The Dutch Do It Right: Racing Between The Sand Dunes Of Circuit Zandvoort
Photography by Will Broadhead
Ah Holland, the land of liberalism, where one can enjoy any number of excesses within its capital of Amsterdam. This past weekend I found myself driving towards this famous city, but admiring art galleries and canals (what were you thinking of?) was the last thing on my mind as I skirted the port metropolis and headed west towards the coast. I had other ideas for my weekend, one containing liberal displays of speed, with liberal distributions of gorgeous, historic racing cars. Tell Mr. van Gogh to put the absinthe on ice, I’m going to be up to my elbows in engines at Circuit Zandvoort.
Zandvoort is, to my mind at least, a legendary venue, being the only circuit in the Netherlands to host the Dutch Grand Prix. Sadly, the last one of these was held in 1985, after which time the circuit fell upon hard financial times and went out of business. Thankfully, under new ownership and with a new layout, the ancient dunes around which the tracks foundations are laid echo once more with the sound of racing cars and this past weekend reverberated with the music of historic F1, touring cars, endurance machines, name it.
Thanks largely to the geography of the place, as I enter the circuit and make my way to the infield I am unable to see very much of the circuit. I can hear the unmistakeable exhaust notes of classic GT cars as they barrel around the hidden track though—the noise rattles off of the Armco and plays off the dunes—and with no visual confirmation of the cars, it’s as if I’m listening to ghosts of what used to happen here in period.
As I walk to the paddock, great signs revel in the names of past winners, drivers like Lauda, Hunt, Clark, and Senna, the latter earning glory here in Formula 3 battles in the early ‘80s. The names and the noises are complemented by an area filled with fabulous racing cars, Formula 3 machines, F2 and Formula Atlantic cars from the ’70s, brutish endurance heroes like the venerable Lola T70, and even classic sidecars take up the pit spaces. There are ’70s touring cars and historic DTM machines (more on those to come) as well as the entrants in the Masters Historic Formula One Championship that provide the headline to this weekend of hedonism.
This combination of cars is a salivating prospect when parked, especially considering there are all four FIA sanctioned historic racing series happening here this weekend, an accolade that no other event can claim.
From my vantage point of the top of the pit building I can see the narrow ribbon of asphalt that makes up the track, it cuts a slender route through the dunes, undulating as it follows the contours of the land. It reminds me of old English tracks like Cadwell Park, such is its constricted nature, with small run-off areas should the drivers get it wrong. It looks a challenge, and I can see the saloon cars that are out on track struggling with the camber changes through the high speed Gerlachbocht, before the descent into the rollercoaster contours of Hugenholtz followed by the up, down, and up to Schievlak. After this point the tarmac links onto the relatively modern Grand Prix circuit, but is no less exciting for it.
Many of the corners here are banked, especially the first 180-degree bend known as Tarzan, allowing drivers to keep their foot in it longer and use some imaginative lines when overtaking. It’s a thrilling spectacle from my view, and Zandvoort provides fabulous racing for the duration of the weekend; the natural amphitheaters created by the sand dunes offer some fabulous vantage points for spectators, and while it’s true that high catch fence is in place to allow modern series like the DTM championship to come here, you are still close enough to the action to feel part of it.
For me this is an important point, particularly for a historic race weekend. These cars come from a different era (several in fact), in which I imagine it was far easier to get up close and personal with the racing heroes whose names have remained on their doors. To watch such machines being used on tremendously wide, modern circuits, in between miles and miles of run-off always feels a touch too sanitary, and while I’ve no wish for spectators or drivers to be put in unnecessary danger, when enjoying the noise and smells of grids of Cosworth DFVs I want to feel something more visceral. Circuit Zandvoort, despite not being exactly as it was in its heyday, granted, seems to have found the balance between safety and a fabulous experience. Coupled with the magical grids and tremendous atmosphere, this is a weekend that will definitely be in my calendar for next year and one I heartily recommend you put into yours as well.