Trevor Taylor Recalls
In 1994 former Lotus Grand Prix driver Trevor Taylor recalled the Rouen-les-Essarts race circuit for World Sports Cars magazine.
This is what he wrote.
Of all of the 'sixties Grand Prix venues Rouen-Les Essarts was the most challenging; no question. Rouen was plain scary.
When talking danger everyone remembers Nurburgring or Spa, I had some big shunts in Belgium myself, but that ultra-fast descent beyond the pits and down to the old cobbled hairpin (Nouveau Monde) was terrifying, bloody terrifying. The road flicks right, then left, then right again. The trees towered on either side and made it look you were racing down a drainpipe. It wasn't too narrow but you used every inch of road and the camber made it doubly tricky. In those days, and I'm talking about 450 kg, 1500 cc cars and 180 bhp but not much rubber, it was almost, but never quite flat out. We christened it the 'chicken's lift' and for my money it ranked every bit as dangerous as the infamous Masta Kink at Spa. Somehow it felt more like the Cresta Run than a race track, and in a race you'd have to face it more than 50 times. The Fuchsrohre section at the 'Ring is pretty intimidating but you only had to face it fifteen times before the flag fell.
Years later I spoke to David Purley - a braver man you'd not meet. He told me that the only way he could come close to taking it flat was by screaming inside his helmet - like he was going over the top. He'd been in the Paras out in Aden. He said it was the only way he knew of generating the adrenalin to carry him through the descent.
My first visit to Rouen was in '62 with Lotus. I had tested the new 25, crashed it too - when something broke - but it was the first time I was to race it, even though Jimmy Clark had already won with it at Spa, and so my mind was on the task, not the danger. Practice began at 9am and as the GP cars ventured out the sun shone brightly through the trees. After a few preliminary laps I returned to the pits dismayed. The 25's monocoque was incredibly stiff. It didn't flex like the 24 and demanded an entirely different technique. I thought I'd never be able to drive the 25 properly yet I knew - we all knew - its potential.
I remember other drivers complaining vociferously about the multiplicity of surfaces. Before the second practice it had rained and the track was still damp in parts. It was wet in the final left-hander as you braked for the Nouveau Monde. The cobblestones were slippery and you lost traction up the hill towards Virage Sanson. The worst though was at Gresil. You took this sharp right-hander flat in fourth and as the front tyres hit the new, grippy surface the nose tucked in and the car wanted to swap ends. There were some minor problems with the car, and Jimmy's new car carried some significant improvements which meant we were doing a lot of cross reference. After very few laps I ended up in the middle of the grid.
The race was a big disappointment. Jimmy flew off after Graham Hill and then took the lead and I knew I could climb through the field and earn some points. Then Clark's suspension failed - thankfully he was on his way back to the pits - and my throttle return spring went AWOL just after the 'chicken's lift'. I didn't notice until braking for the hairpin but there's an escape road there and I just flicked off the ignition. It could have been far more dramatic. I managed to struggle back to the pits operating the side lever by hand.
By the time the mechanics had fixed it and given me Jimmy's engine cover I was well down but pleased to get some more laps in with the 25. Slowly I was becoming used to the car's rigidity and the new precision needed to get the best from it. With a couple of laps to go I was up to eighth place and closing on Trintignant although he was two laps ahead. I saw the Police had lined the pits straight opposite the grandstand and set off on my final tour. What I couldn't know, as I rounded the La Scierie for the last time, was that Surtees - who was crippled by a slipping clutch - was stopped by the police and prevented from entering the pits after crossing the line. Unable to continue, he stopped just past the finish line. Confused, Tnintignant slowed to a crawl, the two cars blocking the track for a second - exactly the second that I came over the brow.
When I saw them I was doing well over the ton and they were only a hundred yards or so ahead. There were people milling and little I could do to avoid an almighty shunt. I aimed the nose towards a non existent gap between the straw bales and the Trintignant's machine. The bales detached the left-hand wheels and suspension arms whilst the Frenchman's privately entered Lotus ripped off the others and I began my slowing down lap accelerating towards the 'chicken's lift' in a cigar-shaped bobsleigh.
A scary place Rouen.