MARCH 27, 2001
Paul Ricard development plans
THE CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD at Le Castellet, in the south of France, is to be rebuilt and will be renamed the High Tech Test Track. The intention is for the circuit to become the main testing facility for Formula 1 cars, a role which is currently enjoyed by the Circuit de Catalunya, in Barcelona.
Paul Ricard was built in 1969 by the drinks magnate of the same name and when it opened it boasted the best facilities in the world. It quickly became the favorite winter testing location for the Grand Prix circus thanks to its climate, its accessibility to pleasant spots such as Bandol and because there was an airstrip located alongside the circuit, enabling team personnel to come and go quickly. It hosted the French GP on 14 occasions between 1971 and 1990. Political pressure then led the event to be moved to Magny-Cours where it will remain until at least 2006.
Paul Ricard himself died in 1997 and early in 1999 the racing facility was sold to a company called Excelis, headed by Philippe Gurdjian, but controlled by Bernie Ecclestone. The purchase is believed to have cost $11m and includes the air strip and the circuit hotel. Plans for the entire facility to be redeveloped have been delayed somewhat by the fact that there were sitting tenants but this problem has now been solved and work is expected to begin later this summer on the reconstruction of the facility. The work will include two new chicanes and a new hairpin.
Toyota Motorsport GmbH has bought the exclusive right to use the circuit this year but in 2002 the facility will be available for other teams, some of which have already expressed an interest in using the track. The old abrasive surface of the circuit has been repaved in recent years and although the Mistral wind can still sometimes disrupt testing, F1 teams report that the results gained are just as good as those at Barcelona. For the British teams Paul Ricard is 680 miles from the Channel Ports with motorway all the way; Barcelona is 850. For the Italian teams it is a similar saving with Barcelona being 650 miles from Ferrari headquarters in Modena and Paul Ricard being only 365.
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