Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature

Friday favourite: The 'other world' Czech track loved by a touring car ace

The Brno circuit in Czechia bears no resemblance to how the old road course - the Masarykring - looked. Touring car ace and motorsport lifer Pierre Dieudonne recalls his visits to the track with fondness - as well as the terrifying encounters with Soviet border police - when racing in the ETCC

Pierre Dieudonne

“It was like travelling to another world. We all loved the track, because it was so different and the atmosphere was amazing. It was just one big adventure.” The words belong to 1970s and 1980s touring car star Pierre Dieudonne and their subject is the Brno street circuit in the former Czechoslovakia.

The Belgian was twice a winner, in 1976 and 1979 driving a BMW 3.0 CSL for Luigi Racing, on the 8.663 miles of public highway that wound through small villages, country roads and the outskirts of the city after which the track was universally known. Despite the obvious dangers, he has fond memories of his seven participations on the circuit, which was correctly called the Masarykring, in the European Touring Car Championship between 1976 and 1986.

“It was frightening, not the kind of place where you could go off and walk away,” recalls Dieudonne, who is perhaps better known for close the links with Mazda that brought him seven starts at the Le Mans 24 Hours than for a touring car career encompassing two victories in the Spa 24 Hours.

“And of course there was no discussion about track limits like today. In places it was just road, some grass and then the countryside! You even went over tram lines as you went into the city.

“I was used to racing on the old Spa-Francorchamps, but this was a little bit different. There were a lot of what I might call awkward places and you really felt that you were risking your life.”

One of those was the sweeping section through the village of Bosonohy right after the wide start-finish straight of a track whose history dated from 1930 until it was replaced in 1987 by the permanent facility still in use today in what is now the Czech Republic.

Friday favourite: How Brno's modern iteration revived a WEC star's flagging career

“It was very narrow through there and a place where you could gain a lot because it was followed by another long straight,” explains Dieudonne. “You really had to take a deep breath.

Racing at Brno was

Racing at Brno was "terrifying" - both for the obvious on-track dangers, as well as the unnerving border crossings into the former Soviet-controlled state

“It was impossible to go through there side by side with another car. I remember one year, it must have been 1985, when I was in an Eggenberger Volvo 240 Turbo and Gerhard Berger was in a Schnitzer BMW 635CSi, and lap after lap we were together and sometimes alongside each other past the pits. One of us would point as we approached the village to indicate who would go first.”

Dieudonne’s memories of trips to Brno for a series known simply as the ETC are as much about the adventures of travelling to a communist state before the fall of the Iron Curtain — and then trying to get out again - as the circuit itself.

“You’d arrive at the border and there would be bunkers, trenches and barbed wire: you’d approach the barrier and when it lifted you went into a kind of no man’s land,” he says. “It was terrifying in a way.”

One year, Dieudonne was making a dash for Austria after the race in order to fly to the UK where he was due to compete in Formula 3 the following day. The mistake he made was to try to leave Czechoslovakia through a different border crossing to the one at which he’d entered.

"I was used to racing on the old Spa-Francorchamps, but this was a little bit different. There were a lot of what I might call awkward places and you really felt that you were risking your life" Pierre Dieudonne

“They wouldn’t let me through after checking my papers, so I had to tell the people I was traveling with to go on without me,” recalls Dieudonne, who is still working in motorsport deep into his 70s as sporting director of the GT arm of the WRT BMW team.

There was a quick change of plan when fellow driver Dieter Quester turned up shortly after them: “Dieter was sponsored by Matchbox and opened the boot of his car and produced a model. He gave it to the customs guy, and suddenly I was told I could go through. The country was totally corrupt.

Read Also:

“You might have to wait for a couple of hours to get through the checkpoint and you’d have a gun pointing at you, but we were always excited to go there. It was kind of exotic.”

Racing at the old Brno track was

Racing at the old Brno track was "exotic" for Dieudonne, even if that meant staring down the barrell of a gun

Photo by: WRT Team

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Magazine: Who will take Hamilton’s British F1 throne?
Next article Magazine: F1 British Grand Prix preview

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe