Saving Montlhery

French motor racing owes much to Le Mans but the first permanent home of the sport in France was the great high-banked 1.6-mile oval at Montlhery, to the south of Paris. Conceived in 1923 it was the brainchild of 38-year-old Alexandre Lamblin, who had made a fortune building radiators for cars and planes. He acquired a 250-acre property on the Saint Eutrope plateau, above the village of Montlhery, and in 1924 construction of the speedway began. The oval was linked to an L-shaped road course which ran out into the nearby woods and then, following the same course, returned to the speedway. The combined circuit was 7.7 miles in length and opened in 1925 with the French Grand Prix. It quickly became the home of French racing, hosting the Grand Prix on several occasions in the 1930s and being used for a large number of speed record attempts.

The track deteriorated badly during World War II and in December 1946 the management and installations were leased by the Ministry of War to the Union de Technique de l'Automobile et du Cycle (UTAC). The organization was charged with renovating and maintaining the facility. UTAC is a federation of automobile and motorcycle manufacturers which includes Renault and Peugeot, which use the facilities for testing their products. They have invested heavily in the development of the facility as a centre for crash-testing, automobile development and road testing. Each year cars run at least two million miles at the facility. Montlhery has, however, gradually dropped from the racing scene because of the degradation of the circuit.Every four years Montlhery must undergo an inspection to see if it meets the necessary safety rules and the current permit runs until May 2005. There are fears that the circuit is now in such a state that it will not pass the next inspection and so will cease to be licenced for racing. Major work is needed and although UTAC has invested in some of the necessary work but finds it hard to justify the major investment needed to keep the track up to standard. In December last year the commune of Linas, in which the track is located created a special commission to safeguard the autodrome and there are moves to have the oval declared an historic monument.

In the early 1990s there was an attempt to have Montlhery upgraded in order to become the home of the French GP once again with the plan being to turn the old banking into grandstands. The backers of the idea, including Jean-Marie Balestre, did not find the money needed.

A new project is now required if Montlhery is to survive as an active racing circuit.

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