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Community Spirit Makes Saint Georges de Montaigu Special


- FIA European Autocross Championship celebrates 10 years at its French host venue

- 15% of local community contributes to running the event

- Organising committee president Ludo Jaud pays tribute to the role of young volunteers

The pubs in villages around Silverstone bubble with motorsport talk all year round, while every diner in the Sebring area will be screening dirt racing, drag racing, GT racing and F1 – often simultaneously – alongside the inevitable NASCAR action.

Communities close to the major centres of racing around the world wear their association easily, but in terms of per capita hands-on involvement there are few to rival Saint Georges de Montaigu.

Saint Georges de Montaigu is a village nestling in the rural Pays de la Loire, half an hour’s drive from the regional capital of Nantes, where from among the 4,200 residents a staggering 600 are involved in creating and delivering the annual appearance of the FIA European Autocross Championship and its support Cross Car categories.

Since 1972, autocross events have been held in Saint Georges de Montaigu, and in 2023 the landmark 10th anniversary of being a sanctioned round of the FIA European Autocross Championship was celebrated in style.

The circuit itself takes the all-volunteer team fully two months to prepare each year. Since 1992, the current location of the circuit and its basic layout have remained the same, carved into the hillside just outside the village. For the 50th anniversary in 2022, a new asphalt startline was constructed at the top of the hill near the paddock.

The startline joins the circuit’s main buildings – race control, marshals’ posts, the ticket office and toilet blocks – as permanent structures which the volunteers themselves built without enlisting a professional construction firm. However the rest of the circuit is farmland which must be carefully prepared and updated in order to create the fully-functional venue for one weekend of the year.

“We have a lot of support from our sponsors and partners, such as with the catering,” explains Pascal Merlet, one of the organising committee members and press manager – whose own printing firm donates the staff t-shirts, trackside signage and other collateral for the weekend.

“We have a food company nearby, one of our sponsors, who make pre-packed sandwiches and snacks that are distributed across France. When they want to update or replace their kitchen equipment, we benefit from receiving the old ones, which served 800 meals per day to the volunteers alone over the weekend.”

COVID-19 brought an uncertain future for motorsport at this grassroots level but this has now abated – in fact for one enthusiast, it has brought a flourishing new trade. Making model autocross buggies out of Lego during the long months of lockdown was a way of keeping the sport alive in those dark days, pictures of which were shared on social media.

These models proved inspirational, and in 2023 there were drivers were queueing up in the paddock to receive custom-built models of their cars that had been built by the resulting enterprise, Autocross Legtech.

The feeling of everyone pulling together helps to create a true festival for the local community to enjoy, with wall-to-wall action on the track, live music, fireworks and people of all ages – most especially the youngsters. Everywhere you look, from ticket desks to the car parks, in the media centre, on the marshals’ stands and in the bars and kitchens you will find the youth of Saint Georges de Montaigu hard at it.

The sense of pride and ownership fairly crackles in the air from these teenagers who are all eagerly playing their part while practicing the many foreign languages which need to be negotiated when dealing with a fully-fledged FIA European championship event. A new addition for 2023 was the all-female team of students who were creating social media content for the event, having delivered a plan for each day from which to maximise the event’s reach and engagement.

Ludo Jaud, the president of the organising committee, is delighted that the event has passed two such major landmarks – the 50th anniversary and tenth anniversary as an FIA-sanctioned host – in the past two years. But all the more so that the organisation now rests so much in the hands of the next generation.

“We only have one event per year, we do not have a full season like many autocross venues, which makes the commitment from our local community even more extraordinary in some ways,” Ludo reflected.

“We have the support of the FFSA of course, and we work closely with them to make this a success. Really, each new year begins with a planning meeting to try and build on what we have achieved so far, to make the event better for everyone, and always it is important to us that the young people of the village find something to make their own here.”

Clearly the formula that the organisers have found can be viewed as a success. In the course of ten years on the FIA European Autocross calendar, Saint Georges de Montaigu has been named as organiser of the year three times by the FIA European Autocross Championship – it seems that the event is set to remain in very good hands for a long time to come.