Circuit de Charade – the French Version of The Green Hell

March 23, 2017
Marijan Malcevic

  • Circuit de Charade, Clermont Ferrand
  • Circuit de Charade, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • Circuit de Charade, Clermont-Ferrand, France

The Circuit de Charade, also known as Circuit Clermont-Ferrand or Circuit Louis Rosier, is a race track located in the Auvergne mountains in south central France, near the city of Clermont-Ferrand. The original 8.055 km circuit was opened in 1958 while the current 3.975 km layout is in use since 1989.

Hosting both Motorcycle and Formula 1 GP races

Between 1959 and 1974, Circuit de Charade was hosting Motorcycle World Championship Grand Prix races. The Formula One French Grand Prix came to Charade for the first time in 1965, returning three more times in 1969, 1970 and 1972.

Because of its location in the wooded mountains, with almost fifty turns and many altitude variations, the original circuit was considered as the French version of the notorious Green Hell (Nurburgring Nordschleife).

Inaugural race at Circuit de Charade in 1958

Circuit de Charade in 1958

Rosier’s idea became reality, unfortunately without him

An idea about race track in the Auvergne region was born after the World War II. The people who started a project were the President of the Sports Association of the Automobile Club of Auvergne, Jean Auchatraire, and accomplished French racer Louis Rosier. They had a set of preliminary designs for a circuit of a length between four and six kilometers, in the hills near Clermont-Ferrand.

Unfortunately, the Le Mans disaster, which took lives of more than eighty people in June 1955, postponed all race events, especially on temporary tracks with limited security standards. After few years, the concept of a mountain race track moved forward, unfortunately without Rosier. He was killed at Montlhery race track in October 1956, never witnessed his idea became a reality. The race track was opened on July 27, 1958, being named the Circuit de Charade Louis Rosier.

A unique mountain race track with 48 turns

It was the mountain race track, first of its kind in France, with 48 turns on the public roads around the extinct volcano. Twist and narrow turns, lack of run-out zones and sudden altitude changes made a track demanding and dangerous. Charade’s special feature were the volcanic rocks which caused many problems in the future, initiating numerous punctures, accidents and injuries.  The pit garages, control tower and modest grandstand were built on the western side of the circuit, near the village of Saint-Genes-Champanelle.

Inaugural races at Circuit de Charade in 1958

Inaugural races at Circuit de Charade in 1958

60,000 spectators on the grand opening

About 60,000 spectators visited opening ceremony and watched inaugural races at Circuit de Charade on July 27, 1958. The winner of GT race was Innes Ireland in Lotus 1100 while Maurice Trintignant won the Formula 2 race in a Cooper.

A year later, the circuit took its first fatal victim, when Ivor Bueb was killed during the Formula 2 race. He crashed his Cooper-Borgward at Gravenoire section, being thrown out of a car and dying six days later in a hospital.

Motorcycle Grand Prix at Circuit de Charade

Motorcycle Grand Prix at Circuit de Charade

John Surtees won the inaugural Motorcycle Grand Prix

In 1959, the circuit was recognized by wider international motorsport community, becoming a venue of the French Motorcycle Grand Prix. The first winner in 1959, both in 350cc and 500cc classes, was a world champion John Surtees. He repeated 500cc class victory in 1960, switching to four-wheel races after that.

Clermont-Ferrand hosted the French Motorcycle Grand Prix for six years in a row, until 1964, then again in 1966 and 1967. The last two Motorcycle GP events took place in 1972 and 1974.

Sports car race at Circuit de Charade

Sports car race at Circuit de Charade

Trophee d’Auvergne as a part of the World championship

In car racing, Trophee d’Auvergne was the main event until 1964, with Formula 2 and GT races on the schedule. In 1962 and 1963, GT races were the part of the World Sportscar Championship. In 1962, Carlo Mario Abate won the race in a Ferrari 250 GTO. In 1963, Lorenzo Bandini won the race in a Ferrari 250 TRI/61.

Formula One came to Clermont-Ferrand in 1965

Then, in 1965, the Formula 1 French Grand Prix came to Clermont-Ferrand for the first time, being removed from Rouen. Jim Clark scored his third win of the season, driving the #6 Lotus 25-Climax. Two more British drivers completed a podium – Jackie Stewart (BRM) and John Surtees (Ferrari).

In the following three season, the French Grand Prix took place at three different circuits: Reims-Gueux, Le Mans-Bugatti and Rouen-Les-Essarts, returning to Circuit de Charade in 1969. That year, the circuit had a new pit lane, separated from the track by Armco barrier.

Formula One French Grand Prix in 1970

Formula One French Grand Prix in 1970

French Grand Prix returned to Charade in 1969

In 1969, the pole-sitter Jackie Stewart won the race in the #2 Matra MS80-Cosworth, leaving his teammate Jean-Pierre Beltoise 57.1 seconds behind. Beltoise was fighting for the second place against Brabham’s driver Jacky Ickx, beating him by two-tenths of a second. In 1970, Jochen Rindt won the race in the #6 Lotus 72C-Ford, beating Chris Amon by 7.61 seconds and Jack Brabham by 44.83 seconds.

1972 – one more victory for Jackie Stewart

The French Grand Prix was held at Paul Ricard Circuit in 1971, returning one more time to Clermont-Ferrand in 1972. Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart repeated a victory after Matra’s driver Chris Amon, who was the fastest on the track, lost some time while pitting due to puncture caused by rocks. Amon finished third, Emerson Fittipaldi was second.

Helmut Marko's helmet after the 1972 French Grand Prix

Helmut Marko’s helmet after the 1972 French Grand Prix

Career-ending accident of Helmut Marko

Fittipaldi’s car was involved in an unusual accident which ended a career of Helmut Marko. The Austrian was driving BRM P160B, running behind Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72D. On lap 9, a stone thrown by Lotus hit Helmut Marko in a head, injuring his left eye. Because of that injury, Marko never raced again.

Chris Amon is the lap time record holder

As we mentioned, Chris Amon was the fastest driver during the 1972 French Grand Prix, setting the circuit’s lap record during a qualifying (2 minutes 53.4 seconds) and setting the fastest lap during the race (2.53.9). It’s interesting to compare 1972’s lap times with the lap times from previous years, to see how Formula 1 cars improved their speed.

In 1965, Charade’s record holder was Jim Clark with a lap time of 3.18.3. In 1969, Jackie Stewart took a pole position with a lap time of 3.00.6. Next year, Jacky Ickx was a poleman with a lap time of 2.58.22.

Beautiful scenery at Circuit de Charade

Beautiful scenery at Circuit de Charade

No more Grand Prix races since 1974

After 1972, F1 French Grand Prix left Clermont-Ferrand and never returned. The last Motorcycle Grand Prix was held in 1974, leaving circuit owners and race organizers to find some other major events. Trophee d’Auvergne became the main racing event again. A schedule was fulfilled with Formula 3, sports car and touring car races.

Three marshals were killed in touring car race in 1980

The darkest day in a history of Circuit de Charade was June 8, 1980, when three marshals lost their life in an accident during the Coupe de France Renault R5 Elf race. On the last lap of the race, two cars collided and rolled over the barriers just before the footbridge at Golf Corner. The cars hit four marshals. Two of them, Marc Rochard and Bernard Costa, were killed on the spot. Third marshall, Lionel Roussel, died of his injuries three weeks later. The fourth injured marshal eventually recovered.

Charade, Comparison of the original circuit and current layout

Comparison of the original circuit and current layout

Original circuit was closed in 1988

With no ability to increase a safety in the mountain section, because there was no room to provide run-off areas, the original circuit was finally closed for racing in September 1988. Fortunately, it wasn’t the end of the story but the new beginning. Recognizing the importance of the track, the General Council of Puy-de-Dome financed the construction of a shortened circuit.

Shortened circuit was opened in 1989

The new 3.975m long circuit was opened in 1989, using a part of an original layout plus link road between two sections. A new circuit had 18 turns. On-track facilities remained relatively modest by modern standards so the circuit never returned to its old glory, mostly hosting national racing events.

Current layout of the Circuit de Charade

Current layout of the Circuit de Charade

New and modern Circuit de Charade since 2001

In 2000, the final change occurred when the circuit finally became the permanent close racing facility, without using open roads. In the same time, new pit garages and widened pitlane were built. The inauguration of new Charade was held in September 2001.

The parts of the open road which were included in an original circuit still exist, so everybody could have a glimpse of the past by driving over the old route, following the wheel tracks of many racing legends who raced there.

Truck racing at Circuit de Charade

Truck racing at Circuit de Charade

Truck racing, classic events, training days…

Today, Circuit de Charade offers various programs for racing enthusiasts and car lovers, both on the track and off the track. The calendar is full of different training days, racing schools and events with classic cars. The current racing schedule features only the Truck Racing Grand Prix.

Video : A lap around Circuit de Charade

Address: Circuit de Charade, Rond point de Manson, 63122 Saint-Genes-Champanelle, France

Phone: +33 4 73 295 295

Official website:


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