CIRCUITS: PAUL RICARD

Name: Paul Ricard

Situated at Le Castellet, on a flat and arid plateau above the coast near Bandol in the south of France, the Circuit Paul Ricard was built in 1969 with finance from the eccentric drinks magnate Paul Ricard who lived in the nearby commune of Signes. For many years it was considered to be the safest motor racing facility in the world. It had facilities which were years ahead of its time and it became a major winter testing location.

Ricard had three possible layouts, a large area of industrial park and an airstrip. The track was dominated by the mile-long Mistral Straight which was followed by the flat-out Signes corner. Opened in 1970 with a 2-liter sportscar race won by Brian Redman, Paul Ricard held its first French Grand Prix the following year which was dominated by Jackie Stewart. Two years later the event returned and Ronnie Peterson took victory after Emerson Fittipaldi and youngster Jody Scheckter had collided. Niki Lauda dominated the race in 1975 while his rival James Hunt took victory the following year and then in 1978 it was the turn of Mario Andretti.

The 1980s resulted in two popular French wins with Rene Arnoux triumphing in 1982 and Alain Prost the following year, both men in Renaults. After 1985 the French GP was permanently at Paul Ricard although that year Elio de Angelis was killed in a testing accident and the track was subsequently shortened dramatically to get rid of the fast sweepers where de Angelis had crashed and to shorten the Mistral straight. In 1986 and 1987 Nigel Mansell won the race but then between 1988 and 1990 Alain Prost was dominant winning three consecutive victories. In 1991 the local authorities at Magny-Cours funded the switch of the French GP away from Paul Ricard and the track faded a little from the international scene although it continued to be a major venue for motorcycle racing and for French national racing.

The track was the home of one of the Winfield racing schools which produced some of the best French drivers of the 1970s and 1980s notably Patrick Tambay, Didier Pironi, Prost, Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis. The circuit was also briefly the home of the Larrousse Formula 1 team. In recent years the track has been the home of the ORECA F3000 team.

After Paul Ricard's death the Ricard family decided to sell the track and in May 1999 it was bought by Bernie Ecclestone for around $11m.The circuit has since been completely rebuilt and is currently being used only as a test track.

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