Circuit type: Permanent road course
The small circuit at Mas du Clos has never held nationally-sanctioned motor racing events, instead focusing on providing excellent test and track day facilities in stunningly beautiful surroundings. Recent years have sadly seen activities curtailed as wrangles continue as to whether the private venue needs to accord with international safety standards – the owners now seem set to consolidate their activities on a gravel rally track.
The track is the creation of Pierre Bardinon, a member of a wealthy family who business was in leather goods, and in particular suppliers of the flying jackets used by the US Air Force. At the family château at Mas du Clos, Bardinon began indulging his interest in classic cars, being one of the first to start collecting them. His greatest love was for the machines of Enzo Ferrari and soon he had a large collection, including some of the most sought-after models, such as a 250 GTO, 330 P4, 250 LM, 312 PB and Competition 250 SWB.
Bardinon did not believe in keeping his car collection closeted away, preferring instead to keep them in active running condition and encouraging his friends to join him in enjoying them. Pretty soon, the idea came to create a short track in the grounds for this purpose, drawing up a short 400m course in 1963, which he soon extended to 1km and then its current 3km layout in 1967. Among those invited to sample the famous collection of cars in the early years was Jim Clark, who took out the P4 with girlfriend in tow and promptly set a new lap record...
"Like many men," Bardinon once explained, "I work during the week at my profession and spend my money on my sport. For some it is tennis, for others polo, perhaps, or yachting. My sport is motor racing. Therefore it was logical that I should build this track to practice my sport, just as others might build tennis courts or a swimming pool. Each year I drive seriously here for 40 or 50 hours."
Soon, the Club Alfa Romeo de France was also invited to enjoy the circuit's facilities, followed quickly by the French Bugatti club, the Morgan Club and, of course, the French Ferrari club. Events generally consisted of laps of the circuit followed by a grand dinner at the circuit's restaurant and then an evening with le patron in the bar, where Bardinon would mingle with his guests and childhood friends to share his passion for fast cars.
It also wasn't long before the top racing teams of the day began to realise the benefits of Mas du Clos for private testing, with Matra being the first and using it to allow Henri Pescarolo his first laps in 1969 following his fiery crash at Le Mans earlier that year. Ligier, Alpine and Dunlop soon followed suit.
Often referred to as France's version of Brands Hatch, the circuit was responsible for bringing 7,000 visitors to the local hotels in its heyday. What makes Mas du Clos such a wonderful venue is its large elevation changes and fast swooping curves, allied to a tight technical section which threads its way alongside the restaurant and swimming pool. There's even an uphill banked corner, which sits at the top of the course and certainly grabs your attention...
New laws in France effectively curtailed the use of private tracks which did not also meet homologated circuit safety standards and Bardinon was understandably unwilling to invest the sorts of sums required to meet such requirements, with 2010 being the last year to witness any major events. It was a sad end to such a magical setting, though it remains in place, as well tended as ever as a run-out venue for the Bardinon collection, though the man himself passed away in 2012.
The circuit, though no longer in active use, is still located in the village of Les Puids, near to the town of Aubusson in the Creuse department of Limousin, France. Today, it is essentially a private road, used for occassional run-outs for the remaining vehicles in the Bardinon collection.