History of the Zandvoort circuit

The classic Dutch dune track might not be as evocative in its current state as it was during the years it was a regular part of the World Championship F1 but the fame of some of its corners still put awe into the most ardent Grand Prix followers. Hunzerug, Scheivlak, Hondenvlak, Bos Uit… (recently renamed the Arie Luyendijkbocht) and of course, Tarzan!

Conceived in the immediate post-war years to give the Netherlands a place on the international racing calendar, the original Zandvoort track with its elevations, its long and winding full-throttle and often off-camber corners and its long finishing straight approaching the slightly banked Tarzan 180° was immediately considered a real drivers' track. Apart from all that the dune sand blowing across the track posed an extra challenge as your tyres were treading on treacherous ground as soon as you endeavoured to go off-line.

On the other end of the scale, Tarzan was - and still is - a corner without a set "line", allowing you to take all sorts of approaches, entries and exits and still be racing your rivals - thanks to its banking. Tarzan always gave you a feast of overtaking manoeuvres - on the inside, on the outside - that could go wrong at any time. And so they did more than often, as you never knew what line your opponent was going to take. Would he be breaking at the latest, taking an outside line only to cut back to the apex with speed? Would he dive into the inside, breaking into the corner, bunching up on the exit but holding you at bay? Would he stay in the middle, defending both of his sides? Or would he overcook his move and head for the barriers or inch wide on the grass on his exit, putting him in a twirl that might come back in your face? At Tarzan, you could lose a few as easy as you won them. Just ask James Hunt and Mario Andretti. Or Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet.

Tarzan-corner, 1963

Zandvoort's permanent race track was completed in the early years after the war but the seaside resort already had seen some racing in the immediate days before the outbreak of World War II. Zandvoort's visionary mayor Van Alphen had managed to attract the best Dutch racers to put on a show in Zandvoort's streets. A temporary eight-shaped circuit was laid out in the northern part of town, comprising the Vondellaan and the Van Lennepweg. Today these roads lead up to the main gates of the race track. The event saw several touring car races, with the undoubted highlight being a demo run by Manfred von Brauchitsch in his Mercedes W154. Things were shaping up for the creation of Holland's first permanent race track. That is, until the Nazis decided to invade their neutral neighbour at the North Sea. In the first days of May 1940 the Netherlands were trampled under foot, and the plans for a permanent circuit were the last thing on Zandvoort people's minds.

But Van Alphen's vision was not lost in the war. Just months into the German occupation the mayor rekindled his ambitions. In 1941 a map was presented at the Annual National Fair in Utrecht, on which a track-shaped road can be seen winding through a new park area that is envisaged to appear on the north side of town. Also included in these plans was the erection of a new forest, with connecting roads leading through it to link up with the streets that formed the temporary race track in 1939. But how could they actually go on and build the darned thing? There was this tiny matter of a war going on. Leave that to Van Alphen.

The cunning mayor did not just order to start work on the project, he even managed to con the occupying forces into helping him build the foundations! With some 40 hotels and 600 coast-line houses demolished and Zandvoort's northern part cleared off the face of the earth to prevent the allies from using the Zandvoort beach as a landing site, the north side of town was far from a glorious park area. It was a ruinous mess. But Van Alphen made the proud Germans believe that he wanted to pave the way for a Paradestraße to honour the victors of the war. They fell for the ploy blindly - with a striking immediate result: many of Zandvoort's workers were not put on transport to Germany to contribute to the Nazi war effort but stayed behind to clear the ruins and turn them into the Parade Road's first layer of foundation. The Germans were well satisfied with the Dutch gift but of course Van Alphen had quite another type of victory celebration in mind for the end result… Unsurprisingly, to this day the circuit's official name is the Burgemeester Van Alphenweg (Mayor Van Alphen Road).

Mayor Van Alphen

After the war the mayor was on his own with his plans to complete the circuit on top of the layers of rubble. As most European countries the Netherlands were on the rebound of five years of German occupation. The country was virtually bankrupt and all effort was channelled to rebuilding the nation's vital infrastructure. Zandvoort and the Royal Dutch Automobile Club (KNAC) decided that they would do the work themselves, and got together with members of the Royal Dutch Motorcycling Association to determine the shape of the track. In July 1946, 1927 Le Mans winner Sammy Davis was brought in as a track design advisor. Tarzan was part of the earliest plans, and the rest of the lay-out was simply created using the existing roads in a sensible way.
As an aside, famous track designer Hans Hugenholtz cannot be credited - as he is often done - with the design of the Zandvoort track, although he was heavily involved as the Nederlandse Automobiel Ren Club chairman (NARC, the Dutch Auto Racing Club) before becoming the first track director in 1949. He did take a leaf out of the Zandvoort book when designing such tracks as Suzuka and Zolder.
In February 1948, mayor Van Alphen went into retirement, throwing the finalisation of the project into serious doubt. But his successor, H.M. Van Fennema, continued where Van Alphen left off and set about completing the circuit with its top layer. They worked all through the spring of 1948 to finish the pit area and a modestly sized grandstand - and couldn't wait to get the first race started. With no previous organizing experience in the field of motor racing events the KNAC wisely decided to contact Desmond Scannell of the British Racing Drivers Club, the BRDC secretary agreeing to organize the first Zandvoort Grand Prix.
And so the first race at Zandvoort became a British national event, albeit one with a fine turnout of 21 entries, of which some 14 cars appeared on the final's grid on August 7, with many of the big British names present and accounted for. The entry was led by Reg Parnell's Ambrosiana 4CLT and Prince Bira's Chula-entered Maserati 4CL, with Duncan Hamilton and Anthony Baring bringing their 6CMs. The ERA fleet was headed by the later Autosport reporter John Bolster (in Bira's old R5B "Remus", also previously raced by Tony Rolt) and also saw cars driven by David Hampshire (R1A), Fred Ashmore (R2A), Geoffrey Ansell (R9B) and Leslie Brooke (in the works R7B), while Leslie Johnson (in the works ERA GP2 E-type) and Peter Walker (R10B) suffered problems during their heats and were non-starters for the final. Further variety was provided by the Alta (F2-2) of Geoffrey Watson, the two Bugattis of Kenneth Bear (59121) and Michael Chorlton (a T51), and the Anglo-Italian concept that was called the Aitken-Alfa Romeo Special, originally based on the Alfa Bimotore 5.8-litre, here raced by Tony Rolt and Kenneth Hutchinson. It was enough to compensate for the non-starts of Abecassis' Alta, Robert Ansell's Maserati and the ERAs of none other than Bob Gerard, Cuth Harrison and a young Roy Salvadori.
The final was a cracker, with pole man Parnell running into problems but recovering to third, leaving a titanic race-long battle between Bira and Rolt. In the end the unnerved Siamese prince prevailed, giving no quarter to Rolt, who finished an extremely close second. (Incidentally, along with his pre-war mechanic Freddy Dixon, Colditz POW camp hero and 1953 Le Mans winner Tony Rolt (through their company Dixon-Rolt Developments, which later became FF Developments) pioneered the viscous coupling 4WD system that was to form the basis of the Ferguson P99 all-wheel drive system, the near-winner of the 1967 Indy 500, all of the 1969 4WD F1 cars and, amongst others, the current line of Audi quattro and Subaru AWD road and rally cars.)
The success of the inaugural Zandvoort Grand Prix sparked off an almost unbroken run of Zandvoort GPs, followed by Dutch GPs, counting towards the World Championship almost since the series' inception. The track was universally loved for its challenge and looks, and feared for the fearsomeness it required. Loved as well as feared it may have been, but Zandvoort was never loathed for being too dangerous. Not even the cruel deaths of Courage and Williamson could change that. Why? It was a track that allowed you to race.

Roger Williamson in his March at "Panorama turn" the day before he had his fatal-crash.

In 1985, the Dutch Grand Prix was held for the last time. The company that commercially ran the circuit (CENAV) went out of business. This was the end of "Circuit Zandvoort" as hostes for the Dutch Formula one Grand Prix.

The track, owned by the municipal of Zandvoort wasn't used a lot for some time and part of the grounds and approximately half of the track was sold around 1987 to  a Bungalow park company. (currently this park is still there and operated by CenterParcs) A plan to save the remaining track was made by a group of people and companies. "Circuit Park Zandvoort" was born and the track was remodelled to an interim "Club Circuit" of 2,6 km in the summer of 1989 (the original track measured around 4,2 km). In 1995, CPZ got the "A Status" of the Dutch government and finally could begin building a international Grand Prix Circuit again. The  whole  project was finished  when, after the track had been redesigned to a 4,3 km long circuit and a new pits building had been realized and a new grandstand was situated along the long straight in may 2001.

Now, the circuit is again bidding to be included in the Formula 1 World Championship, however there are a few chances for this to happen. 
One of the major events that is currently held at the circuit, along with DTM , is the Masters of Formula 3, where Formula 3 cars of several national racing series compete with each other. (Originally called Marlboro Masters, before tobacco banning). The Formula 3 Masters race at Zandvoort has replaced to Zolder, Belgium,  in 2007 due to a court ruling regarding noise levels at the venue. The Dutch circuit was limited to just five days where it is allowed to run events over a certain noise level, and a request for more days had been denied. Zandvoort has been limited to just five days where it can run loud events, and these days were taken up by DTM and A1GP in 2007. So there was no space left other then for two main events at that time at the Zandvoort circuit. 
"The wish to attract more international events is in line with Dutch government policy," said former circuit CEO Hans Ernst at that time and he was right, although the whole proces toke a lot of time. 
Finally in 2011 Zandvoort got his twelve days of 'unlimmited' noise making after a long and political battle of almost ten years. The FIA GT 1 and 3 championship is going for a race at Zandvoort now and also the F1........Well the former ones that used to drive the old and fast Zandvoort circuit at the first Historical Zandvoort Grand Prix in 2012.