Grand Prix Camions d’Albi, Saturday – Anthony Janiec is champion again
12. October 2019Albi - The fourth Grand Prix Camions d’Albi at this historic circuit in the south of France, 70-odd kilometres from Toulouse, brings this year’s Championnat de France Camions to its climax. A picture-postcard town with 50,000 inhabitants, Albi-Le Séquestre may not be the motorsport pole it once was, but its tourist attractions – the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec and the old city centred around the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile – draw thousands.
Circuit d’Albi actually boasts an unbroken 86-year racing tradition. One of the oldest in France, it predates Circuit Bugatti in Le Mans by 32 years. Italian legend Tazio Nuvolari took his last career victory at the French Grand Prix here in 1946, and Argentinian Juan-Manuel Fangio, arguably the best-known of them all, won the Grand Prix d’Albi three years later.
Its glory days long past, the circuit continued as a stop on the Historic Tour (the 75th Grand Prix currently running here is Round 3 of the Championnat de France Historique des Circuits). Apart from that, it was unutilised for decades, except for minor one-off races or corporate events. A few years ago a group of local enthusiasts came together to breathe life back into their beloved speedway – and the Grand Prix Camions d’Albi was born. In four short years it has grown to become the singular highlight of the season.
Friday saw the city parade, a peculiarity of truck racing events, make its debut in Albi. A long convoy consisting of 24 race trucks, plus a few showtrucks and drift racers, and even a handful of huge wreckers thrown in for good measure, snaked its way through the old and, in parts, extremely narrow lanes leading to the square in front of the theatre. All the crossings along the route were closed off by the police and volunteers, and there was no stopping at the red lights. The sidewalks spilled over with Albigensians big-eyed with wonder – they’d surely never seen anything like this before. Once there, the 22 male racers, with Jennifer Janiec and Laurine Orsini, signed spotter’s guides at a long table, while Fabien Calvet, president of TRO and of the FFSA Truck Racing Commission, enthralled the crowd with tales about the sport and anecdotes from the Championnat de France Camions.
The racing kicked off Saturday morning. Anthony Janiec started the day with a near-unassailable 40-points lead, and all he needed was to finish Race 1 ahead of MAN colleagues Thomas Robineau and Téo Calvet to effectively seal the title.
But it was Lionel Montagne (Renault), fourth in the standings, who topped both free practice sessions. The picture was very different in qualifying. Robineau came in quickest, Janiec following eight tenths off his pace, Calvet by more than a second, and Montagne by more than two. Robineau then went ahead and helped himself to pole position ahead of Janiec, Montagne, and Calvet.
The race started after a noon break. For him to have any hope of staying in contention for the title, Robineau would have to win. He surged into the lead, Janiec initially hitching his MAN to that of his closest rival but then easing off. Calvet wasted no time wresting P3 from Montagne. The four frontrunners quickly pulled away from the rest. On Lap 3 a truck found itself immobile at the farthest end of the circuit and had to be got moving again. In addition, a couple of tyre stacks marking the limits of the first chicane had bounced away and needed to be dragged back into position. The safety car was sent out.
In contrast to the FIA European Truck Racing Championship, a race in the Championnat de France is only stopped when there is no other option; a safety car is employed in most situations in which the field needs to be slowed temporarily.
At the restart, Robineau quickly took control and Janiec stayed uncharacteristically restrained. After all, it would be enough for him just to finish and the title would be his. All but.
Calvet finished third and collected the Young Drivers Cup.
Janiec’s lead was now 35 points. Robineau would have to win at least six points more in Race 2 to keep his fleeting title hopes alive. The one-fourth reversed grid (the top six finishers in Race 1 starting in reverse order) had Iveco pilot Patrick Chatelain on pole with Aurélien Herrgott in a DAF alongside, with “the squad” behind them.
Chatelain ceded the lead to Herrgott before the first chicane. Soon after, he was overtaken by Calvet as well. The Iveco pilot managed to withstand the rest, even as Herrgott and Calvet pulled away. On the second lap Calvet moved ahead to take the lead. Janiec and Robineau meanwhile made their move on Chatelain, but by then the safety car was out because of a tyre stack that lay smack in the centre of the track. The field closed in again, and the advantage Calvet had built up was gone. That didn’t seem to worry him one bit. Not long after the safety car peeled off he had built up a comfortable cushion, and his rivals still had Herrgott to overtake. That didn’t take them too long, but catching Calvet was now out of the question. The 18-year-old won convincingly, even as Robineau moved ahead of a relaxed Janiec, who was within grasp of his second championship even running in P3.
The new champion was followed home by Montagne and his son Yorrick Montagne (Renault). Herrgott finished sixth, ahead of Chatelain.