French Grand Prix returns with traffic gridlock

LE CASTELLET, France (Reuters) - The first French Grand Prix in a decade produced traffic gridlock on Friday, with some frustrated fans missing out on the action after hours spent in tailbacks on the way to the circuit.

Le Castellet, between Marseille and Toulon in the south of France, is hosting a grand prix for the first time since 1990.

Organisers responded by opening all available car parks simultaneously and temporarily doubling the lanes of traffic in the immediate approach to the Circuit Paul Ricard. They said in a statement issued during second practice that the situation was gradually improving.

The jams did not affect drivers, who stay on site at a luxury hotel, while VIP guests are able to fly in by helicopter. The circuit also has its own airport for private jets and charters. The media and team employees meanwhile have a reserved route in.

France's most recent Formula One race before Sunday's was at Magny-Cours, in the geographical centre of the country, in 2008.

On a plateau and with traffic funnelling into one approach road, Le Castellet was always famed for jams and organisers had recognised getting the crowds in smoothly would be a big challenge.

They had targeted a crowd of around 65,000-70,000, some 20,000 below the circuit's maximum capacity.

Formula One chairman Chase Carey told that "it's great to be popular".

"We have got a great crowd on Friday and it will grow bigger as the weekend goes. And they will all have fun," said the moustachioed American.

That seemed at odds with some fans' experience, with plenty of unhappiness on social media.

"Too late measures ... maybe we will go to the beach instead tomorrow," commented Twitter user Sebastien Hubert.

Above a photograph of stationary cars, he wrote: "Le Castellet, Temple of Speed."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Catherine Evans)

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