Circuit de Folembray is these days a picturesque venue for testing, track days and promotional activity but it was once a bustling hub for national-level racing, one of the few in northern France.
Among the luminaries to taste victory during its competition days was a young Alain Prost, while the Renault Formula One team used it for testing at the end of the 1970s.
Today the circuit is run under the Folembray Arena banner, offering a wide range of facilities for novice drivers, including the chance to sample a Hacker racing prototype car.
Inaugurated in 1975, the circuit is fast and furious, comprising uphill blasts out from the start/finish to a hairpin at the highest point, before returning back along further sweeping sections and two right handers back to the pits.One interesting feature is the house in the centre of the track, which forms an interesting point to aim at through the fastest sections!
It soon began attracting the attention of the French national championships, with the first races taking place in 1976. Among those sampling the track for the first time that year was a young Alain Prost, who would take his tenth Formula Renault victory of the year at Folembray, with the added bonus of a pole position start and a lap record to boot.
The following year saw the arrival of the French touring car championship, with the likes of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Alain Cudini, René Metge, Xavier Lapeyre and Charles Cevert competing in the series finale. Cup series cars also became regular visitors in the following years, with the likes of the Renault 5, Alpine, VW Golf and Alfasud Trophy races providing variety in the French championship events, alongside the Group 5 headliners.
Two-wheeled racers were also part of the busy bill of racing, with Honda Challenge, Kawasaki Cup and open races for 125, 250, 500, 750cc and side cars.
The Renault Formula One team arrived in 1978 and 1979 for testing, with Jean-Pierre Jabouille, René Arnoux and Jean-Pierre Jassaud at the wheel. It was during one of these sessions that an unofficial lap record of just 47.68 seconds was set by Arnoux - this was despite a temporary chicane being added on one of the straights!
A completely new category of racing was also born at Folembray in the early 1980s, using a part earth, part asphalt course. Folcar, as it became known, was effectively France's equivalent of rallycross and became very popular.
In 1982, a project to expand the circuit further was unveiled, including a new extension to take the lap length up to 4.3km and other amenities such as a footbridge and grandstand. Sadly the project never saw the light of day and, with issues of noise nuisance rearing their head, the French championships departed for pastures new.
The circuit closed in 1984, supposedly to allow for the remodelling works, but after several changes of direction both in ownership and with local government, the circuit was abandoned. The local municipality bought the circuit in 1988 in the hope of stabilising the situation and there began a long process to find a new operator.
In 1990 a new project to redevelop the circuit was unveiled by Jean-Pierre Beltoise. He proposed a radical redevelopment of the layout, with multiple track configurations for both testing and racing purposes. Ultimately, these plans came to nought but may have seeded the interests of others.
In 1992, the go-ahead was finally given to more modest proposals to re-vamp the existing facilities by the Pilot Club, who had sportscar ace Henri Pescarolo as an advisor. Sadly, the venture lasted only two years before being plunged into bankruptcy, at which point Pescarolo suggested to the Department of Aisne that Jacques Jacquet should take over.
Under Jacquet a new programme of events was planned and the first modifications to the circuit were made, with the addition of two connecting roads that would allow the northern and southern ends to be used independently and simultaneously. More ambitions plans for another circuit extension were also mooted but, like before, came to nothing.
Nevertheless, under Jacquet's management, the circuit went from strength to strength, establishing itself as a popular venue for track days, private testing and promotional events, even if racing was no longer held.
The track was resurfaced in 2000 and noise-cancelling berms were added to provide shielding to the village in 2005. After 40 years, the car park was also resurfaced at the end of 2015.
After 22 years Jacquet relinquished the reins in 2016 to a brand new team, that of the company Folembray Arena, who are tasked with breathing further new life into the venerable circuit.
Among the immediate changes are a new website to help promote the facilities and the revival of the 4x4 driving course around the perimeter of the site, which had lain dormant for a decade beforehand. Other improvements include the addition of four digital flag display panels around the course and also CCTV coverage.