The history of Circuit Park Zandvoort
This page will describe the history of the circuit of zandvoort, officially named "Circuit Park Zandvoort", and its eternal struggle for survival. And of course we pay much attention to the old circuit and the Formula One races.
The origination of the Zandvoort circuit
In 1939 races where organized in the Dutch seaside resort Zandvoort at a street circuit. The success from this event convinced Major H. van Alphen that a permanent race track would be a great profit for his town. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War Two and the following German occupation from the Netherlands interrupted this plan.
But it didn't stop him to make preparations for the circuit. He told the Germans that he would have a parade street for the winners of the war. So it happens that the Germans built the main straight of the prospective circuit, not aware that the Major had other ideas with the track. When finally the war was over, the construction of the circuit could really get started. With the rubble of the hotels who where destroyed during the war as foundation, a track was built. In 1948 the track was asphalted and at August the 7th that year, the first races where held at the brand new race track called Circuit Park Zandvoort.
The start of the very first race at Zandvoort.
The lay-out of the old track
The original circuit was very twisty but most corners where very quick. That made Zandvoort a fast circuit. The first half of the track is still in use. Short after the corner called "Scheivlak", where now the new part begins, was original a very fast left hand kink followed by a right hand kink. In 1980 the speed was reduced at this part by a new chicane, the Marlboro Corner.
A few hundred metres further was another fast kink called "Tunnel East", named after the tunnel underneath the track at this point. In this kink two Formula one drivers lost their life, Piers Courage in 1970 and Roger Williamson in 1973. After a short straight came very fast right left combination called "Bos In". This combination was replaced by a chicane in 1973, the Panorama Corner. It was the first time that the layout of the track was modified...
Formula One races at Zandvoort
The first Dutch Grand Prix took place in 1950 as an inaugural race, just like in 1951. But already in 1948 and 1949 there was a Grand Prix of Zandvoort. The first official Dutch Formula One Grand Prix was in 1952. Except in the years 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1972 Formula One came to Zandvoort every year until 1985.
The first modifications to the circuit
In 1972 the track was found to dangerous. Those years there was a controversy between those who where pro and anti the use of crash barriers of steel. The Grand Prix Drivers Association, under the lead of Jacky Stewart, where pro and found that the barriers should be constructed close to the track as possible. The argument was that this would reduce the change that a car would crash into the barrier under a big angle.
The circuit exploiters, who where mostly against these steel crash barriers, prefer run off areas with fences of gauze to slow down the cars when they went of the track. They pointed out that huge fires where caused when a cars crashed into a barrier of steel. However, Zandvoort had to make some changes to get the Grand Prix back. With a lot of pain they could finance the required renovation works. Around the whole circuit came crash barriers and the fast right left "Bos In" combination was replaced by a chicane, the Panorama Corner.
Start of the 1964 Grand Prix.
The Dutch Grand Prix of 1973
Ironically enough when Formula One returned to Zandvoort for the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, a tragedy would confirm the vision of the those who where against the steel crash barriers. After eight laps the British driver Roger Willimson crashed with his March into the steel barrier at the inside of the "Tunnel East" kink. His car flipped upside down and catch fire. Fellow driver David Purley stopped and tried to turn the car upright. But despite his brave attempt to rescue his friend, Roger Williamson died into the flames.
In the old days the circuit was also used for the annual Tulip Rally. For this event they changed the driving direction to anticlockwise.
The end of Formula One races at Zandvoort
The last Formula One race at Zandvoort was on August the 25th 1985. Teammates Alain Prost and Niki Lauda where fighting al the way to the finish. Finally Niki Lauda won the race with a lead of two tenths of a second at Alain Prost! It was his 25th and last victory. Ayrton Senna made the podium complete with his third place. Because there was no money to finance the renovations who where required for 1986, and there was also a debt from the year before, Formula One bosses decided to remove Zandvoort from the calendar.
Politicians who want to close the circuit of Zandvoort
Unfortunately, already since the early days some politicians take actions to close the circuit. Already in the fifties already appeared messages in the newspapers that the City Council wanted to close the circuit of Zandvoort.
However, the first real threat came on November the 10th 1970 when the City Council decided to close the circuit if another destination for the circuit ground could be found.
This led to fierce protests from the people of Zandvoort. Local entrepreneurs took the initiative for a poll and the outcome was that 80% of the people of Zandvoort wanted to keep the circuit.
In 1972 the local government stopped the finance to the circuit and as a result of that the required improvements for Formula One could not go ahead. The Dutch Car Racing Association had to choose, or they dropped the circuit or they took it over. Fortunately they choose the last option. On February the 17th 1973 a 15 year lease contract was signed with the City Council.
Finance for the renovations where found and the future of the circuit looked secured. But the opposition didn't stop. Many trials are conducted because of alleged noise nuisance. Despite the race cars use sound silencing devices at Zandvoort since 1979, the opposition was not contented. Already in 1978 the Ministry of Public Health and Environment came with the idea to change the layout of the track so that it comes further from the village.
However, in 1981 the municipality Council decides that the target would be to close the race track. On February the 27th 1982 Dutch race fans where demonstrating in front of the parliament. A foundation "Save Zandvoort" was founded, and a petition handed to Secretary of State Mr. Kosto.
During the municipal Council elections from 1982 the Dutch Labour Party suffers sensitive losses. This was mainly caused by their anti circuit policy.
May the circuit of Zandvoort still continue?
In 1985 came a revolution regarding the policy towards the circuit. The Council of State found that the presence of the circuit did not obstruct the extension of the village and could stay at the current location. But new troubles where underway...
At the end of 1985 the municipal Council came with the idea to sell a part of the circuit ground to a Dutch group of investors who want to built a holiday resort in Zandvoort. Because the circuit was in financial trouble they had no other choice than accept this.
A solution was found in the old plan from 1978 to change the layout of the circuit, which was also a good solution for the noise nuisance. In January 1987 the Provincial Council confirmed this plan. However, the circuit was in deep financial trouble and was declared bankrupt on June the 16th 1987.
A new start for Circuit Park Zandvoort
On the 21st of September the Foundation Exploitation Circuit Park was founded to make a new start. With the money from the sold ground an interim circuit with a length of just 2,5 km (1.56 Mile) was built. This was a temporary solution pending a later planned extension. This was definitely the end of the original lay out of the circuit.
Above the demolished old pits in 1997, in 1998 there was a brand new pits (picture below).
During the period of the interim circuit the circuit was renovated bit by bit. Among other things a new pit complex was rising in 1998. Also a new lease contract to 2013 was signed with the local government (who are the owners of the ground). This contract was an important condition to find investors to finance the planned extension.
The new circuit of Zandvoort
After more than nine years of legal battle, they finally started the construction of the new part of the circuit at the end of 1998. In the spring of 1999 the new circuit was opened and the demanding section from the "Hunzerug" to the "Scheivlak" was taken in use again, which made Zandvoort again to one of the most beautiful circuits in the world.
Above the construction works at the end of 1998. Below the opening of the new circuit in the spring of 1999.
New obstruction for the circuit of Zandvoort
In 2008 a new lease contract up to 2041 was signed. However the are still people who want to obstruct the circuit. A decision to give the circuit more noise days was cancelled and as a result of that, the Masters of Formula 3 race - especially created for Zandvoort in 1991 - was held on Zolder in Belgium for two years.
There was also a plan from the Provincial Executive to move over the circuit from Zandvoort to Julianadorp, a village near Den Helder in the North of the Netherlands. Move over the circuit would be nothing else than the destroying of the beautiful race track at Zandvoort, with all the history, to build a new track on the new location. Without a doubt, such a new track would be a modern stop and go circuit designed by Mr. Tilke.
Despite the fact that a majority of the residents of Zandvoort, already 60 years familiar with the sound of racing engines, don’t want to loose the circuit. And the protests of the inhabitants of Julianadorp who don’t want a race track in their backyard, the investigation continued. Fortunately this terrible plan is off the table now! But you can still wait for the next attack to the circuit...
© Text: Herman Liesemeijer Pictures: Rob Petersen and Herman Liesemeijer