CIRCUITS: ROUEN-LES ESSARTS

Name: Rouen-Les Essarts

The Automobile Club of Normandy came up with the Rouen-Les Esssarts circuit in 1950. The track was laid out on public roads in the wooded country to the west of the city and featured a dramatic downhill section through a series of fast sweepers to a cobbled hairpin and then back up through the woods to the top of the hill. The track hosted a Formula 1 race in 1951 and the following year played host to the French Grand Prix for the first time. The previous weekend Jean Behra had beaten the dominant Ferrari team in the Grand Prix de la Marne at Reims in his factory Gordini and there was much excitement that he might be able to do it again. In fact Ferrari reasserted its domination with Alberto Ascari leading home Giuseppe Farina with Piero Taruffi third. Gordini's first runner was Robert Manzon who finished fourth, a lap behind.

After that the French GP went back to Reims until 1957. During that period the circuit was altered and extended from its original 3.16 miles to a length of four miles. The 1957 race witnessed Juan-Manuel Fangio in his Maserati taking on the Lancia-Ferraris of Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn and Maurice Trintignant. Fangio worked his way ahead and stayed there, scoring a famous victory.

The Reims track remained dominant in French racing until 1962 when the French GP once again went back to Rouen and Dan Gurney scored his first Grand Prix victory at the wheel of an air-cooled Porsche.

The race returned in 1964 and Gurney won again, this time in a Brabham.

Rouen's claim to the national Grand Prix was challenged in the years that followed by the new Clermont-Ferrand circuit and it was not until 1968 that Grand Prix racing returned again. The race took place in the rain with Jacky Ickx dominating in his Ferrari but early in the event Jo Schlesser crashed the brand new Honda in the sweepers and died in the fire that followed.

Formula 1 never returned to Rouen. Two years later two rising French stars Denis Dayan and Jean-Luc Salomon died in separate crashes during the annual Formula 3 race and Bob Wollek was very seriously injured when he crashed into the trees. Chicanes were built and later there were major changes to the top end of the circuit when a new motorway was built. Rouen became one of the biggest Formula 2 events of the year with the list of winners including Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Eddie Cheever and Bruno Giacomelli. There was more tragedy with Gerry Birrell killed in the sweepers in 1973 but the race continued to visit until 1978 when the big event became the French Formula 3 series. That event continued until 1993 when the circuit had become too dangerous even for the smaller cars. There were plans to build a replacement circuit in the region but they never materialized.

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