Breathing Life Back Into A Forgotten Spanish Racetrack With A Fly Yellow Ferrari 512 BB
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
As you approach this sleeping coil of concrete, there is nothing that prepares you the surreal encounter to come. There are no road signs, no monuments dedicated to the glories of years gone by, no streets named after legendary racing drivers who won or lost it all here. It seems almost purposefully forgotten, as if it never existed.
The overgrown circuit has a tranquil existence, though, basking in the seemingly eternal sunshine of the Mediterranean coast, surrounded by creamy crushed rock hills and disciplined rows of twisted olive trees. Its history is very different to the action-packed contemporary curriculum of its more celebrated ilk, such as Brooklands, Monza, or Montlhéry, not to mention Indianapolis or the whole host of active but old American tracks. Despite counting few overcast days in its nearly hundred-year existence, the Autòdrom Terramar has spent most of its life in shadow.
Built in just 300 days, the track was opened in 1923, hosting the Spanish Grand Prix on October the 28th of that year. It promised to be an enlightening beacon for the growing motor industry that was still in its nascent stages in Spain at the time, as well as a symbol that elevated the prestige of the nation to the same level as the “intellectual France, corporate Britain, or industrial Germany,” as it was put by a journalist back then, clearly excited by the significance of that historic day.
A certain Albert Divo, later of Bugatti fame, won the inaugural race, his first major victory of an ensuing stellar career. It seemed that the bright days ahead were only just beginning. Except that, later that same day, the possibility of such a future practically ended. What began with aspiring high stakes was curtailed by the harsh economic reality, with the constructors keeping the gate money and not paying the prizes promised to the drivers. It never recovered. Sporadic races were held after that catastrophic event, but the ban on international racing that swiftly followed the incident effectively spelled the end of the dream.
It was nothing short of tragic. Like the eruption that laid waste to the bustling city of Pompei, the behavior of a few men of dubious morality made this track—or at least its potential—vanish into all but instant oblivion. There was no cloud of hot ash covering it, just a thick blanket of shame and distrust deterring anyone from approaching it. What’s been left behind is a time capsule. Everything is practically intact. Yes, there is some grass busting through the cracks in the surface, some potholes, and some other obstacles worth paying attention to as you drive along, but that does not take away from the feeling you are bound to experience while doing so.
No track alterations, no modernization, no conversions, no major demolition of the essential features. The same grandstands, same pits, and same farmhouses on the edge of the racetrack are still there. This is a circuit that is every bit as unsafe as all the infamous life-claimers. Forget crashing into the barriers, if you got one corner wrong, you were flying from a massive height, with nothing to stop you from your impending demise. Even by the standards of the deadlier past, this was too much. What could have been going through the drivers’ minds as they put themselves so close to the edge? What were they thinking? Going into the day of this shoot—as faith has it, on another October the 28th—we had no answers, but we had some sort of plan to find out.
Enter this Fly Yellow 1978 Ferrari 512 BB. Fioravanti’s first mid-engined Ferrari design—the purposeful Berlinetta Boxer—always looked to me like as close to a race car for the road that you could get, back in its time. Il Commendatore always considered racing as the pinnacle of the automotive experience, so it was only natural that, for what many call his company’s first supercar, he did not aim to outdo Lamborghini’s outlandish looks, but instead went for a pure expression of a street legal sports racer. It has that somewhat brutal look that makes it instantly respectable, while still remaining downright gorgeous. But a BB was never meant to race here in Sitges. It was, however, intended to be the supreme predator of any corner or on-ramp that the world could throw at it. Including the severe banks here at the Autòdrom Terramar.
As the capable crew of P1 Cars readied the beast for the shoot, we took our positions, just in time to capture that momentous awakening. And sure enough, as soon as the sound of the flat-12 started to reverberate from the surrounding walls, the track came to life along with it. Lap after lap, the speed increased and the car started edging out higher on the banks. The yellow dart pierced the air behind the gentle foliage of the fruit laden orchards in the infield, showing its lithe form from behind the trees proudly lining the starting straight, only to disappear behind the silhouettes of the ancient brick buildings that the track was built around. It is so close, so pure, so real.
As you look down from the unbelievably steep banks, the yellow wedge seems to get ever more confident. The excitement is palpable even standing still. This track still has life to give, even if never had a proper chance the first time around. There was no crowd to cheer the driver on from the abandoned grandstands, no competition to push him towards taking silly risks, just the sheer spirit of being here in this forgotten place, a place all too happy to reveal its true nature to us, its enchanted disciples.
We stayed until the sun sunk below the wall of mountains in the distance. This place is infused with the kind of reverence-compelling aura reserved for spectacular ruins, but rather than any religious dirges, my mind fills the space with something more modern, the pop-rock energy of Cake’s “The Distance.”
As they speed through the finish, the flags go down
The fans get up and they get out of town
The arena is empty except for one man
Still driving and striving as fast as he can
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns
We left the concrete giant in silence as night fell around us. Deep inside the loop, the heart of this place is still beating. It was never allowed the life it should have had, but it’s still here, and for one beautiful day we were able to be a part of its existence.