This is probably one of the most famous circuits in the world. It has hosted F1, has a lot of race history with Sport Prototypes and bikes, used to be feared for its windy very long straights and technical sections, while being conveniently located on the French Riviera near Bandol. The road to get from Bandol to the Circuit du Castellet (which is on a hill and NOT at the Castellet) is actually quite interesting as well. This 5.8km track has been completely rebuilt by Bernie Ecclestone, reducing the danger of the track by introducing a concept of hypnotical coloured speed killers as run offs while the entire complex is one of the most engaging one, looking more like a large relaxed full luxury estate.
You exit the pitlane on the right hand side of the main straight and that pit exit is a tricky one as cars already on track will arrive at full speed and want to aim to the right. You have to keep your right hand side and you shouldn’t cross the white exit line. While on track, cars will be warned by a flashing blue light at the pitlane exit that a car is about to exit the pitlane. That means for these oncoming cars keeping to the middle (not the right!) and avoid any overtaking manoeuver on other cars already in the straight as 3 cars in a row won’t make it. This is probably the only real tricky bit.
Once on the pitlane straight, you want to get to the right preparing for the first chicane. This is a classical chicane, but with some small gradient. Brake hard in line, enter the chicane on the left quite sharply and late, riding on the curb, then cut the curb on the right hander and exit the chicane very wide on the flat left curb.
Despite the following slightly S shaped section, try to make it as straight as possible by keeping to the left. It goes slightly downhill and helps building a lot of speed. The next section is a right low speed corner, followed directly by half a hairpin to the left, followed by a hairpin to the right. This is a case of fast in, fast out, sacrifice the middle. Depending on car and ability to trail brake, you can either brake in a straight line keeping to the left, turn right and give a blip until the long left corner – or you can trail brake cutting to the right, riding the curb right while still braking (that means releasing the brakes somewhat) in order to make a nearly straight section while still braking until the begining of the right half hairpin. Whatever your option, you don’t want to jump the curbs too sharply and you definitely want then to keep it all to the inside from the entry of the half hairpin as getting carried away or running wide means losing time despite feeling sometimes quicker.
The last right hairpin is a classical one, strong but short braking, late turn-in, late apex and running wide on the left exit curb. You want to keep your left all the way on the curb until entering the following fast right hander. Turn-in and apex are quite late on that one, don’t be tempted to enter early and too fast as you will get carried away too much to the left on the exit. You want instead to make it a late turn-in in order to remain on full throttle, or nearly so, all the way until the back straight. That means not running wider than the middle of the track at the exit of that right hand corner, keeping steering to get back to the right, on the flat curb, to aim at the fastest possible exit speed from the following left hander. That’s the one that matters the most, the one that leads onto the straight line. That fast left hander has its apex quite at the middle, you can use curbs at the turn-in, the apex and also running wide at the exit but don’t go into the coloured speed brakers.
The straight line is a long one with fast speed again. It is usually cut in 2/3rd by a chicane. This is a classical chicane with a small extra: it is quite sharp at the entry, meaning braking early and turning late, keeping to the left, especially as it has an opening exit when taken correctly. You want to keep the left hand side entering the chicane to be on full throttle or so in its middle when having just turned right and then you want to cut the last left hander curbs to make it a fast smooth exit. You are then back on the last section of the back straight.
The following corners are the most interesting and technical ones, kept from the old circuit but instead of Armco or walls you have now coloured stuff to save you if you mess it up. However, these coloured speed killers are also tyre killers and you don’t want to enter them sideways as the resulting high grip might get you into trouble.
The first corner at the end of the straight line, Signes, is in fact a fast blind right bend. You want to brake before entering it, being completely on the left hand side, aiming for an apex in the middle of the corner (avoid riding the the inside curb, but you want to hit it!) and trying to carry as much speed as possible into the corner to exit fast. This is a very fast section and despite all the coloured safety stuff you want a safe approach, building speed lap after lap. The exit of Signes is off camber, meaning you can make it fast in a given lap and have the wrong feeling that a lot more speed could be carried into that corner. However, a small speed variation is often enough to get you carried a lot to the left at the exit, due to the camber change in the middle of the corner.
Once Signes passed, you head to one of the most technical corners succession called Le Beausset. This is basically 3 right hand corners, in a very long egg shape, the first one being nearly flat while the last one is a closing corner meaning it gets shorter and shorter in terms of radii. The first thing to do is forget about the curbs and what shape it might look like as the line, or the lines rather as different options are available, are quite different from what the layout might first look like. The next thing is to treat these corners with care and brain as a lot of time can be wasted and a lot of technique is required. The race line would be to arrive full throttle on the first right kink, ride the curb, and brake very strongly on the curb while drawing a slightly curved line to the right, bringing you completely to the outside of the “bottom” of the egg. You have to trail brake because if you just brake in a straight line you will indeed kill speed, but not have the right car angle to make the rest of the corner. You really want your car turning smoothly but increasingly to the right while braking, just so that you can then carry constant speed, as much as possible in fact, until you see the exit. You really have to settle a bit at constant speed, as you will cut the right hand curb at the exit to make it to the left hand exit curb, all at full throttle. If you aren’t patient or technical with your trail braking, you will either run completely out of track at the exit of Le Beausset as you haven’t turned the car as required before, or, classically, apply full throttle to soon or to help steering… And end up in a spin at the exit as the corner closes more and more. Keeping lot of speed speed into the corner, in a digressive manner and then constant, is the key. If you aren’t fan of the race line, you can also brake in a straight line at the entry, kill speed, switch gears down and try to treat the following 2 right handers as a classical closing double right hander, keeping to the middle of the track and seeking for a very late apex at the exit. Having said that, taking Signes at high speed and then Le Beausset at controlled speed, trail braking on the race line, is one of Europe’s most rewarding (and fun) track sections.
After Le Beausset, you want to get back to the middle of the track to take the following next left hander in a classical manner: running deep into the corner, late turn-in, very late apex and exiting on the right and completely flat exit curb. Depending on car and courage, you want then to keep the right as much as possible while building speed which means getting carried away to the left due to the right bend. It is not ideal for the following long left “nearly hairpin” corner but you will find that initially keeping right, then approaching that left corner from the inside and keeping it to the left all that corner quite works. You then just have to take the classical right hander that leads onto the main straight, pitlane being at your right.
Words kindly provided by Claude Gonzales.