At the very moment that F1 Fanatics were tuning in to the Bahrain Grand Prix I was busy reliving one of the greatest F1 battles of all time racing at Dijon-Prenois.
Dijon was home to F1 racing on and off from 1972 through to 1984, before falling into an international decline that was completed with the departure of the FIA GT and F3000 Championships in 1998.
The circuit, despite being home to a number of entertaining races, will always be remembered for the classic 1979 dice between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (watch video of that here), their wheel-banging antics etched into the minds of F1 fans the world over.
I was at the circuit for the opening two rounds of the European Formula Vee Championship in my www.spring.com sponsored EuroScarab.
If you’ve seen Formula Vee races in the UK, USA or Australia then forget the oily, ugly, cheap-looking Formula Fords, as for the European Championship the FVee’s are slicks and wings, Hewland four-speed gearboxes and water cooled engines, with a top speed of 140mph and ground clearance of 40mm. Fast in other words.
The first thing that strikes you about the Dijon-Circuit is “how the hell did they race F1 cars here?”. Spectator facilities clearly haven’t been updated since the last Grand Prix, and while the safety provisions are world class, the paddock is not, exuding faded grandeur.
The track itself is surprisingly short, the Vees lapping in 1m30s with an average speed of 100mph. Pole time at the last GP in 1984 was 1m02s with a 1m11s getting you on the grid. At a guess I’d say a modern F1 car would probably be lapping in approximately 50-55s.
With the aerodynamic grip of the car, much of the circuit is a blur – the fast, flowing, undulating S-bends where Arnoux and Villeneuve had their most famous exchanges are taken in a flat out blur. In a modern slicks and wings car going side by side through these corners is near impossible.
In fact going side by side anywhere is a challenge, with most overtaking taking place at the end of the very long start/finish straight.
The fast, dipping right hander onto the track is the key corner at Dijon, taken flat out but with gritted teeth and a deep breath, it takes a lot of building up to. I would compare it to a similar corner in the UK but there aren’t any.
This was my first outing in a bona-fide international meeting and it was a fantastic experience. Finishing on the podium (third place) was a real buzz as I was handed a sponsor’s cap and whisked off to the podium for the national anthems – you don’t get this at Mallory Park.
However it is on the track where it matters and Dijon is quite some place – devastatingly fast and gruellingly physical it is one of European racing’s hidden treasures. It’s frequently open for track days and I strongly recommend a visit.
For me this is the first of four F1 tracks – past or present – this season with visits to Hockenheim, Magny-Cours and the Nurburgring on the agenda. Next time out I’m off to Most in the Czech Republic for what promises to be a mega weekend.