Part permanent road course and part street circuit, La Châtre achieved some notable fame in the 1980s, despite the limitations of its size. Hosting the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, it saw some top class racers compete on its tiny confines, though modern safety standards mean it is today unable to host races.
Nevertheless, the circuit continues to thrive, home to the popular Euroformula racing school and now host of a new demonstration run out event, the AutoRetroSport. This has led to the revival of the full circuit, now known as the Circuit Maurice Tissandier.
Racing began originally on a hillclimb course in the late 1920s, with a racing festival organised by the Automobile Club du Centre using the D943 (La Chatre-Châteauroux) road near to the town of La Châtre. It soon became one of the most famous events in the region and "La course de la côte d'Ars" was keenly fought. It was on this course that André Boillot perished several days after a crash during practice for the 1932 event.
The final hillclimb took place in 1954, after which it was abandoned in favour of a new project to develop a more permanent racing circuit. The local Lions Club, under the stewardship of La Châtre's Deputy Mayor Dr. Maurice Tissandier, raised the funds for a new section of asphalt to be laid out on the outskirts of the town. It connected at each end to a stretch of the D940 to form a rudimentary 1.3 km track, with the public road as its main straight. There were no pit facilities and the paddock was a mile away in the town square, but it was enough to allow racing to bloom.
After a false start in 1955, the inaugural race on the new course took place on 17 June 1956. The Grand Prix of La Châtre built each year thereafter and the crowds lapped it up, even if the circuit itself was perhaps not the most challenging. Viewing was good, with spectator banks around the course and a favourite spot for spectators at the hairpin.
By 1978 the event had outgrown the existing circuit and funds were raised to create a longer 2.3km course. This was built on both the interior and exterior of the existing course, this time with the luxury of a pit lane and control tower - though there was still no room for a paddock and race grids had to be restricted to 18 cars.
In its new form the circuit found international fame, as in 1980 it took the place of Croix-en-Ternois on the FIA European Formula 3 Championship (despite the restrictions on grid sizes). It held this spot in the calendar all the way through to 1984 and the demise of the championship itself. Winners during this period would all go on to long motorsport careers; Michele Alboreto, Philippe Alliot and Ivan Capelli all went onto Formula One, while Roberto Ravaglia went on to take multiple touring car crowns for BMW, including the World Championship.
Unsurprisingly, there were no other international events lining up to replace F3, and thereafter La Châtre settled into life as a national level venue. Racing continued uninterrupted until the end of 1995, when modern safety requirements finally caught up with the part-temporary, part-permanent facility and its racing licence was removed.
It wasn't the end of the story, however. For many years the circuit had played host to a racing school, which could make year-round use of the interior portion of the course, without the need to close off the public road. The Euroformula school continues to this day, and the school course (which has several possible variations) sees plenty of use, including for track days.
In 2001 the Dakar Rally competitors called into the circuit for an early special stage on the run down from Paris. Jean-Louis Schlesser, who competed on the track in his younger single-seater days, found it a unique experience. "Without mud, it's really nice," he said. "It reminds me of very good memories of the time when I was racing in F3 and production cars." He came close to victory in the rally that year with his self-built buggy, eventually finishing third after time penalties, though no doubt his familiarity with La Châtre had little to do with his success!
The same year saw a new event was launched, which would see the revival of the full circuit (now named the Circuit Maurice Tissandier in honour of its founder) for one weekend each year. The AutoRetroSport event is effectively a series of demonstration runs rather than out-and-out races but has nevertheless proved popular. A temporary chicane is added on the main straight to prevent speeds rising too high for these events, which have continued each summer to the present day.