turned 4 cylinder engines screaming round at the same time Joe was enjoying the Fun Cars.

  8. “In theory contact is frowned upon” 🤣🤣 The first picture shows a blind eye to this me thinks.

    I went to watch GT racing at the circuit where Jim Clark, Graham Hill etc raced in the South African Grand Prix in the 1960’s and other than being marginally widened the circuit is the same. It’s incredible to realise that 60 years later these modern racing cars are only a second or two faster than the pace set by the Formula One guys and they cannot get close to the outright lap record set by Ian Scheckter in 1984 in a March 842, although this was going to be beaten by Wayne Taylor before his engine blew on the run up to the final corner, Beacon in a Ralt RT2 copy called a Lant RR84.

  9. If they cannot get Gasly, my question to you Joe is three fold (one word answers are acceptable but not ideal 😂)

    1. Would Ferrari release Antonio Giovinazzi (my preference for the role)
    2. Does NDV definitely prefer Alpine, or are Williams still an option? Presumably Mercedes would prefer him at Williams?
    3. Who do you think has the best chance?

      1. Joe, been trying to catch up with you in the Paddock at recent events in Austin and Montreal, to no avail. Will be back in Austin PC in a few weeks; as a longtime subscriber, would enjoy meeting you and offering my thanks for your globe-trotting. Maybe DT and/or PN can join us for a photo…….

  10. Thank you for such a beautiful and timely notebook Joe.
    From the start it looked like we were in for a treat.

    By the time we had got to the end of the Alpine story I was a little sorry we had moved on from the history you were sharing.

    Then you brought us back to Lisors.
    Thank you for keeping it/us grounded.

    I came here intially expecting to read of Horner threatening lawsuits, and other arguents/dramas. Wondering if it would be ok to all if I made a comment along the lines of being tired of all the politics, machinations, and millions in F1 making headlines instead of racecraft, derring do, and teamwork. Aware of course the long history of politics, I’m not pretending it’s anything new, just me getting old and tired I guess.

    Fun Cars was the perfect antidote and timely reminder to all of us.
    I watch a lot of “lesser” leagues of motor and the only difference I see is the money and the attitude it buys. Of course it is more complicated than that, but sometimes it feels like that’s all it boils down to.

    Leagues like Fun Cars can almost be a time trip back to a simpler age, and I don’t mean a return to big fuel guzzling engines, just the idea of scrapping around and having some fun, without fortunes being won or lost.

    Sorry for the long comment, thank you for yet another journey to another part of the world, I almost felt like I was there.

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