Paul Ricard Circuit
|Location||Le Castellet, France|
|Time zone||GMT +1 (DST: +2)|
French Grand Prix
6 Hours of Castellet
|Current layout (with Mistral chicane)|
|Long Circuit (1970–1999)|
|Length||5.809 km (3.610 mi)|
|Lap record||1:39.914 (Keke Rosberg, Williams Honda, 1985)|
|Club Circuit (1986–1999)|
|Length||3.812 km (2.369 mi)|
|Lap record||1:08.012 (Nigel Mansell, Ferrari, 1990)|
The Paul Ricard Circuit is a motorsport race track built in 1969 at Le Castellet, near Marseille, in France, with finance from the eccentric pastis magnate Paul Ricard. Ricard wanted to experience the challenge of building a highway.
Its innovative facilities made it one of the safest motor racing circuits in the world at the time of its opening. The circuit had three track layout permutations, a large industrial park and an airstrip. The combination of modern facilities, mild winter weather and an airstrip made it popular amongst racing teams for car testing during the annual winter off-season.
The original track was dominated by the 1.8 km long Mistral Straight that is followed by the high-speed right hand Signes corner. The long main straight and other fast sections made the track very hard on engines as they ran at full revs for extended spells. Engine failures were common, such as Ayrton Senna's huge crash during the 1985 French Grand Prix after the Renault engine in his Lotus failed and he went off backwards at Signes on his own oil and crashed heavily, fortunately with only light bruising to the driver. Nigel Mansell crashed at the same place in the same weekend during practice and suffered concussion which kept him out of the race. Mansell's crash was the result of a slow puncture in his left rear tyre causing it to explode at over 200 mph, which detached his Williams FW10's rear wing. The Honda powered FW10 holds the race lap record for the original circuit when Mansell's team mate Keke Rosberg recorded a time of 1:39.914 during the 1985 French Grand Prix. During qualifying for the 1985 race, Swiss driver Marc Surer clocked what was at the time the highest speed recorded by a Formula One car on the Mistral when he pushed his turbocharged, 1,000 bhp (746 kW; 1,014 PS) Brabham-BMW to 338 km/h (210 mph). This compared to the slowest car in the race, the 550 bhp (410 kW; 558 PS) naturally aspirated Tyrrell-Ford V8 of Stefan Bellof which could only manage 277 km/h (172 mph). Not surprisingly, Bellof qualified 9 seconds slower than Surer and 12 seconds slower than pole winner Rosberg.
It opened in 1970 with a 2-litre sports car race. During the 1970s and the 1980s the track developed some of the best French drivers of the time including four time World Drivers' Champion Alain Prost who won the French Grand Prix at the circuit in 1983, 1988, 1989 and 1990. The circuit hosted the Formula One French Grand Prix on many occasions, the first of which was the 1971 French Grand Prix.
In 1986, Brabham Formula One driver Elio de Angelis was killed in a testing accident at the fast first turn, and the circuit was modified in order to make it safer. The length of the Mistral Straight was reduced from 1.8 km in length to just over 1 km, and the fast sweeping Verierre curves where de Angelis had crashed were bypassed. Effectively, after the start, instead of heading into the left hand Verierre sweeper, cars now braked hard and turned sharp right into a short run that connected the pit straight to the Mistral. This changed the circuit length for a Grand Prix from 5.81 km (3.61 mi) to just 3.812 km (2.369 mi). This also had the effect of cutting lap times from Keke Rosberg's 1985 pole time of 1:32.462 in his Williams-Honda turbo, to Nigel Mansell's 1990 pole time of 1:04.402 in his V12 Ferrari.
The last French Grand Prix held at the circuit was in 1990; the event then moved to Magny-Cours where it ran until 2008. Since then there have been discussions towards reviving the French Grand Prix with Paul Ricard one of the circuits believed to be considered as the venue.
During its life of hosting a round of the Formula One World Championship, Paul Ricard hosted the French Grand Prix on 14 occasions between 1971 and 1990. The Long Circuit was used from 1971-1985, with the Club Circuit used from 1986-1990. On six occasions (1971, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1989) the winner at Paul Ricard went on to win the World Championship in the same year. Ronnie Peterson and René Arnoux are the only Ricard winners who never won the championship.
In the 1990s the circuit's use was limited to motorcycle racing and French national racing, most notably until 1999, the Bol d'or 24 hour motorcycle endurance race. The track was also the home of the Oreca F3000 team.
After Ricard's death, the track was sold to Excelis, a company owned by Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone, in 1999. The track has since been rebuilt into an advanced test track. It is now known as the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (Paul Ricard HTTT).
An aircraft landing strip suitable for private jets is amongst the circuit's facilities. There is a Karting Test Track (KTT) that features the same type of abrasive safety zones as the car track. The track has also hosted some races, including the 2006 Paul Ricard 500km, a round of the FIA GT Championship. Other GT championships have run races here, most notably the Ferrari Challenge and races organized by Porsche clubs of France and Italy.
The track is characterised by its long Mistral straight (1.8 km) and elongated track design. The track is also unusual in that it is built on a plateau, and is very flat. The length of the full track is around 3.610 miles (5.8 km). In 1986 the track was modified to shorten the circuit. This shorter circuit is known as the GP short circuit and is 2.369 miles (3.8 km) long. The track offers 167 possible configurations from 826 to 5,861 metres. Its flexibility and mild winter weather mean that it is used for testing by several motorsport teams, including Formula One teams.
The track is known for its distinctive black and blue runoff areas known as the Blue Zone. The runoff surface consists of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten, used instead of gravel traps, as common at other circuits. A second, deeper run-off area is the Red Zone, with a more abrasive surface designed to maximize tyre grip and hence minimize braking distance, although at the cost of intense tyre wear. The final safeguard consists of Tecpro barriers, a modern improvement on tyre barriers.
- Tracks and facilities - Official website
- Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track, The Marshal: Incorporating Rescue & Resuscitation, April 2007 (Issue 21)
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