I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking; How come there are so few decent photographs of that lovely Maserati Quattroporte GTS? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, this roadtrip was done to create a little series of documentaries for our friends at XCAR so I was often tied up talking twaddle to camera and, secondly, when I did get a minute, I was too busy driving it. So too was Dr Darryl, MotorPunk’s number 1 Fangio fantasist. So, cameras packed, Maserati fuelled, we’re off to the continent…

Time was really tight. We had four tracks to visit in five days, 2000 miles to cover and three documentaries to film. I collected Darryl and Cameraman Matt and we tanked down to Dover to find operation stack in place. Eurostar missed, we caught a later one and drove to Clermont-Ferrand on excellent (but not inexpensive) French toll roads. We filmed one little scene en-route. Actually we didn’t really need to film at a petrol station but I wanted an excuse to not pay for the fuel. So as Darryl spent €100 on super-unleaded I did a half-arsed piece to camera to get out of paying. We covered 666 miles on day 1 at 25.5 MPG. Devilish mileage but done in absolute comfort, the QP is a PDQ GT, and frugal too. In the evening, in a bar, we filmed a funny scene featuring Bibendum, Michelin’s mascot. Their HQ is nearby. We couldn’t film for laughing even with confused German tourists looking on, it took ten takes or more. Originally designed as a brewery mascot and sporting a champagne glass, cigar and pince-nez Bibendum is a MotorPunk kind of gentilhomme, non?

The following morning we made our way to Charade (named after the nearest village, but also known as Circuit Louis Rosier and Circuit Clermont-Ferrand), which runs around a volcano in the Auvergne mountains. It’s a 5 mile circuit to rival the Nürburgring, set mostly on what are now public roads, pics above. Only the odd faded advertising sign and lumps of concrete in the road where barriers once stood gives the game away but the roads are empty and inviting. Matt sets up shop and Darryl and I fight over the keys. He wins and drives up and down with the windows down, enjoying that engine note as it bounces off the hillsides.

Four times between 1965 and ’72 the French Grand Prix was held here. F1 drivers hated it. They got motion sickness as the longest straight is only c.500m long and there are huge elevation changes. Also, lumps of jaggy volcanic rock got kicked up onto the track and into the faces of drivers such as Helmut Marko (now the Red Bull boss) who lost an eye. There were ten punctures in the final F1 race in ’72 which was won by Jackie Stewart in a BRM but was notable for the performance of Kiwi Chris Amon (pictured above, blue Matra) who started on pole, had a puncture, dropped to tenth and fought back to third, smashing the lap record. Fittipaldi in a Lotus (above) was second. I’m worried. As I hoon up and down the hill, wired for sound and with a face full of lens I recall Maserati made it quite clear that we are to pay for anything we puncture, break or otherwise bugger up. There are lumps of volcano everywhere. A few hot laps (for the camera, Officer) of the public part of the circuit later we accessed to what remains of the racing circuit. You can spy it through the trees on the side of the steep hill (see streetview, here), an incredibly twisty circuit, hidden away, pictures below;

There is racing here occasionally but it’s mostly open for the odd trackday and specialist events. It is an amazing place to drive. Hilly, lots of corners with big variations in both angle and camber, and fantastic views for anyone stupid enough to take their eyes off the tarmac for a split second. Epingle Marlboro corner, for example, is almost impossible; Tightening, uphill, off camber and with concrete waiting to kiss you. We’re alone today but spectators can see multiple corners as it snakes up and down the hill, no wonder John Frankenheimer’s ’66 film ‘Grand Prix’ was filmed here. I’m curious what our finished film of Charade will look like. We chatted to camera as we wanged around in the Quattroporte – it’s flippin’ hard to multitask at speed with £100k’s worth of supercar under you. First world problems and all that.

The QP is 2 tons of luxury machine but with the dampers button prodded, sport mode engaged and manual ‘box selected we could really sling it around. This is the GTS model. The range starts with a V6 diesel, then there’s a V6 Turbo petrol and then the GTS which carries a V8 twin turbo with an 8 speed gearbox (found in the Ferrari California, and elsewhere). It feels particularly Italian. By that, I mean that it is (gorgeous styling aside) quite unremarkable when just driving the thing, but when you want to go fast you really have to hang onto gears and thrap it. It comes alive. It feels like you shouldn’t be ragging it’s mechanicals but with time it becomes second nature, almost abusing it like a Palermo teenager in a Piaggio Ape, squeezing everything out of that magnificent engine and then, my word, it is fast. The Maserati, that is, not the Piaggio. You get the idea. We like driving this car. You can find it’s stats on Maserati’s website here.

We were left alone all day to film, only slinking off for fuel (see pic of Darryl asking direction from a local tin snail driver), returning for more afternoon fun at Charade, where some of the bravest racing in F1 happened. Darryl fights me for the keys. This circuit is, without question, my favourite in the world. It has the elevation changes of Spa, the odd corners and awkward cambers of Cadwell, is tight like Monaco and has a fascinating history – as you’ll see in the finished film.

filming a documentary for XCAR at Charade with Maserati

Visit Charade, please. It’s a hidden gem that roadtrippers and racers alike will love. My smile was a foot wide. We can’t wait to share the video with you. Next stop? Paris!

Thanks to Dr O for helping us to keep it real, Gilbert Voisin and Charade Circuit Management for the pics, Matt, Georgina at Maserati and Romain for his kind help. See what’s on at Charade on their website here. Stand by for a video…

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