F1 History: Spain’s first purpose built circuit ~ Autódromo Internacional de Terramar

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The very first purpose-built racing circuit in Spain was the Autódromo Internacional de Terramar” in Sant Pere de Ribs near Sitges. Frick Amangue founded Autodromo Nacional, S.A. to oversee the construction of a new all-concrete oval for auto and motorcycle racing.

The architects were Jaume Mestres (track) and Josep Maria Martino (facilities), and construction, which began in 1922, was completed at a cost of 4 million pesetas in just 300 days – it was an oval. The 2 km long track was designed with corners banked at up to a massive 60 degrees.

1923 was the year Spain returned to the world GP calendar, having been last run in 1913, and in September of that year the circuit held the Gran Premio d’Espania. The advertisements were glamorous and were widely displayed across the region.

The race was restricted to 2-litre GP cars, which included Alfa-Romeo, Aston-Martin, Elizalde, Miller, and Sunbeam. The official winner was the Frenchman Albert Divo, driving a Sunbeam, who finished in 2 hours, 33 minutes, and 50 seconds at an average speed of 155.89 kph (96.91 mph).

Following the chequered flag, it was clear there was a problem: the drivers were expecting their prize money, but were about to be sorely disappointed.

Such was the overrun in the cost of building the circuit that the Autodromo Nacional could not pay the construction company in full, prompting it to take matters into its own hands by sending hoards of workers from the project to seize the gate receipts from the inaugural race, leaving no cash prize for the drivers.

The debacle over prize money forced the International Auto Racing Authorities to ban the circuit from holding any further international race. Over the following decades, a mere handful of races were staged at Terramar.

Whilst his money-management skills were clearly lacking, Frick Armangue had had the foresight to specify only the best materials, and delegate construction contracts to the best-qualified firms and engineers. The Autodromo Nacional’s segmented, concrete surface has barely aged, whereas  the similarly constructed Brooklands circuit in England became uncomfortably bumpy, mere months after  its completion.

The circuit is not abandoned as such; sheep roam freely across the site and a chicken farm now resides in the old infield. The old auto repair buildings are each year home to many a new birth.

On the banking it is even possible to see the imprints of tires, which suggests someone was keen enough to try out the new track to not wait for the concrete to fully dry.

Ownership of Sitges-Terramar has changed hands many times since 1930, when Edgard de Morawitz took it off the original builders’ hands. The current owner, Marcel Ricart, is also the latest visionary to see the potential of a 90-year-old racetrack that remains in good condition.

Though the City of Sitges has officially bestowed landmark status on the site, the Ricart family is working with elected authorities in an effort to recreate and renovate Sitges-Terramar by creating the luxury “L’autodrom Resort”.

In the meantime, Vespa motorscooter clubs, classic car concours, vintage motorcycle runs, intrepid photographers and more have all taken advantage of the rusty circuit’s timeless atmosphere. Grand plans like resorts take time to implement; well-built racetracks like Sitges-Terramar eat man-hours for breakfast.

Albert Divo may have won the only Grand Prix to be hosted here, but the man he bested into 2nd place, by just 56 seconds,  was the redoubtable Count Zborowski, of Polish-American origin, who drove a Miller race car. He held the lap record of 44 seconds, which stood from that day until, in 2012, a rather well-known Spanish driver returned to the ghostly circuit in an attempt to wrest this honour from the long-since deceased Zborowski.

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7 responses to “F1 History: Spain’s first purpose built circuit ~ Autódromo Internacional de Terramar

  1. What an amazing, astonishing, jaw-dropping find… Can you imagine Brooklands still existing to this day, and nobody knowing of it’s existence…

    • Stunning isn’t. I go to Barcelona a few times a year and never knew about it until last year….

      I’ve walked on the remains of the old Monza circuit… But this is something else.

      Anyone In Barcelona – it’s a must. Olive the tyre marks in the concrete…

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  3. Pingback: #F1 History: Montjuic – 27th April 1975 | thejudge13·

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