CIRCUITS: BARCELONA (CIRCUIT DE CATALUNYA)

Name: Barcelona (Circuit de Catalunya)

 

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There is a tradition of motor racing in Catalonia which dates back to the first Copa Catalunya in 1908, which was held on a 17-mile track made up of public roads which was called the Baix Penedes circuit. This ran from the coastal town of Sitges inland to the village of Canyelles, then back to the coast at Vilanova i la Geltru and then back along the coast road to Sitges. The poor conditions of the roads resulted in a switch to another triangle of roads which became known as the Llevant track for the events in 1910-12. This was a nine-mile circuitto the north of Barcelona which began in Mataro down the coast to Vilassar de Mar and then inland to Argentona and back to Mataro.

The racing then lapsed until 1916 when the old Baix Penedes route was used again and it was revived also in 1919. In 1921 there were two different circuits used in the region: the Real Moto Club de Catalunya organized the Armangue Trophy for cyclecars on a track which ran up to Vallmoll, in the country behind Tarragona and then back again to town. This was used in 1921, 1922 and 1923.

At the same time the Penya Rhin Grand Prix was organized on a nine-mile circuit formed by the roads around Vilafranca in the hills behind Sitges.

Sitges was to be the location of the first attempt in Spain to build a permanent circuit. The one and a quarter-mile high-banked but irregular oval at Sitges-Terramar. This was promoted by the local racing hero of the era Frick Armangue. It took 10 months to build and was opened on October 28 1923, hosting the second Spanish Grand Prix - 10 years after the first had taken place at Guadarrama, 40 miles to the north-west of Madrid. The race was over 200 laps and featured an exciting battle between the Miller of Count Louis Zborowski and Alberto Divo's Sunbeam.

Unfortunately the funding of the construction proved to be its downfall and the circuit, with its curious dog-leg coming off the banking at one end, was closed soon afterwards although it is still there today, cracked and overgrown.

With the demise of Sitges-Terramar, racing in Catalonia lapsed while the Basque city of San Sebastian became the home of the Spanish Grand Prix.

It was not until the early 1930s that there was racing again near Barcelona with a track laid out through Montjuich Park, which overlooks the city. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 ended the racing and it was not until 1946 that another race was held on the streets of Barcelona, on a 3.9 mile circuit called Pedralbes. This would host the Penya Rhin Grand Prix in the immediate post-war era but in 1951 played host to Spain's first World Championship Formula 1 event. This was the championship finale with the title being disputed by Alberto Ascari's Ferrari and Juan-Manuel Fangio's Alfa Romeo. Ferrari took the unusual decision to use smaller wheels than normal and the race was ruined with tire problems, which allowed Fangio to win both it and the World title.

Three years later Pedralbes hosted another Grand Prix race but the Le Mans disaster of 1955 meant stricter safety rules and Pedralbes faded into history.

It was not until 1966 that the Catalans revived the old Montjuich Park circuit, as a response to the construction of the Jarama circuit near Madrid. Montjuich held a Formula 2 GP that year - won by Jack Brabham. The event was repeated the following year with Jim Clark winning but by the end of the year Jarama was ready. The 1968 F2 race in Barcelona was moved to the start of the year, the circuit was upgraded and it attracted an impressive entry. Victory went to Jackie Stewart. Jarama hosted the Grand Prix that year but an agreement was reached for Montjuich to hold the race in 1969.

The alternation continued until the ill-fated Spanish GP of 1975. Safety had become much more of an issue in F1 and there were disruptions in practice while the F1 circus went around the track and fixed the barriers, which had been only loosely constructed. Some of the drivers agreed to complete only one lap and then retire as a protest but in the event only Emerson Fittipaldi followed through with the threat. Midway through the race - with Jochen Mass leading for McLaren - Rolf Stommelen's Hill-Ford crashed and bounced over the barrier. Four spectators were killed. The race was stopped and victory awarded to Jochen Mass - with half points given. Mass claimed the dubious honor of being the only man to win half a Grand Prix victory.

The accident marked the end of the road for Montjuich Park and it was not until October 1986 that the Catalan parliament voted to create an organization to build an international standard racing circuit in the Barcelona area. Fourteen months later the Royal Automovil Club de Catalunya purchased an estate to the north of the city on which to build. Finance for the project came from the RACC, the local government and from the Montmelo town council. Work began in February 1989 and was finished just days before the F1 trucks rolled into the circuit in September 1991. The F1 teams were impressed. The track was both safe and spectacular and proof that new circuits did not have to be dull.

The race was a big success and in the years that followed Barcelona has become the most important F1 testing facility and the undisputed home of the Spanish GP.

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