It was back in 1960 that Jean Bernigaud built a racing circuit on land attached to his farm, alongside the RN7 close to the village of Magny-Cours. The village is six miles to the south-east of Nevers, a small busy town on the upper Loire, 150 miles south of Paris.
Bernigaud's track was just 1.21 miles in length, but its reputation grew quickly. It was the world-famous Ecole de Pilotage Winfield which really put Magny-Cours on the map. It was the kindergarten for the entire generation of French F1 stars of the 1970s and 1980s. The school was established by Bernigaud in 1963 with assistance from Jean Lucas and Gerard Crombac. It would be renamed Winfield later but the list of successful pupils would grow quickly: Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, Francois Cevert, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jarier, and Jacques Laffite were all early graduates.
By 1969 the track record stood to Depailler with a lap time of 49 secs. French racing at both national and international level was growing rapidly. It was time to expand. Bernigaud decided upon an extension which would create two interconnected circuits, which could be combined to form a track of 2.39 miles. Traditionally Magny-Cours's biggest meeting of the year takes place on the May Day national holiday and the new track was opened on May 1 1971.
Bernigaud died in November 1971 and the circuit was then taken over by the local motor club -- the ASA Nivernais. Bernigaud's widow Jacqueline remained an important part of the administration. In order to help fund the track, industrial units were built and Automobiles Martini and ORECA became the most famous of Magny-Cours's resident companies.
In the late 1970s international racing arrived at the track with the European Formula 3 Championship topping the bill at the annual May Day event. European F3 would remain a regular visitor until the series was canceled at the end of 1984. By this time, however, the track had deteriorated badly. For three years there was no international motor racing at Magny-Cours.
In 1988, however, the circuit was acquired by the regional conseil de la Nievre which planned to overhaul the circuit completely as part of a plan to revive the flagging economy of the department.
The project gained immediate support from the French President Francois Mitterand, who had once headed the local government of the Nievre, and his Finance Minister Pierre Beregovoy, the Mayor of Nevers.
Massive investment was put into the plans which included the track, a huge new industrial park, an 18 hole golf course and a motor museum. A new motorway was planned to connect the track with France's network of autoroutes and there were viability studies for the extension of the runway at Nevers-Fourchambault airport.
The industrial park -- the Technopole -- was built to attract France's top racing teams. They were helped by huge incentives including a free business license for five years and financial assistance in the construction of premises. Among the first to arrive was the Ligier team. Today Magny-Cours is the home of Snobeck Racing Services and Dominique Delestre's Apomatox Formula 3000 team.
The new track followed the basic route of Berignaud's 1971 layout, but every corner was changed. There were still two tracks which could be run independently - an inner circuit of 1.07 miles and an outer track of 1.62 miles. These connected to form a full-length 2.65 mile. The design profited from the involvement of both Jacques Laffite and Rene Arnoux and included a number of corners which were copied from tracks around the world. There was a curling sweeper (named Estoril), a tight hairpin Adelaide) and two fast kinks (Nurburgring and Imola).
The French GP arrived at Magny-Cours in 1991 and for the first three years at the track the Williams-Renault team was undefeated. Michael Schumacher then won for Benetton in 1994 and 1995. Damon Hill won the 1996 event but then Schumacher added two more victories in his Ferrari. The 1999 event was disrupted by rain and Heinz-Harald Frentzen and the Jordan team adopted a clever strategy to catch their rivals by surprise and win the race.
In May 2000 it was announced that the French GP would be staying at Magny-Cours until after the 2004 event.