|Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track|
|Location||Le Castellet, France|
|Active from||1969 - present|
|Major events||French Grand Prix, FIA GT|
|Length||3.610 mi (5.809 km)|
|Lap record||1:39.914 (Keke Rosberg, Williams Honda, 1985, class)|
The Paul Ricard Circuit is a motorsport race track built at Le Castellet, near Marseille, France, in 1969 with finance from the eccentric drinks magnate Paul Ricard, who created what essentially became Pernod Ricard. Ricard built the circuit with the challenge of figuring out what would it be like to build a highway.
With innovative facilities it was considered by some to be the safest motor racing in the world at the time. The circuit had three possible layouts, a large area of industrial park and also an airstrip. In combination with the usual good weather conditions in Southern France, the airfield made the track popular for testing purposes in winter.
The original track was dominated by the mile-long Mistral Straight that was followed by the high-speed Signes corner.
It opened in 1970 with a 2-litre sports car race. During the 1970s and the 1980s the track developed some of the best French drivers of the time, and hosted the Formula One French Grand Prix on many occasions, the first of which being the 1971 French Grand Prix.
In 1986 Formula One driver Elio de Angelis was killed in a testing accident at the fast first turn, and the circuit was modified in order to avoid any future accidents. Such modifications consisted of shortening the circuit in order to reduce the Mistral Straight and to eliminate the fast sweeping curves where de Angelis had crashed. The last French Grand Prix held at the circuit was in 1990; since then, Magny-Cours has played host to the French Grand Prix.
In the 1990s the circuit's use was limited to motorcycle racing and French national racing, most notably until 1999, the Bol d'or motorcycle endurance race. The track was also the home of the Oreca F3000 team.
After Ricard's death, the track was sold to Excelis, a company owned by Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone, in 1999. The track has since been rebuilt into a very advanced test track. It is now known as the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (Paul Ricard HTTT).
A landing strip is also part of the facilities to accommodate private jets. There is also a Karting Test Track (KTT) that features the same type of abrasive safety zones as the car track. The track has also hosted a few races, the most important being the 2006 Paul Ricard 500km, a round of the FIA GT Championship. Other GT championships have run races here, most notably the Ferrari Challenge and races organized by Porsche clubs of France and Italy.
The track is characterised by its long Mistral straight (1.8 km) and elongated track design. The track is also unusual in that it is built on a plateau, and very flat. The length of the full track is around 3.610 miles (5.8 km). In 1986 the track was modified to shorten the circuit. This shorter circuit is known as the GP short circuit and its length is 2.369 miles (3.8 km). The track offers today 179 possible configurations from 826 to 5,861 metres<ref>Tracks and facilities - Official website</ref>. Because of this many teams use this track for testing (ex. Formula One teams).
The track is known for its distinctive black and blue runoff areas known as the Blue Zone, which is used instead of gravel traps of other circuits, the runoff surface consists of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten.<ref name="marshal">Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track, The Marshal: Incorporating Rescue & Resuscitation, April 2007 (Issue 21)</ref> Should that not prevent the car from stopping, there is the Red Zone, a more abrasive run off area, which would require a car to return to the pits for a new tyre. Finally, rather than tyre barriers, Tecpro barriers.<ref name="marshal"/>