With its eye catching red and blue lines, the high tech Paul Ricard circuit is now the test course of the world’s best performing cars
The Côte d'Azur is one of the most glamorous destinations in the world. Luxury-loving visitors flock from all over the world to vacation here, enjoying fine dining at the many Michelin-starred restaurants and auberges that dot the coast. The scenic coastal region is home to Cannes, Nice, and of course Monaco—the setting for one of the most extravagant races in the Formula One calendar.
We begin our Mediterranean road trip in a red Lexus LC 500h. Our final destination is the Paul Ricard Circuit, where Team Lexus celebrated an impressive victory in the 2018 Blancpain GT Series.
Immediately embarking on the road to Mont Ventoux—the most grueling climbing stage in the Tour de France—the LC 500h travels 1,600 meters up the slope until the peak finally comes into view. Thanks to the power assist feature of the V6 3.5L multistage hybrid, maneuvering the car along this winding road is stress-free, allowing us to soak in the scenery.
Our first stop is Michelin three-starred restaurant Christophe Bacquié, a restaurant that elevates French cuisine to the realm of art and provides unforgettable experiences for customers. The restaurant is located near Circuit Paul Ricard, making it the perfect dining spot before or after a race. It specializes in food that allows diners to experience the rich flavors of Provence’s natural environment. The menu consists of fresh, succulent seafood caught in the Mediterranean and dishes that incorporate vegetables nourished by Provence’s terroir.
The LC 500h, the flagship coupe with a design both elegant and evocative, also leaves an indelible impression – its high-performance capabilities with the Multi-Stage Hybrid System leaves drivers exhilarated. This drive along the Côte d'Azur allows one to feel an unrivaled dedication to performance through all of the five senses.
Located within walking distance from Christophe Bacquié is Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. Notable for its graphic art aesthetic, the runoff areas are marked by geometrically aligned red and blue lines. The circuit also incorporates a vast array of advanced specifications that set it apart from other racecourses.
The course can be configured in 247 different ways by utilizing various shortcuts and chicanes. Sprinklers have been installed along the course to create 64 different wet conditions. Meanwhile, the runoff areas are not just pretty to look at; they are also paved with abrasive materials with a high friction coefficient. Cars that run off course immediately slow down and have an easier time returning to the track.
The sunlight, natural wonder, and cuisine of the Mediterranean define the many joys of this drive. Amid such beauty, this sudden encounter with a high-tech circuit is nothing less than a surprise. But the juxtaposition of natural wonder and technological prowess serve to make the journey all the more worthwhile.
The journey reaches its climax—the races. One of the most notable races held here is the Circuit Paul Ricard 1,000 km, part of the Blancpain GT Series. In every race, Lexus is pitted against Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and other renowned carmakers.
Lexus participates with the RC F GT3. They placed 5th in the opening Monza round in Italy and 2nd at Silverstone in England—an auspicious start to the season. The team is composed of former Les Bleus goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, Belgian driver Bernard Delhez, and three-time French Supertouring champion Éric Cayrolle. They recorded their first Blancpain GT victory at Paul Ricard in 2018, and they’re looking to extend their winning streak.
Team Lexus starts the day with a solid practice run, during which they set the 4th best time in the AM Cup category. Although they drop to 7th in the qualifying round, the team delivers a performance that raises expectations for the race.
At 6 p.m., 49 racing cars take off on a rolling start. Delhez rises to 4th in just the first 30 minutes of the race. Cayrolle and Barthez continue the team’s momentum and bring the car into 2nd position by the end of the first quarter. Fans and team alike are elated.
But, with two hours left, the car collides with the No. 59 Aston Martin. The accident leaves the car with mechanical problems that forces the team into early retirement.
Indeed, the team set the top three lap times in their category, suggesting a more satisfying ending is in store for them in the upcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa endurance race.
“We need to thoroughly analyze the data from this race and use the results to optimize the car and the team’s operation before the Total 24 Hours of Spa,” Abadie says. “We need to redouble our efforts and fight with all our might so that we can drive the RC F GT3 straight to the top of the podium.”
Few places offer a setting that is as enjoyable for driving as Southern France. The Alps and the Mediterranean provide a stunning backdrop wherever you are, while the Michelin-starred restaurants, wineries, winding roads, and high-tech circuit provide all the means for experiencing the region’s rich way of life.