Is Paul Ricard in CART's future?  It should be!

 by Mark Cipolloni
August 13, 2002
With Paul Ricard now in the rumor  mill for a CART race, here is a reprint of an article written last June

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Europe has a long history of F1 racing, in fact open wheel racing of all sorts.  CART was going to Europe this year for two races, in England and Germany, but Germany went bankrupt.  There are many other venues in Europe that could, and possibly should host a CART race.  Today we spotlight the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.

The Paul Ricard circuit can be used in several different configurations.  It measures 3.610 miles in length (full course), and 2.369 miles (short course)  Imagine the slipstreaming down that long backstraight!

Looking up the pit straight from the final turn, note the magnificent mountains in the background and the overall quality of the race facilities.  Even at 30 years-old, it's better than anything seen in the USA.

This is the pit straight at pit out.  To see this track not host a F1 or CART race is a travesty. 

Paul Ricard in the hilltop hamlet of Le Camp is in the medieval township of Le Castellet in Provence, France. This well-financed circuit had excellent facilities for the teams and the spectators. Now thirty years old, the Paul Ricard circuit has been relegated to truck racing and FIM motorcycle racing.  However, it's getting a whole new facelift and has also become a certified F1 test track.  It's Toyota's official F1 test track.

The Paul Ricard track is still in use as a testing venue for Formula One teams on occasion - the south coast of France being a relatively nice place to test, especially in the cold winter months. It hasn't changed at all since it was last used for Formula One in 1990. 

Why is the French GP no longer contested at Paul Ricard?  Elio de Angelis's death at Paul Ricard in a testing accident in 1986 was an excuse to move the French Grand Prix to to Magny Cours. This had everything to do with French provincial politics and had little to do with safety. President Mitterand of France was a native of Nevers, where Magny Cours is located. Guy Ligier, the owner of the Ligier team, was an old friend of Mitterand. The Ligier team moved to Magny Cours from Vichy in 1988. The French Finance minister at the time, Pierre Beregovoy, was also the Mayor of Nevers. The French government apparently spent 250 million francs to underwrite the upgrading of the Magny Cours circuit.

Bernie Ecclestone, the new owner, still hasn't officially announced his plans for the circuit.  All kinds of rumors are flying around, but people say as part of  the renovation of the circuit (stands, rostrum, safety), there are plans for an oval circuit for CART, but that talk has died down recently.  That doesn't matter though, as CART would be better served on the road course anyway.  One thing is for sure, a lot of money is going to be invested.

The first Toyota F1 test and development car ran most impressively for the first time at Paul Ricard recently and will now undergo a stringent test program at this venue, which is Toyota’s "home circuit”. 

Getting There

The route to " Cirquit Paul Ricard" is a winding 15 minute drive which passes a medieval castle from which the town gets its name-le Castellet.

The Paul Ricard circuit is situated on the N8 between Aubagne and Toulon in the south-east of France, close to the "Côte d'Azur". The easiest way is to take the A50 (Marseille - Toulon), and go off at exit 11, toward Beausset. 

What's in the region

Paul Ricard is surrounded by many famous places and lies within a stones throw of the French Riviera.  Thanks to the new TGV train from Paris to Marseille, Paul Ricard is now just 3-hours on the 190-MPH TGV train from Paris

Paul Ricard in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur  The administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur stretches across southeastern France, from the snowy Alps to the sunny Riviera to the dry, windy terrain of Provence. The area borders Italy to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Despite the brisk mistral wind that sweeps through the area, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur tends to be warm, with a climate well suited for its vineyards, olive groves, and fields of lavender. The Rhône River spreads through Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur before it empties into the Mediterranean, creating the Camargue, a large alluvial plain of salt marsh and swamp where horses, bulls, and many varieties of birds are protected.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur takes its name from its ancient history as a Roman province, Provincia Romana. During the 12th century, Provençal culture and literature flourished, notably in the love songs of the troubadours. Avignon was the capital of the Christian world from 1309 to 1377, when the Roman Catholic popes lived in the city (building the still-formidable Palais des Papes as their residence). Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur joined France when the region was inherited by King Louis XI.

The capital of the region, Marseille, is a teeming port city and trade center founded around 600 BC. With its influx of immigrants and imports, it shows as much Mediterranean influence as French. Would-be revolutionaries marching from Marseille to Paris in AD 1792 popularized a song that came to be known as “La Marseillaise” and later became the French national anthem.

The cities of Arles and Nîmes both retain the Roman touch, featuring preserved arenas used for bullfights in summer. Vincent van Gogh painted the colors of Arles from 1888 to 1889. Nîmes gave its name to denim fabric (from de Nîmes), invented in the 19th century for workers in textile mills. The Pont du Gard, northeast of Nîmes, is a soaring bridge and aqueduct over the Gard, a remnant of the Roman water distribution system.

Marseille Although part of the region of Provence, Marseilles has a soul of its own. Founded in 600 b.c. by the Greek sailors of Phocaea, this great city is the oldest in France and surely the most complex. 

Second largest city in France and the largest commercial port, Marseilles, in the time of the French colonies, was the gateway to the Mediterranean, Today Marseilles remains a capitol of southern Europe, cosmopolitan and exuberant, with its picturesque old port, its Bouillabaisse and its folklore. 

Long known for its ethnic diversity and spirit of independence, the seaport of Marseille has steadfastly weathered more than 2,000 years of tumultuous change. The town, first named Massilia, was founded by Greek seafarers in the 7th century BC on a sheltered inlet of the rugged Mediterranean coast. During the next 500 years, Marseille developed into a center of learning and trade. By choosing to join forces against Julius Caesar, however, it lost much of its power and consequently saw gradual decline. Marseille achieved renewed prosperity as an independent shipping port during the Crusades. Upon becoming part of France, the city’s notoriously rebellious spirit eventually aroused royal fury once again, and Marseille was stripped of its independent status in 1658. The city was a fervent supporter of the French Revolution and a center of the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War II.

It's 3-hours by train from Paris to nearby Marseille

Marseille is today the second largest city in France and a prosperous commercial port. High-rise buildings line its wide avenues, which spread out from the historic city center, called Old Port. Extensive rebuilding programs during the past 25 years have restored parts of the Panier district (destroyed by Germans during World War II) and transformed much of the Old Port into a welcoming pedestrian area. Characterized by a diverse population, Marseille has traditionally lured immigrants from throughout Europe and North Africa. During the French colonial period, the city attracted much foreign investment, and it still boasts an important stock exchange.

Towering Pyrenees Near the border with Spain, the sharp peaks of the Pyrenees tower over a green valley traversed by rushing waters of a mountain stream. This scenic mountain region is known for its excellent ski resorts and spas, which offer the curative powers of numerous thermal springs.

Cannes  Movie enthusiasts wait at the Palais des Festivals (Festival Palace) for the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, held each year at the end of May. The largest, most celebrated event along the Riviera, the festival is also one of the world’s most prestigious film competitions. It draws an international group of directors, actors, and celebrities to the resort town, located in southeast France along the Côte d’Azur. The Palais, where the festival is held, anchors one end of La Croisette, Cannes’s elegant beach promenade, and at the other end is a harbor filled with luxury yachts from around the world.

Monaco, the city, sits on a protected promontory above the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the principality of Monaco, and shares the 2-square-kilometer (0.75-square-mile) area of the country with the towns of Monte Carlo and La Condamine.

Monaco City has long been a playground of the rich and famous, thanks to its sparkling harbor setting, world-class casinos, and lack of income tax. Since 1297, with interruptions, it has been ruled by the house of Grimaldi; Prince Rainier III is the current sovereign. The position of the flag atop his residence, the Palais Princier, indicates whether the prince is at home or away. The colorful changing of the guard occurs every day outside the Palais at 11:55 AM. Next door to the Palais is the Cathedrale de Monaco, a Romanesque-Byzantine church that contains the remains of many former princes. United States-born Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco, is also buried there.


Monaco has been the site of many films, including To Catch a Thief, which first brought actress Grace Kelly to the country in the 1950s. Monaco also boasts the world-famous Oceanographic Museum, which was once under the direction of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.


CART could not find a better place to create an 'event'.


Monza - Monza is, for all intents and purposes, the home of Italy's beloved Ferrari, and a second home to the vast tifosi. Based in the heart of a royal park, the circuit has often led a charmed life, with environmentalists up in arms each time another tree has had to be removed in the interests of safety, but F1 would not be F1 without a trip to Monza and the venue remains a permanent fixture on the calendar.  Along with Silverstone, Monza is one of the longest standing grand prix venues.


Paul Ricard is now used extensively as a test track for the Toyota F1 team.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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