The Dijon-Prenois circuit is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! Let’s buckle up and go back in time!
Let’s start with the beginning… the very first plan of the Dijon-Prenois circuit dates from 1968. You might as well say that the circuit didn’t really look like the grandiose and imposing layout that we will know later on.
The first scouting of the track was done in the mud and the dirt but also and above all in an enthusiasm and a spirit which is nothing else than the mirror of a baby-boomer period, at the same time electrifying, optimistic and turned towards future.
Dirty shoes, sweat and resourcefulness are the key words of these exceptional projects of the time! The authorities present at this first place can testify to this, since from the Mayor to the Prefect, they all gave their little “paw” to dig out the few 403s and Renault 16s that had become bogged down.
At a time when human relations were more characterised by benevolence and camaraderie, it is easy to imagine that these same decision-makers and project managers took a gourmet break over a rosette and a good Burgundy wine!
Surprisingly, the original will of this project: to organize competitions, but not only … This circuit project was born from the will to “contribute to the instruction of the average motorist by allowing him to improve himself on a car circuit” according to the words of the authorities of the time! An institutional vision that is finally very different from today, where we prefer to consider drivers as responsible adults to whom it was good to offer a nice tool to improve their driving, rather than falling into an anti-car policy and endless repression.
Let’s go back to the technical part of the circuit. The first straight line, 1200 meter-long, allowed for speeds of up to 280 km/h, a particularly fast speed for the time. The circuit was also intended to be one of the most modern of its time, welcoming stars such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who saw it as a wonderful opportunity to develop motor sport in France.
Once the circuit was built, the serious business began in 1973 with the organisation of the 1000 kilometres of Dijon, a round of the World Championship. One year later, the French Grand Prix was held there on 7 July 1974. The opening of the circuit to the French Grand Prix was such an important event that the ORTF, French unique national television channel at the time, broadcast the race. The event brought together a more than enthusiastic crowd who were present in the car park, in the stands and even on the top of the neighbouring trees. Quite an era!
The circuit will also be one of the stages of the “Tour de France Moto” and the “Tour de France Auto”. Lauda, Peterson, Beltoise. Ickx, Depailler, Pescarolo… On July 4, 1974, all these legendary names were in the race. In all, the 1974 – 1984 decade will see the organisation of 5 F1 Grands Prix, with a few Swiss Grands Prix in between. It is a circuit which will also see the return of French drivers on the highest step of the podium in 1979 with Jean-Pierre Jabouille. It had not happened for nearly 30 years! Alain Prost even won his first Formula 1 Grand Prix here in 1981. The Golden Age!