2023 marks 20 years of supplying the Tour de France ‘red car’ – the most famous car in cycling.
The Daily Peloton continues its Tour de France preview with a look at this year’s model, the all electric Škoda Enyaq iV and receives some insight into life on the road with full time occupants, race director Christian Prudhomme and driver Gilles Maignan.
Škoda‘s first car supplied to the Tour de France in 2004, used by then Director of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, was a Superb Mk1, a diesel with a top speed of 134mph. For this year’s event the Tour de France is using the Škoda Enyaq iV all electric which debuted at the race on three stages in 2020.
|2004 Red Car – Škoda Superb Gen I||2023 Red Car – Škoda Enyaq iV|
|Manual transmission||Automatic transmission|
|140 PS||201 PS|
|9.9s 0-62mph||8.5s 0-62mph|
|134 mph top speed||99 mph top speed|
Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France, commented: “Škoda is an important partner of the Tour de France and the Škoda car number 1 is my office for each stage. The car is a sort of control tower that receives all the information of what is happening on the race route before the arrival of the riders (demonstrations, potential blockage, road and weather conditions).
“Over the course of the 3,500 km race I can spend anywhere between two to nine hours in the car number 1 each day. Needless to say I do spend a large portion of the month of July in the back seat of a Škoda.”
The race director’s Škoda Enyaq iV is not the same as you would pickup from your local showroom. It is a conversion from an Enyaq SportLine carried out by prototype builders Best Modell, under the supervision of Škoda engineers. As part of the transformation, a sunroof was installed above the rear seats while the standard roof bars were made higher to make them easier to hold when the car was in motion. The conversion team also had to design and source a new centre console and cooling cabinet for the traditional bottle of champagne. To ensure that the vehicle’s additional equipment didn’t affect the Enyaq’s driving range, the team installed two 75 ampere batteries in the boot floor. The design was completed by new champagne flute holders, designed and 3D printed in-house by Best Modell.
Škoda Enyaq iV with Race Director Christian Prudhomme
In addition to the body modifications, the Enyaq comes with a number of features that increase its environmental credentials. Among these are special tyres developed by Continental (Major Partner of the Tour de France) specifically for the Enyaq. Used on all Enyaq support models on the event, the special tyres feature carcasses made entirely from recycled PET materials.
Q&A with Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France
How important is the role of the lead car to ensure the race runs smoothly?
Each car has a vital role in the smooth running of the race. Whether it be a Director or a Commissaire car, everyone plays their role to ensure the safe running of the Tour de France for all the parties involved. Car number 1 is a sort of control tower that receives all the information of what is happening on the race route before the arrival of the riders.
How do you work with Škoda to improve the car to support you in your role?
Škoda is an important partner and plays a key and obvious role in the organisation of the Tour de France due to the fact that it is an event where we are almost constantly on the move. We ensure to collect our feedback and share it with Škoda so they can best adapt (if needed) their vehicles for the very specific usage that we have on the Tour de France.
Q&A with Gilles Maignan, Driver of Race Direction Car Number 1
The Race Direction Car Number 1 is driven by two-time French time trial champion, Gilles Maignan. Maignan retired from the sport in 2001 and was asked by Christian Prudhomme to be his driver after he had previously driven him in a VIP car during Prudhomme’s days working for French TV.
In order to take this important role within the race, Maignan first had to obtain an FCC driving license and is required to attend training sessions specific to driving in the Tour de France. Professional cyclists are often recruited to drive inside the race as they know how to anticipate and react according to the movements of the cyclists and peloton. Each year the lead car driver schedules debrief sessions with Škoda to share feedback gathered from all Tour drivers to help improve the vehicles for future Tours.
What are the best car developments over the years that have benefited you?
The switch to automatic gearboxes has really simplified the driving from inside a cycling race, especially for uphill portions. Also, the dashboard on the Superb shows exactly how many kilometres you have driven to the first decimal, which is very important in a cycling race to know how far you are from the finish. We have recently switched to hybrid vehicles which allows me to be in electric mode between the Fictive Start and Real Start of each stage, which is appreciated by the riders who have to stay right behind me on this section.
How does it feel to lead the peloton?
It changes a bit from back when I was a rider. I have an important responsibility to lead out the best riders on the biggest professional cycling race in the world and my job is to help Christian Prudhomme ensure a safe race for everyone, including the spectators.
How do the cars communicate with each other and how has it changed?
This is done through radio communication as it has proven to be the most effective and direct way to communicate, especially when you reach some very remote areas of France where telephone signal can be scarce.
Are there any speed limits that need to be adhered to?
Yes, we cannot go over 50 mph (80 km/h) except for the downhills if a rider is catching up to me. However, the main rule imposed by the UCI is that we cannot go over 12mph (20km/h) faster than the speed of riders.
The Tour de France runs from 1-23 July, starting in the Basque city of Bilbao and finishing on the iconic Champs Elysee in Paris. The race, comprising 21 stages and covering a distance of 3,404-km, features five mountain stages and a sole time-trial of 22km on stage 16. The official race website is here.