Rouen les Essarts, the lost circuit.
This page tells the story of what was once one of the world's finest racing circuits. This street circuit located in the French region of Normandy was of the caliber of Spa-Francorchamps. Unfortunately, it didn't survive as race track.
In 1950 the Automobile Club of Normandy opened this new circuit near the village Les Essarts, South West of the French city Rouen. The track was formed by 5,1 km (3.169 Miles) on public roads, with permanent grandstands and a pit complex which was one of the finest at that time.
The Rouen les Essarts circuit was very fast and challenging. The most feared part was the downhill section after start/finish. This section was called “Six Freres” and contained a series of fast kinks. The bigest boasters who claimed they could take the whole flat out gave this section the nickname “Chickens Lift”. Drivers who lift the throttle where chicken in their eyes. If they really took this sectin flat out is unknown, there was no telemetry those days!
Here was the pit entry.
After Six Freres they had to brake very hard at the lowest point of the ciircuit for a hairpin called Nouveau Monde. Typical for this hairpin was the pavement of small bricks while the rest of the track was paved with tarmac.
After the hairpin the track was going back uphill with a few blind corners at high speed. The difference between the lowest and the highest point was 93 Metres.
In front "Nouveau Monde". Below the tarmac there should be some bricks. On the background the last corner from "Six Freres".
After a huge reconstruction a new extension was added to the track making the length 6,542 km (4.065 Miles). This extension was cut off when in 1972 a new motorway crossed the circuit. Just in front of the motorway a new permanent section was constructed to lead the drivers back to Start/Finish. The length was now reduced to 5,542 km (3.444 Miles).
The beginning of the permanent section constructed in 1972.
Besides these massive changes to the track there where also a few smaller changes like the construction of chacanes. For the Grand Prix of 1973 a temporrary chicane was constructed in front of the dangers downhill section after Start/Finish. In 1974 this temporary chicane was replaced by a permanent one a few hundred metres further.
The end of the Start/Finish straight just before the downhill section "Six Freres".
In 1952 Rouen was able to host its first Formula One Grand Prix of France. The race was won by Alberto Ascari in his Ferrari. The next Grand Prix at Rouen was in 1957, followed by Grand Prix in 1962, 1964 and 1968.
During the Grand Prix from 1968 Jo Schlesser, the uncle of Jean Louis Schlesser, was killed by an accident in the feared downhill section after Start/Finish, despite the chicane. After that the track was found to dangerous and Formula One didn't came back to Rouen.
This road was only used in the very first version of the track. Today it's the only version where you can drive a complete lap.
After the Formula One the circuit was used for Formula Two races until 1978. Since 1978 the major event was the annual round for the French Formula 3 Championship. At the end the circuit was found to dangerous for all series at the end of 1993.
There have been plans to construct a new track inside the old one. The permanent section from 1972 should be a part of this new circuit. Unfortunately these plans where not realized for financial reasons and the circuit was closed forever.
Until 1954 this was the last corner before Start/Finish, named "Virage du Paradis".
The years after the last races silence ruled on the pitbuilding and grandstands. But than in 1999 bulldozers appeared to make space for a road extension. Everything that remembered to this great street circuit was destroyed!
Today you can still drive a lap around the original version of the circuit and make a stop by the remains of the permanent section to take a photo. But the average passer-by will never recognize this piece of road anymore as one of the most beautiful street circuits of Europe.
Text: Herman Liesemeijer Photos: Lennart Jarmyr
Satellite photo: Google Maps