I'm not exactly sure why and even how it happened, but the Circuit de Charade has been on my bucket list for quite a while.
Nestled in the Auvergne mountains with a volcano 1,465m high (the Puy de Dome) right insight, the circuit catapults you into the good old days of motorsport. The concrete walls are often very close to the track and if you have some run-off area it is either grass or gravel. Paved run-off areas like you see on many tracks nowadays didn't exist back then and are not part of the Charade vibe today.
But let us have a brief look at the circuit's history first because the layout looked vastly different in the early days!
With a bit more than 8km length using part of the public road network, the elevation changes, blind corners and unforgiving run-off areas the circuit was basically France's Green Hell. There were even drivers (i.e. Jochen Rindt) who complained of experiencing motion sickness - I guess that explains the nature of this track in the best possible way.
After having hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1959, 1967, 1972, and 1974 the track fell victim to its own character and was removed from the calendar due to safety concerns. After that, Formula 1 moved to Le Castellet and Dijon Prenois being much more contemporary and safe circuits. Unfortunately, the mountainous environment around Charade made it impossible to create more generous run-off and safety measures.
Luckily, the local government recognised the circuit's heritage and financed a modernisation. In 1989, the track reponed in today's much shorter layout (just shy of 4km) and being used for national championships and the likes. In 2000, the track was further modernised and all public roads that have been used for the track were closed making Charade a true permanent circuit.
We stayed the night almost in the centre of Clermont-Ferrand. With the track (ptilane) being around 800m above sea level, already the drive is a little adventure if you have a trailer hitched to your car. The surroundings definitely play a huge part in the circuit's appeal which resembles the Nordschleife's ambience a bit.
Upon entering the pitlane, the old-fashioned signs and slightly battered (not run-down!) infrastructure makes you feel you traveled back in time - some would say its shabby chick.
As it was a very private day with just around 10 cars present, all of us had a chance of riding shot-gun with one of the track officials to get a first glimpse at the challenging layout. Usually, I would say that it is not necessary to get some guided laps around a circuit if it is your first visit. Just take it slow the first couple of laps and just focus on truly taking in the layout.
At this very special track though, it made sense to get some insights from a local pointing out the really treacherous sections of this unforgiving circuit. After having completed our passenger laps, it was time to get behind the wheel. I prepared for a steep learning curve thinking it would take at least the first half of the day to internalise the layout, making out the right reference points and getting reasonably consistent.
In the end, it only took a couple of laps to really get up to speed. The flow of the track seemed incredibly intuitive and due to the overall topography of the circuit, making out reference points was fairly easy as well. So from then on, it meant optimising my lines and trying to push the car, especially under braking. It was also the first day with my new Racelogic Predictive Laptimer which was a great help in finding the right lines and quickly identifying the sections to work on even more.
"This is one of the faster laps I recorded during the day. It was my first time out with the GoPro 8 and unfortunately, I completely messed up the exposure settings. At the end of the day, I managed to get to high 2:15 times."
The first timed lap was around 2:22 and from then on I managed to consistently improve throughout the day setting the fastest lap time of 2:15.8 right at the end of the Track Day. One thing I have to mention though, the track is pretty hard on the tyres as well as the brakes. My new set of Nankang AR 1s was basically done after the day. To me it seemed as if the tarmac at Charade is pretty abrasive, however, offers a lot of grip.
As you can see in the video above, the track has a lot of hard braking zones. Especially the braking towards the hairpin at the far and of the track is tough as you approach at pretty high speeds on a steep decline additionally puts lots of stress on your brakes.
Overall, it was one of the, if not the most enjoyable day on track I had as a "driver". After having had a lot of reliability issues with the MINI in the past (though partly due to a lack of maintenance), the car worked perfectly throughout the day and I managed to drive around 300 or 350km at speed.
Having spent a day like this it is for sure that I need to return as soon as possible. It is also sure, that we as GP Days want to organise an exclusive Track Day there. Due to the strict noise limits and regulations, this will not be one with a lot of participants though as we have to make sure that all the cars will be allowed on track. Preferably, we want to combine a day there with one of our upcoming Dijon Track Days to keep the travel distance as short as possible.
We will keep you posted!
You can find more pictures HERE!