This page tells the story of the fast street circuit near the Northern French city of Reims, once the stage of the French Grand Prix. Today, the pit building and the grandstands of the abandoned Circuit Reims-Gueux are still standing along the public road, as a motorsport monument and a reminder of a bygone era…
The origination of Circuit Reims-Gueux
On August 2, 1925 the first edition of the “Grand Prix de la Marne” was held in the Northern France Champagne region. It was a race for the Grand Prix series, the precursor of Formula One, which did not count for the newly established World Championship. The race was held on the 12 Miles (20 Km) long “Circuit de Beine-Nauroy”, East of the city of Reims.
For the 1926 edition another course, West of Reims near the village of Gueux, was used. It was the first time the later so famous triangular circuit was used. Circuit Reims-Gueux was born. The Grand Prix de la Marne would be held until 1952. During this last edition it was a non championship race for Formula One.
On August 22, 1926, exactly 4 weeks after the “Grand Prix de la Marne” the first edition of the “12 Heures du Reims” (12 Hours of Reims) was held. The second edition of this endurance race for sportscars had to wait until 1953. In total, the “12 Heures du Reims” would be held 9 times, from which the last one took place in in 1967.
The layout of Circuit Reims-Gueux
The fast triangle shaped circuit contained two long straights and a more twisty part. Originally a part of the circuit ran trough the village of Gueux. In 1952 a start was made to change the trajectory, which was carried out in two phases.
A lap at the original circuit.
From 1952 the section through Gueux was short cut by a new section. Just before the village was a new corner “Courbe de Gueux”. A little further the new road closed to the old section. That made the track quite a bit shorter.
The shortened track from 1952.
In 1953 the renewal of the track was complete. The new section was extended to the back straight, formed by the highway N31. This made the back straight also longer, which made the track much faster than it was before.
For the year 1954 they increased the radius of the hairpins Muizon and Thillois to make the track even faster. Now the circuit was ready to compete with Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and the AVUS for the fastest layout. Safety was not an issue those days, raw speed was all that counted.
A lap on the fast track that was used from 1952 to 1972.
The long straights where a test for the engines but the twisty part with some very fast sweeping corners and elevation was a real challenge for the drivers. This combination made the circuit very popular.
For it’s time, Circuit Reims-Gueux had the best facilities! A big landmark was the huge score-board which could turn so that everybody on the grandstands could see it.
The French Grand Prix
The first time a French Grand Prix was held at Circuit Reims-Gueux was in 1932. They had to wait 6 years for the next Grand Prix. In 1938 the Formula One returned to the Champagne region and in 1939 was the last pre-war French Grand Prix at Circuit Reims-Gueux.
The first event after World War Two was in 1947 and the first pos-war Grand Prix at Circuit Reims-Gueux was in 1950, which was also the first year of the Formula One World Championship. With a few exceptions, the Grand Prix of France was held at Circuit Reims-Gueux until 1966.
In 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1964 it took place at Circuit Rouen-les-Essarts, and in 1965 at Clermont-Ferrand. In 1955 the Grand Prix was cancelled because of the bad accident earlier that year during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where more than 80 spectators were killed.
Circuit Reims-Gueux was very popular by the drivers and public. In spite of that Formula 1 bosses decided after the 1966 Grand Prix to move the French Grand Prix to another circuit. Officially due to the high cost of the organisation of a Grand Prix at this street circuit.
The next year the French Grand Prix was held at the permanent Bugatti Circuit of Le Mans. Ironically, from 1968 the Grand Prix was held on the street circuits of Rouen-les-Essarts and Clermont-Ferrand.
The end of Circuit Reims-Gueux
Until 1972 the circuit was used for national races. But the once-modern circuit became obsolete and was found too dangerous for several classes. The last race took place on June 11, 1972. The mayor had ordered to start the demolition of all the circuit facilities immediately after the race! Fortunately for the circuit there where elections that year. A new major came and stopped the demolition! But a part of the pits was already destroyed.
Here you can see that the last pit box is open. Original there were more boxes, but these are demolished in 1972.
The restauration by “Les Amis du Circuit de Gueux”
More than thirty years nothing happened with the remains of the old circuit and the site was falling into ruins! Project developers already made plans to level it down and build villas on the lot. Fortunately a group of people cared about the historic site and founded the foundation “Les amis du Circuit de Gueux” (Friends of the Gueux Circuit).
Their goal was to to preserve the remains of the old race track. The foundation get the guarantee from the current major of Gueux, owner of the site, that no more buildings would be demolished and the permission to restore the existing buildings!
In the subsequent years, pits and grandstands were cleared of vegetation that had flourished there for thirty years. The buildings were given a new coat of paint, including the advertisements on the walls. Also the huge scoreboard and an old fuel tower were not forgotten.
During a revival in 2005 they revealed an ambitious plan for a museum, that would be built on the site of the old paddock. Whether this will ever be realized is uncertain. The site of the planned museum is now park where you can picnic between the relics of old Circuit Reims-Gueux.
Watch my Drone Flight over the buildings of Circuit Reims-Gueux!
© Text & pictures: Herman Liesemeijer. Map: Sylvain Regnier
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