For a time, Zandvoort was Holland's only motor-racing circuit. As well as hosting the Dutch Grand Prix almost every year since 1949, it was the scene of major Formula Two, Formula 5000, Formula Three, sports-car, GT and touring-car events and, in years past, has been included as a stage in the Tulip Rally.
Zandvoort circuit is situated on the edge of Zandvoort itself, a seaside holiday town four miles from Haarlem. It is built in the midst of grassy sand dunes and was originally 2.605 miles in length, but was extended to 2.626 miles following extensive, safety-orientated modifications in 1973.
Mynheer van Alphen
The circuit has had a chequered career - until 1973 it was under sentence of death from local authorities, but a timely improvement scheme saved the circuit. Plans for the circuit were formulated before World War 2, and amazingly the war literally saw the foundations laid.
Mynheer van Alphen, the Buromaster of Zandvoort, was the man behind it all. During the latter part of the war, when the Germans occupied Holland, the Nazis flattened rows of 600 houses and 37 hotels along the cliff road to help clear the fire line of their artillery. Then the Germans threatened to transport the able-bodied men of the town to labour camps, but van Alphen was able to resist the plan.
His suggestion to construct service roads between the fortified artillery and the bunkers of the coastal defences were taken-up. Co-incidentally, they followed the lines of the proposed circuit. The service roads were built from the bricks of the demolished buildings, and after the war little more than a top coating of tarmac was required.
Work began on this in 1947 and was completed the following year. A grandstand was also built from surplus bricks. The Royal Dutch Automobile Club had sought advice from Britain's Royal Automobile Club, who sent over a representative to discuss the project. Sammy Davis, famous pre-war racing driver, suggested modifications which made the circuit faster than originally intended and also offered advice on the construction of the pits and grandstand.
The result was an ultra-modern motor-racing circuit for which the Dutch asked the British Racing Drivers' Club to help organise the first meeting in August 1948. An estimated 100,000 spectators witnessed the first Zandvoort meeting; the food stalls were emptied long before racing had stopped. The race was run in two heats and a final. British driver Reg Parnell won the first in a Maserati 4CL, while the second fell to the Siamese Prince 'B. Bira' at the wheel of his similar machine.
The 40-lap final, featuring fourteen cars, witnessed a fantastic battle between 'Bira' and Britain's Tony Rolt (3.4-liter Alfa Romeo Special) which went to the 34-year-old man from the Orient by one-tenth cif a second. The remaining finishers, led by Parnell and Duncan Hamilton's Maserati 6C, were lapped.
Grote Prijs van Zandvoort
In 1949 the Grote Prijs van Zandvoort was held, being a fully international event under the then-current Formula One regulations. The race was won by Luigi Villoresi (Ferrari I25) aud was retrospectively titled the first Dutch Grand Prix. The Grand Prix was then held almost every year from 1950, being awarded world championship status in 1952 when Alberto Ascari was unbeatable in his works-entered Ferrari 500. There was no Dutch Grand Prix in 1954, a year when the circuit was in need of extensive resurfacing, but a late-season sports-car international was substituted.
In 1956 and 1957 the Grand Prix of the Netherlands was again missing from the world championship calendar, this time for lack of finance. The 1959 Grand Prix was a notable event in motor-racing history, being the first World Championship race victory for BRM after ten seasons of struggling. Bearded Swede Jo Bonnier in his front-engined BRM P25 drove brilliantly to beat the works-entered Cooper T51-Climaxes of Jack Brabham and Masten Gregory.
Into the 1960s, however, increasing speeds, especially at the corners, meant the circuit was no longer safe. Hugenholtz was dead against metal guard-rails and refused to install them anywhere apart from the slow-speed Hunzerug where the public road into the pits area had to be protected. Hugenholtz was a believer in run-off areas and catch-fencing, while he was a frequent correspondent to the motoring press to advocate less-powerful and heavier Formula One cars.
Line up at the pits during parctice for the 1953 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. In the foreground are the Maserato team cars with a Connaught coming past to its own pit. Victory in the race went to the Ferrari of Ascari.
The tragic death of Roger Williamson at Zandvoort.
Niki Lauda's Brabham Alfa, followed by Jacques Lafitte's Ligier, about to pass the Arrows of Ricardo Patrese, destroyed in a first lap accident with Patrick Depailler's Tyrell during the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix. Nobody was hurt.
The Death of Piers Courage
The crunch came in 1970 when Piers Courage was fatally injured when his De Tomaso 505-Ford suffered apparent mechanical failure and crashed at high speed on the far side of the circuit. It hit a bank, overturned and was consumed by fire. New safety measures were insisted upon by the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and, in time, there was an inspection by the CSI circuit safety committee who proposed that many measures had to be taken to improve driver safety.
But when the teams arrived for the 1971 race it was discovered that few of the measures had been carried out. The drivers were angry but raced in what turned out to be terribly wet conditions, Jacky Ickx triumphing in his Ferrari 312B-2/71. No safety modifications meant there was no Dutch Grand Prix in 1972, although the circuit was still used for minor formulae and national meetings. It seemed that Zandvoort would soon become history as Hugenholtz estimated the CSI safety recommendations would cost a lot more than the local municipality were willing to pay.
The Marlboro Cigarette Company
In March 1973, however, Dutch motor-racing followers' gloom turned to cheer. A new private company took out a fifteen-year lease on the circuit, and undertook to bring the circuit into line with the latest thinking in safety. In April the improvements started and by were all but completed by the end of July. The Marlboro cigarette company provided much of the finance. Approximately 8,400,000 cubic yards of sand and earth were moved to provide run-off areas of almost forty feet at all potentially hazardous sections; 5.6 miles of metal guard-rails were installed, plus 3.1 miles of catch fencing; the pits were completely rebuilt; the dunes between the paddock and Tarzan Curve were razed so that the paddock area could be extended; the tunnels were widened; and a new corner, Panorama, was built immediately beyond the East Tunnel.
The Death of Roger Williamson
The new corner, which increased the circuit length to 2.626 miles, not only slowed the cars down before the main straight, but it gave drivers of equally matched cars another opportunity for safe overtaking - previously Tarzan Curve had been considered the only suitable place for such a manoeuvre. Ironically, the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix did not bring much joy. British driver Roger Williamson was killed when his March 731-Ford crashed then caught fire. A front tire deflated, causing Williamson to hit a concrete kerb and be launched into a guard-rail at 130 mph. This impact hurled the car back on to the track upside-down where it caught fire.
The accident was publicised worldwide as track marshals did nothing to assist until it was too late. David PurIey, a closely following driver, stopped his car and tried in vain to rescue Williamson, a brave action which resulted in PurIey being awarded the George Medal. In 1975 James Hunt scored the first of two consecutive wins at Zandvoort, in his Hesketh 308. It was a splendid result for James, finishing as he did ahead of Niki Lauda; it was his first Grand Prix win and the independent Hesketh team's first,and last, GP win.
Hunt vs. Lauda
Although the 1977 Grand Prix saw Niki Lauda win, and virtually clinch the Championship, the greater interest had been in the controversial incident on lap five between James Hunt and Mario Andretti when Mario attempted to overtake James on the outside at Tarzan. The refusal of both drivers to concede ground resulted in a clash which put the furious Hunt out of the race. Andretti profitted little as his engine blew nine laps later to leave Lauda a clear run ahead of Jacques Lafitte's Ligier.
The 1978 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort was, sadly, Ronnie Peterson's last race before his fatal accident at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix. Ronnie's Lotus stayed glued to team leader Andretti's tail for the whole race, as per instructions. The two Lotuses easily outdistanced the rest of the field to finish ahead of Lauda's Brabham Alfa. It was a race of little incident except for a spectacular accident on lap one involving Patrick Depailler's Tyrrell and Ricardo Patrese's Arrows, which, remarkably, resulted in no personal injury.
After the improvements of 1973 Zandvoort was a fast and, in the main, safe Grand Prix circuit, having the advantage over many other tracks of providing excellent views from the steeply sloping sand dunes - and it remained a permanent fixture (with the exception of 1972) until 1985, when it was held for the last time.
To solve a number of problems that had made it impossible to develop and upgrade the track, the most important one being noise pollution for the inhabitants of the part of Zandvoort closest to the track, the track management adopted and developed a plan to move the most southern part of the track away from the housing estate and rebuild a more compact track in the remaining former 'infield'. In January 1987 this plan got the necessary 'green light' when it was formally approved by the Noord-Holland Provincial Council. However, only a couple of months later a new problem arose: the company that commercially ran the circuit (CENAV), called in the receiver and went out of business, marking the end of "Circuit van Zandvoort".
Stichting Exploitatie Circuit Park
Again the track, owned by the municipality of Zandvoort, was in danger of being permanently lost for motorsports. However, a new operating company, the Stichting Exploitatie Circuit Park, was formed and started work at the realization of the track's reconstruction plans. Circuit Park Zandvoort was born and in the summer of 1989 the track was remodeled to an interim Club Circuit of 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles), while the disposed southern part of the track was used to build a Vendorado Bungalow Park and new premises for the local soccer and hockey clubs.
In 1995, CPZ got the "A Status" of the Dutch government and began building an international Grand Prix Circuit. This project was finished in 2001 when, after the track was redesigned to a 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles) long circuit and a new pits building was realized (by HPG, the development company of John Hugenholtz jr, son of the former director), a new grandstand was situated along the long straight. One of the major events that is held at the circuit, along with DTM and A1GP, is the RTL Masters of Formula 3, where Formula Three cars of several national racing series compete with each other (originally called Marlboro Masters, before tobacco advertising ban). A noise restriction order was responsible for this event moving to the Belgian Circuit Zolder for 2007 and 2008. However, the race will return to its historical home in 2009.
Circuit Park Zandvoort played host to the first race in the 2006/07 season of A1 Grand Prix from 29 September-1 October 2006. On 21 August 2008, the official A1GP site reported that the 2008/09 season's first race has moved from the Mugello Circuit, Italy to Zandvoort on the 4–5 October 2008 due to the delay in the building the new chassis for the new race cars. The Dutch round moved to TT Circuit Assen in 2010. A1GP bankrupted before its fifth season and the Dutch round was replaced with Superleague Formula.
Lorenzo Bandini's Ferrari leads a group of cars during the 1965 Dutch Grand Prix. The race was won by Jim Clark.