Sitges-Terramar – Grand Prix in Spain Part 2

San Sebastian was remarkable as a racing track, but as my lap-of-the-track video shows there isn’t much to see nowadays – to get an impression of how it was, reading and imagination is needed. Sitges-Terramar, by contrast, is a complete, banked autodrome, which barring a few weeds in places looks pretty much as the builders left it, sitting just down the coast from Barcelona and enjoying Mediterranean views. Nowadays racing on banked ovals makes one think of the USA, Indianapolis of course, but also Daytona, Talladega etc, but back in the twenties most European countries had somesort of banked motor racing track. In Britain, there was Brooklands, in France Linas-Montlhéry; soon Germany would have the Avus, and postwar Monza would gain a banked section. The Sitges-Terramar circuit was completed ready for racing 1923, and as can be seen from contemporary film and photos, seems to have attracted a decent crowd of well-to-do folk. However there was a financial dispute – something along the lines of unpaid debts for construction leading to gate receits being seized, meaning drivers went unpaid, so in turn the track become an instant pariah for international race meetings. Beyond that first season, hardly any significant motor racing took place here.

The video above has some terrific fly-over shots showing the shape, lie and condition of the track, 90 years after that first race. It also shows Carlos Sainz setting a new lap record in an Audi R8, breaking the one set in 1923. It is interesting watching the car jump over the bumps here – one of the driver’s complaints in period was that the transition from un-banked flat track to the full banking was too abrupt, making the track difficult/dangerous to race on.

Sitges-Terramar track entrance

Indiana Summers In Action
At first I had some issues locating the track; it is not signed, and is set well back from the road. It can be seen from the new toll road , yet still proved difficult to get close to. It is private land, and initial research online had indicated that there seemed a reasonable chance of shotgun pellets in the butt if spotted, so I was ready to enjoy from afar if needs be. At first I poked around in a quiet little housing estate trying to get as close to the circuit as I could on the roads, eventually parking up when I found a dog-walker’s path into the forest which seemed to take me in the right direction. I walked until I judged I was parallel with the track, scrambled over a dry stone wall and moved through the trees until I was able to get a good view of the track, as per this pic – note just how extraordinarily well-constructed the track is – this is the back of the first turn banking, and the back “straight” running right to left past the building:
Sitges-Terramar turn 1 banking

It seemed I would be pretty exposed if I went closer, and I was rather worried about Farmer Pedro’s wrath, so I toddled back to the main road between the town and the tollroad/freeway, parked up at the side of the road and simply struck off across the middle of a field which seemed un-overlooked by any buildings associated with the track, to where I guessed the track would be. If someone wanted to hail me “hey trespasser stop” they could, right ? I daresay I could get the sense of what they were saying even without any Catalan or Spanish 😉

I reached the treeline, and once through some scrubby, rough woodland found my way onto an unmade service road around the perimeter of the track. It was easy enough to get up the back of the banking – I was at the exit of the second turn so it wasn’t too high – and climb over onto the track itself. First impression was of incredible preservation. Second was that yes, the transition from banking to flat track did seem abrupt.

I walked almost a full lap, doubling back to avoid coming too close to any buildings. The overall impression here is of an automotive Pompeii – not so much a ruin, like Brooklands is, with the banking and club house sitting incongruously alongside a modern business park, suburban semi-detached homes and the shiny Mercedes-Benz World – but a ghost town, complete yet abandoned, not a decayed fragment of the past, but something come from the Gatsby era complete, intact.

Go while you can, it simply cannot last in this wonderful state.