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Paul Ricard - Centre of Excellence 15 Dec 2006

Professor Sid Watkins (R) presents the FIA Institute Centre of Excellence trophy to Philippe Gurdjian (L). FIA Gala Awards, Monaco, December 8, 2006. © FIA Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R26 Formula One Testing, Paul Ricard HTTT, France. 16 May 2006. World © Patching/Sutton. Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BMW Sauber Formula One Testing, Paul Ricard HTTT, France. 16 May 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton. Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari Formula One Testing, Paul Ricard HTTT, France. 16 May 2006. World © Patching/Sutton. Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF106 Formula One Testing, Paul Ricard HTTT, France. 16 May 2006. World © Patching/Sutton.

Earlier this week the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (HTTT) in France was awarded the first FIA Institute Centre of Excellence Trophy - for its outstanding safety standards and continual developments in this field.

Paul Ricard boasts a number of unique safety features. For instance, the circuit has 25 acres of run-off areas, made from a special type of asphalt rather than the gravel beds used at other circuits. This type of run-off system increases safety, reduces the intervention time of the rescue teams and reduces damage to the cars.

“I am very proud to receive this award as it demonstrates that Paul Ricard has been a pioneer in its development of motor sport safety,” said track CEO and President Philippe Gurdjian as he received the trophy from Professor Sid Watkins, the FIA Institute’s President.

You may think that giving safety top priority at a race circuit is a given, but such is the quality of Paul Ricard’s facilities - in all areas - that the track draws almost poetic praise from many quarters - something quite unusual in the normally level-headed world of motor racing.

GP2 boss Bruno Michel explains the decision to base the development of the series there: “Circuit Paul Ricard isn’t just special… there’s almost an element of magic about the place. It is one of, if not the most high-tech tracks I have ever seen. Its facilities are second to none and its innovations are an inspiration to modern motorsport. It truly is a world leader and a ground breaking circuit.

“We are a modern and high-tech series, and it made sense that we should develop the car that would take the next generation of Formula One world champions to the pinnacle of the sport at this circuit.”

Of course, what is good for future Formula One world champions is also good for existing ones, as Renault team boss Flavio Briatore explains: “The Paul Ricard HTTT has several advantages for us, such as the 180 different track configurations that it offers for example. Therefore we take the opportunity to test the tyres for the Monaco and Canadian Grand Prix especially there.

“Furthermore, the excellent infrastructure of this track is a fabulous asset to organize operations with our sponsors when they want to attend one of our testing sessions. The facilities in the main building make it the perfect place for teams to entertain sponsors and clients.”

The track also boasts permanent marshals, a state-of-the-art hospital, a video track control centre that wouldn’t look out of place at NASA, and a traffic light signalling system that eliminates the potential for human error that is always possible with traditional flags. Add to this the lavish pit area and the aesthetic appeal of the track itself - with its red and blue stripes indicating the different tarmac areas - and it is no wonder that the Toyota team decided to establish their own facility at the circuit. As well as testing, the Japanese company also use it as the backdrop for commercials, with the next due to commence filming in January.

“Paul Ricard is a circuit where there are many possibilities in terms of the layout, so that is a challenge in itself,” says Ralf Schumacher. “The weather at the time we are testing can make it sometimes difficult, but apart from that it is a nice place to be.”

Jarno Trulli adds: “The advantage of Paul Ricard is when it comes to safety. It is a very modern track which was built on a different concept to other circuits. It is one of those circuits where you can spin out and not damage the car so in that it is perfect for testing safely and it is also a good track for young drivers to learn about driving a Formula One car.”

And from the technical side, Toyota’s chief race and test engineer Dieter Gass: “The technical standards are far ahead from all other race tracks, even the new ones. The information system available in the pits is one of a kind and the irrigation system is to my knowledge unique in the world, allowing 76 wet track solutions.”

Formula One racing is also about logistics and time-saving solutions, so the fact that Paul Ricard has its own international airport, allowing planes up to Airbus A319 or Global Express size to land within five minutes’ reach of the track, simply increases the circuit’s appeal.

Add to this the circuit’s 4-star deluxe Hotel de Castellet, with its Provence style blending perfectly into the landscape, and the Mistral Hall for sponsor events, and you can see why Paul Ricard HTTT really is considered a circuit for the third millennium, with an unrivalled combination of track, transportation and accommodation.