The Weird F1 History of Dijon-Prenois

Dijon Prenois 1979 French Grand Prix Assetto Corsa.jpg
When thinking about the French Grand Prix, most Formula One fans tend to think of Paul Ricard, Magny-Cours or Reims-Gueux. One of the more obscure circuits to host the event was Dijon-Prenois, and while it is probably not on most fans' radar anymore, it was the location of one of the most iconic F1 battles of all time - and a few interesting oddities.

Even though the French Grand Prix is one of the classic races on the F1 calendar (or rather used to be, as it is not part of the calendar as of 2023 anymore), the event did not really have a steady home from the inaugural World Championship in 1950 until the mid-1980s. The race first alternated between Reims and Rouen, then Charade and Paul Ricard later on, with a gues appearances by Le Mans (on the Bugatti circuit) thrown in. Only between 1958 and 1961 was the race consistently held at Reims.

Sub-1 Minute Lap Times​

Dijon would become part of this revolving door of circuits for the first time in 1974. Having been opened two years prior, the track's layout looked simple, but featured numerous crests and dips. Combined with its sweeping, fast turns, this made for a challenging ride - and a short one, as the inaugural Grand Prix was the only one in F1 history that saw lap times of less than a minute. Niki Lauda qualified his Ferrari on Pole Position with a lap of 0:58.79 minutes, eleven more drivers set times under the one-minute mark.

Dijon-Prenois Track Map 1972-1975.png

Dijon's original layout was one of the shortest in Formula One history. Image credit: racingcircuits.info

Lauda would go on to finish second behind Ronnie Peterson in a relatively uneventful race, save for a pile-up of four cars at the start. For the following two years, F1 returned to Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix, and when the World Championship made station at Dijon in 1977 again, the track had been lengthened by about 600 meters (roughly 0.38 miles) thanks to a new section having been constructed to bypass the 'S' de la Bretelle sequence.

1977 Foreshadows Greatness​

The first race on the new layout proved to be relatively unspectacular for the most part, but saw an exciting battle develop in the final laps as Mario Andretti was chasing down race leader John Watson. The Lotus driver passed the Northern Irishman on the final lap of the race to take the win - Watson's Alfa-Romeo had been almost out of fuel, his engine having started to cut out.

Dijon-Prenois Track Map 1976.png

From 1976 onwards, Dijon sported an extended layout that is still in use today. Image credit: racingcircuits.info

This was only a small hint of things to come two years later, when Ferrari's Gilles Villeneuve and Renault's René Arnoux fought an on-track battle for the ages for second place during the last few laps. The duel was so intense and so spectacular that Jean-Pierre Jabouille's win was almost overlooked - considering it was the first-ever Formula One victory for Renault, all with a driver, car, tires and even fuel from France at their home Grand Prix, plus the first-ever victory for a turbocharged car, this spoke for the quality of the battle that unfolded behind Jabouille.

Even though he could not best Villeneuve to make it a 1-2 for Renault, Arnoux would later state that "that is my best memory of Grand Prix racing. Those few laps were just fantastic to me - outbraking each other and trying to race for the line, touching each other but without wanting to put the other car out", the Frenchman is quoted in Gerald Donaldson's book Gilles Villeneuve: The Life of the Legendary Racing Driver. "It was just two guys battling for second place without trying to be dirty but having to touch because of wanting to be in front. It was just fantastic!"


F1 would return to Dijon three more times in the 1980s, but only in twice was the French Grand Prix held there. In 1981, Alain Prost took is maiden victory for Renault in a race that was stopped for heavy rain and resumed later, the results determined by aggregate times. The 1984 edition saw Niki Lauda on the top step of the podium en route to his third and final driver's championship.

The Swiss GP - in France​

Another F1 race was held at Dijon in 1982, however - namely the final Swiss Grand Prix to date. With Switzerland's ban on motor racing - a result of the 1955 Le Mans disaster - still in effect, the honors of hosting the race went to the circuit located only about 125 kilometers (about 78 miles) from the border between France and Switzerland.

The 1982 Swiss Grand Prix holds the distinction of being Keke Rosberg's only victory of that season. The year was notorious for its abundance of race winners, with 16 races seeing 12 different drivers on the top of the podium. With his victory, Rosberg took the lead in the championship with just two races to go, later claiming his only driver's title, and the first for a Finn.

Since then, the track has hosted numerous junior categories of single seaters, rounds of the ETCC and WTCC (1988 and 1987, respectively), GT racing and even a round of DTM in 2009. The extended layout introduced in 1976 is still in use to this day.

Dijon Prenois Lotus 72D French Grand Prix.jpg

Racing on the pre-1976 layout of Dijon is also possible, thanks to mods.

Mods Aplenty​

Despite its Formula One heritage, Dijon cannot be found in many racing games or simulations as official content. The first entry in Codemasters' Race Driver series had the track over 20 years ago, and GT Legends also featured the circuit.

Luckily, mods come to the rescue of those who want to experience the track in more modern sims. Having its roots in the Grand Prix Classics 1979 mod for rFactor (which was also converted to GTR2 and Automobilista), the track has recently been converted to Assetto Corsa. The AC version also includes the short layout, making it possible to enjoy both iterations of the track.

It is a tricky circuit to get right, but good fun once you do - also thanks to the elevation changes. Dijon has an old-school flow to it that complements vintage racing cars quite well. Beware of the pit entry, though! A small opening in the guardrail for a tight 90-degree turn in the middle of the fastest straight of the circuit seems like a bit of a reckless idea. No wonder the entry has been extended towards the final turn since.

Your Thoughts​

Did you know about the history of Dijon? Have you raced the track in sim racing? Let us know your impressions in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

Premium
+1 for lesser known tracks in sims.
Would love to have an official version in AMS2 for example.

The only sim I can think of that replicates this track is Raceroom, as they have shown a heart for the small tracks of this world.

Group C also raced there.
 
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+1 for lesser known tracks in sims. Would love to have an official version in AMS2 for example.
Would be nice if AMS2 would open up an official 3rd party marketplace inside the sim. Similar to what MSFS has. I have paid for mods from RSS and URD (for AC) in the past and I am okay with paying for high quality mods. Would be nice if it's integrated, including automatic updates in the sim. Creators could still provide the content for free if they like. With a community curation system to weed out all the poorly done mods.
 
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Nice article, though maybe a tad dissapointed reading title and saw for me in-between lines a weird history in the making of the track that I wasn't aware of.

Raced Dijon-Prenois alot in track mods for F1C99-02, GTR2 and rF1 in historic single seater car pack mods with great joy, now years ago. Article is surely getting my engines restarted, so thanks for this reminder ;):inlove:
 
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Therev was a great mod for RACE07 which we used in the STC series here on RD a dozen years ago or more. Totally loved the flow of it, great track.
 
Congratulations, Excellent article! . I loved this track because it is one of my favorite circuits. If you want you can also run it in the Open Source Speed Dreams game in its latest version. In addition, work is being done to improve it a little more in the next version. Here is a recent video (WIP) :
TRACK MOD
 
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Dijon is my favorite French track, ranking just after the open road courses of Clermont-Ferrand (aka Charade) and Rouen; in addition to the sims mentioned, it is available for GPL, GTL, GTR2, even N2003. Ricard is decent but uninspiring, LeMans and Reims are "point-and-squirt" tracks (the latter now abandoned with other open road circuits), and Magny-Cours a wretched little intestine of a track I do not have installed in any of my sims.

Like Mosport or Brands Hatch, Dijon is virtually forgotten today except by fans; overshadowed by the dreary parade of modern cookie-cutter F1 tracks.
 
Amazing track. I think I've discoveted it with Race Driver 1, but I spent hours and hours racing various categories on GTL and GTR2. In AC, it is my go to track when testing classic cars, maybe some kind of unconscious homage to GTL. My best experience on this track in AC is racing with late 70s / early 80s F1 cars. With some downforce the 2 last corners, going through big elevation changes, are epic, must be absolutely impressive IRL.
 

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