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London to Paul Ricard in a Mini Coupe, via Reims
I'm writing these words from the passenger seat of our long-term Mini Coupe JCW as we cruise south through France towards Paul Ricard. It's the venue for Mini United, a three-day festival and celebration of all things Mini.

We set off from Autocar Towers yesterday afternoon, a 'convoy' of two identical Coupes, with myself and snapper Stuart Price in one car, and reporter Alex Kersten riding in the other.

Leg one was a short jaunt to Folkestone, under The Channel and on to Arras, about an hour's drive from Calais. We wanted to leave the bulk of the journey until today so we could factor a couple of stops along the way.

The first of those was at Reims, the site of the old road race circuit which hosted the French Grand Prix in the 1950s and 1960s. The pits buildings and main grandstands of the 7.8km track still remain, and are clearly a pilgrimage for many British petrolheads, as we encountered another group as we poked around the pits.

The D27 main road runs right past the old pits and was the racetrack in the old days. As we surveyed the pits, modern-day HGVs, MPVs and SUVs zoomed past us and kicked up spray at a daunting pace. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a member of the Lotus pit crew as Jim Clark zoomed in for a pitstop during a 1960s grand prix. With no dividing wall between the race track and pits, it must have been a very exposed place in which to work.

The heartening thing about sites such as Reims is that they still exist - the gently decaying buildings haven't been bulldozed to make way for a load of Barrett Homes or yet another major supermarket; neither have they been overdeveloped into glitzy tourist attractions. At Reims you can pick up a leaflet summarising the track's history and an application form to join Les Amis du Circuit de Gueux, the club that tends to the track buildings. That's it: no tacky commemorative t-shirt or overpriced coffee cup to buy, and all the better for it.

We've left Reims behind now, continuing our journey towards a much more modern race track, Paul Ricard. An unplanned 'detour' - caused when our satnav got confused by some new roads and not navigator's error, honest - has delayed us slightly, but we're back on course now and somewhere near Troyes.

We're learning more about our Mini on the way, and I'll recount some of our findings in another blog later in the weekend. We're also Tweeting whenever we can, and you're so inclined you can follow us: @Matt_Burt_ @Stuart_Price and @autoalex

London to Paul Ricard in a Mini Coupe, via Reims was originally published by Autocar. Read the full story by clicking here.

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