Slotting nicely into the UK’s August bank holiday weekend, the 4th running of the Zandvoort Historic Grand Prix was selected as our annual European circuit adventure for 2015. Uniquely situated within the sand dunes north of the town, Circuit Park Zandvoort has a very different feel to other circuits I have visited. With few places out of bounds, the prospect of classic F1 machinery, great weather and a very reasonable entry fee (€40 for the weekend) it is little surprise that record crowds of over 52,000 had been attracted.
The infamous Dutch circuit has not hosted a Grand Prix since 1985 and is unlikely to in the near future given the strict criteria. However, pleasingly, we found a circuit built in a traditional manner, blessed with excellent viewing from the spectator bankings and without the (now standard) computer game style tarmac run off areas! Exceeding the track limits at Zandvoort was rewarded with a trip across the gravel!
The main draw from our point of view was the 4 Masters series events headlined by 2 FIA Historic Formula One races and the ear piercingly good FIA Historic Sports Car championship which boasted a mega 41 car entry for the classic 60’s and 70’s endurance racing machines.
Having witnessed a great race at Donington earlier in the season, the Pre 66 Touring car field was a little light on numbers. It only requires two cars to make a race though and out front Leo Voyazides in his huge Ford Falcon had managed to pull out a small lead over the pole sitting Alfa Giulia Sprint GTA of Alexander Furiani.
However the tables turned once ex Audi man, Frank Stippler, was aboard the little Italian racer. Hadfield, a very quick driver himself, could do little about 4 consecutive sub 2.06 lap times from the German and Stippler was soon on terms and passed the Falcon, going on to record race victory by just over 3 seconds.
Hadfield and Voyazides would manage one place better later in the day however, recording victory in the 90 minute Gentleman Drivers race by a convincing 56 seconds. In a field packed with Cobras, E Types, Elans and Porsches, Voyazides, in his Shelby Daytona Cobra, found himself leading a three way battle for top spot. Whilst Voyazides had maintained the lead throughout his stint, Gans and Hart, in AC versions of the Cobra, changed position on more than one occasion, with the three leading cars sitting line astern as they headed for the mid race pitstops.
First in was the #76 Cobra of David Hart, handing over to ex Dutch F1 driver, Geido Van der Garde (pictured). The Dutch duo’s victory challenge was soon to be over however as they had made the change prior to the opening of the pit window, and as a result were delivered a late stop and go penalty. By this time Hadfield had taken over the lead Shelby Cobra, and with a much later stop, Nigel Greensall, in the glorious silver E-Type Jaguar had snook into second.
While Hadfield was able to cruise to victory, behind the battle was far from over. Andy Wolfe, taking over from Michael Gans in the #94 Cobra, was unfortunately not able to match the pace of his team mate and in fact, the two quickest cars on the circuit, were the rapid Dutch Cobra’s of Van der Garde and Tom Coronel. Emerging in fourth following his drive through penalty, 5 sub 2.02 laps allowed the the #76 Cobra to grab the final step of the podium but not without a far from clean tussle with Wolfe which left both cars showing the scars of battle. Third was the Limit of Van der Garde’s charge though as a consistent drive by Greensall allowed himself and Julian Thomas to split the American muscle cars and claim an excellent second.
Further back, Coronel was lighting up the track in the second DHG Cobra; the long time WTCC driver’s charge landing he and Hans Hugenholz fourth position overall by the time the chequered flag was waved, setting fastest lap and passing the similar machines of Wolfe and Andrew Haddon in the process! This had been 90 minutes of top drawer historic racing and a great way to round out the track action for the day.
A good nights sleep was required after a long day at the track and a wander through Zandvoort town itself to take in the parade. There is however nothing quite like the sound of 40 glorious Sports Cars from yesteryear to reinvigorate the senses on a Sunday morning!
And with photography now a bit of a problem (my trusty 70-200 deciding to separate itself from its mountings) we took in what turned out to be a brilliant race from the spectator area overlooking the pit complex.
Long time historic racer, John Minshaw, had brought his very rapid British GT team mate with him to Zandvoort, and Phil Keen duly put Minshaw’s Lola T70 on pole position with a stunning 1:44:063; a whole 3 seconds quicker than anyone else!
It was Minshaw himself however who took the start of the race, opening up a small advantage before David Hart in a similar T70, closely followed by the nimble Lola T290 of Michael Gans began to reel in the Englishman. On lap 7 however Hart’s challenge was over; a collision with Minshaw while challenging for the lead causing the Dutchman to retire his T70 with a damaged door and bent steering.
It was Gans who then took up the fight, passing Minshaw on the twisty sections but struggling to keep the raw power of the 5 litre Chevy V8 engined Lola behind on the straights. And while Gans was blessed with clear air once Minshaw pitted, by the time the T290 made it’s pitstop the lead was gone; some fantastic lap times by the recently installed Phil Keen firmly planting the #36 Lola at the top of the timing sheets as the race headed for the closing stages.
Meanwhile, Simon Hadfield had climbed aboard the white and blue Lola T70 shared with Leo Voyazides and was continuing to progress through the field; qualifying issues having caused the duo to start from the very back of the grid. Although Hadfield was soon passed both the T70 of Jason Wright and the T290 of Gans, Keen proved just too far in front for even the vastly experienced Hadfield to set about catching, leaving Keen and Minshaw to eventually claim a 19 second victory.
With just a few minutes remaining it appeared Gans had been cruelly robbed of a fantastic podium by a charging Gary Pearson in the #23 Lola T70.
However the race was brought to a premature end; Michael Lyons in his Osella the cause of the red flag having become beached in the middle of the track after the loss of a rear wheel. And on count back luck was on the side of Gans; the T290 pilot rewarded with the final step of the podium to go with his Marko class victory.
Had the race not been red-flagged, Gans may well have struggled to hold onto the Marko Class victory as well as the overall podium. Nick Padmore had been absolutely flying in his Lola T212 during the second half of the race but in the end had to settle for fifth and second in class as a result of the halt. And remarkably, despite being the cause of the red flag, the Osella of Lyons and Manfredo Rossi di Montelera was still classified 6th overall and 3rd in class!
In fact it had been looking like a disastrous weekend for Michael Lyons, having lead much of Saturday’s F1 race before encountering braking issues that would demote the young Essex man to fourth! However, Lyons was rewarded for his continued efforts with a commanding overall victory in the second Historic Formula One race of the weekend. Starting from fourth, two great overtakes after a good start promoted the Hesketh pilot into the lead of the race within the first couple of laps and from then on the road to victory was clear. Rob Hall, in his Ligier, had managed to pass race one winner Loic Deman at the start but could not keep Lyons at bay for long.
Belgian driver, Loic Deman, may well have challenged Hall but dropped back to fifth by the end of the race with what appeared to be gearbox problems.
This allowed Andy Wolfe in his Tyrrell 011 to claim a second podium of the weekend and Nick Padmore to take his Surtees to another Stewart class victory with a fantastic fourth position overall.
In between all of the above, onlookers were treated to races from the HGPCA for both pre 66 (pictured below) and pre 61 machinery, Historic Formula 2, Monoposto and Formula Junior, together with action from the fantastic Dutch Historic Touring Car and GT series. Unbelievably large and varied grids in the latter two events making for some great racing.
All in all it had been a great weekend in the Dutch sand dunes, with Zandvoort becoming another classic European circuit visit to tick from our list. The only real downside from my point of view was the elongated demonstration runs on both days. Whilst it was nice to see the 1999 Le Mans winning BMW and a couple of 90’s F1 cars, 20 minutes instead of well over an hour of track time would have been suffice. However I guess the organisers were left with little choice when the Group C race had to be unfortunately cancelled following a strange lack of entrants.
And whilst the lack of car parking at the circuit may have seemed like an issue, nothing beats a trek along the sea front before a day at the circuit! A cracking hotel choice in the outskirts of Haarlem (De Zoete Inval) and less than an hour of delays at Calais on the way back made August bank Holiday weekend 2015 one to remember.