VIDEO. From Formula 1 to historic cars, the Dijon-Prenois circuit is celebrating its 50th anniversary

On May 26, 2022, the famous Côte-d’Or racing circuit will celebrate its 50th anniversary. On this occasion, France 3 Bourgogne returned to the mythical dates which forged the history of the route, from the Grands Prix de France to the Grands Prix of the Golden Age.

Formula 1 championship, truck, motorbike, bicycle… The Prenois circuit has hosted its share of automobile competitions. Today a real place of history, you have to go back to the early 70s to witness its birth.

1968-1972: a circuit in the middle of a forest

Before the circuit stretched the vast forest of Prenois. In 1968, François Chambelland, entrepreneur and former sportsman, saw potential in this natural area. Build a “car stadium”. Enthused by the idea, the town halls of Prenois and Dijon participated in the construction. The Prenois circuit project was born.

Construction and fitting out will take four years. While waiting for the circuit, things are going a little slower. The first locations of the route were made in 1969 with the local authorities. We use city cars, whether R16 or 403. Models that are not necessarily suitable for off-road.

At the origin of the project, there is of course the ambition to host major competitions but not only. The primary purpose of the route? Educate the motorist by allowing him to improve on a circuit.

The particularly fast layout of the circuit should make it possible in the near future to attend exciting races. The ambition is great. Of all the French circuits, this must be the most modern. Motorsport stars of the time such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise closely followed its development.

France 3 Bourgogne returned to the construction as well as the first hours of glory of the circuit in a report.

May 16, 1972: the inauguration

On May 16, 1972, the Dijon-Prenois circuit was inaugurated. “There were a lot of people. It was a great day, a consecration and the result of four years of work”, says Yannick Morizot, current manager of the circuit. On this occasion, the first runs are made. Nello Cheli, driver from Dijon is the first to officially try the circuit. On June 4, 1972, Prenois hosted its first competition, the European Prototype Championship.

It was in 1973 that serious things began with the organization of the “1000 kilometers of Dijon”, since it was a world championship round. At the time, François Chambelland saw even further. “To host a world championship is a gamble after having opened barely a year ago. If all goes well, this should call Formula 1, we applied to host the French Grand Prix in July 1974”he said.

July 7, 1974: Formula 1 goes to Dijon-Prenois

On July 7, 1974, the Prenois circuit hosted for the first time in its history a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the queen discipline of motorsport. “There were 80,000 to 100,000 people, people were parking in all the villages. It was an exceptional period.” Yannick Morizot remembers it as if it were yesterday, not without nostalgia.

Arrangements are made earlier in the year to accommodate these powerful machines. Originally 3200 meters long, the circuit will increase to 3801 meters. It will host five championship rounds, from 1974 to 1984. Although it is no longer approved to host them today, the circuit manager is proud to have seen a Formula 1 race on the Côte-d’Orient circuit. “It was a consecration. We are proud of our past and we use it to project ourselves into the future”he points out.

July 1, 1979: The most beautiful battle in the history of Formula 1… at Prenois!

Motorsport lovers remember it. The Prenois circuit was the scene of a part of Formula 1 history. On July 1, 1979, Jean-Pierre Jabouille scored Renault’s first victory in Formula 1.

But all eyes are on second place. Second driver of the French brand, René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve, aboard his Ferrari, will engage in a legendary duel that Formula 1 fans still remember. This confrontation remains to this day the finest battle in the premier category of motorsport.

It was the golden age of the circuit, a consecration to host Formula 1.

Yannick Morizot

Responsible for the Dijon-Prenois circuit

Yannick Morizot was present and recounts the event. “The duel lasted four laps, it was extraordinary. They overtook several times, the wheels touched, they were at the limit”he recalls. “Two flagship brands with excellent riders were in opposition. René Arnoux still tells it with a lot of passion. All this context makes the battle mythical.”

A panel that illustrates this duel is between Pouilly and Dijon.

1995-2004: passing of the torch and renovation

In 1995, the Chambelland family decided to sell the circuit. A group of shareholders and regional entrepreneurs regain control. In 2004, the latter took the decision to renovate the circuit with, first of all, updating the standardization of the track. The work is done by period, to let the competitions take place on the circuit. They last until 2014. Today, all competitions can be hosted, except Formula 1.

But the circuit should not relax according to Yannick Morizot. “We absolutely have to look to tomorrow to be able to satisfy people’s passion and stay up to safety standards. Opening the door to new technologies seems essential to me. We work with brands to run new generation vehicles”he explains.

2005: hosting of the Golden Age Grand Prix

If the Dijon-Prenois circuit made a name for itself by hosting the Tour de France in the 1980s (the cyclists passed through Sombernon and ended up with a lap!), it is now known for being the scene of the Grand Prix of the Golden Age.

In 2004, the circuit hosted the 40th edition of this event bringing together historic cars. Prenois has hosted the race annually since, and officials are delighted since it is an event appreciated by the general public for various reasons.

“It’s always very exciting, the history brings a lot of people. There are all the people who come back to see the cars that made them dream when they were younger”he reveals. “The ‘Moto Legend’ event is also a very big event. There are a lot of enthusiasts and that’s what makes the historic work so well.”

For its 50th anniversary, the Dijon-Prenois circuit wants to do things big. An open day is scheduled for October 14. The opportunity to see former great drivers, to win prizes, but above all to rediscover a legendary circuit, which is part of the heritage of French motorsport.