2009 Maserati GranTurismo S

Mark Bramley

It's pouring by the time we reach Reims. Although Bramley is seriously bummed, I consider the weather a godsend. I know that local enthusiasts have been painstakingly restoring the abandoned grandstands, and I'm afraid that the structures may look too pretty. But as we navigate the roundabout at La Garenne - a restaurant that's been a fixture alongside the circuit since before World War II - and roll down the two-lane highway toward the old start/finish line, the grandstands materialize out of the gloom like a spectral phantasm. The Shell and Esso logos are worn and faded almost beyond recognition, and there's a haunting sensation that we're trespassing at an ancient temple to a dead civilization. We park in the pit lane - the unprotected shoulder of the highway - and climb the crumbling concrete stairs to the top of the grandstands. When I gaze back at the Thillois hairpin, it's not hard to envision racing cars hurtling toward me and disappearing underneath the Dunlop Bridge (removed a few years ago because trucks kept getting stuck underneath it).

In 1958, Phil Hill made his Formula 1 debut here at Reims in a 250F owned by Jo Bonnier. Two more ex-works 250Fs were entered by Modena-based Scuderia Centro Sud for sports car ace Carroll Shelby and 1952 Indy 500 winner Troy Ruttman, who'd finished tenth at Monzanapolis the previous week. The big news, though, was Fangio's appearance in a special lightweight 250F known as the Piccolo. But Fangio was never a factor in the race, and on lap 10, while running a close second to Mike Hawthorn, Musso overcooked the almost-flat-but-not-quite right-hander at the end of the front straight and fatally rolled his Ferrari.

I wheel the GT S onto what remains of the triangular circuit - three public roads that were closed for races. The corner where Musso lost control has been disfigured by a roundabout. But Pierre Kuraj, a spectator who witnessed the accident, leads me to the spot where the Ferrari came to rest, upside-down, in a wheat field. "Musso was ejected from his car like a jumping jack," he tells me.

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