Historic Racing Heaven
I’m a classic car nut. Call me weird, but I find more interest in cars from the 60s, 70s and 80s than in most modern supercars that come out these days. Classic race cars in particular really float my boat. There’s just a sense of drama in them that most race series these days lack.
So it won’t come as much of a surprise to most that there’s a big red circle on my calendar, drawn around the first weekend of september.
Because that’s the weekend the Historic Grand Prix event is held at Circuit Zandvoort in the Netherlands. It’s a weekend that sees classic race cars owners from all over Europe descend on the race track in the dunes for three days of vintage racing action.
With my mind set on the amazing cars, I woke up bright and early on Sunday morning, jumped in the car and headed off for the hour-long drive towards Zandvoort. I found myself buzzing with excitement behind the wheel, and with good reason: the programme for the day was absolutely stacked. From racing series like Historic Sport Cars and F1 to demonstrations featuring Porsche and BMW.
Now it’s important to note I have previous experience with the Historic Grand Prix: I attended last year’s event, so I somewhat knew what to expect.
However, there was nothing that could have prepared me for the fact that a Ferrari 250 GTO would be the first car I would see when entering the paddock.
I did some research on this car to find out whether or not it is a genuine 250, and it turns out it is. It’s a 1964 GTO, which means it is in fact a Series II, similar to the one that crashed at Goodwood not too long ago. It was parked up in Parc Ferme, as it had just finished a race.
As I looked left, my eyes were caught by the next racing legend: the Porsche 917K, which Porsche had brought along for a demonstration later in the day. I was parked up outside the Porsche Classic Village, where a number of classic Porsches were on display.
But before I could get close to admire this Gulf-livery legend, I was stopped as another ridiculously rare Ferrari rolled by, heading back to the paddock.
I was just able to snap a quick picture on my phone:
This was, according to the event website, a Ferrari 330 GTO, entered by the same team that brought the 250 GTO. The 330 GTO is an even rarer variant of the 250, with the engine from a 400 Superamerica. Just three were made. I haven’t been able to specify whether or not this is a genuine car. But if it is, it’s worth around $30 million dollars. Rather special, to say the least.
As if those three weren’t special enough, we turned right from the 917K to stumble upon a 250 Testarossa parked up opposite some Formula 3 teams. After closely examining the Testarossa, we believed it to be a genuine example, mostly because the build year and engine capacity were correct. Further research proved otherwise, as it actually turned out to be a replica. The reason the engine and build year were correct is because this replica was actually built around an original 250 GT TDF-engine, along with some original TR parts. This replica was actually involved in a scandal revolving around the car’s chassis number, which was already in use by a real Testarossa at the time of construction. It is an interesting story, and one that I’ll perhaps touch upon on a later date.
A further walk down the paddock brought me to BMW’s stand, where they had the cars on display that would take part in an on-track demonstration later on. BMW did not exactly spare any expenses in the cars they had on display. The legendary M1 Procar, 3.0 CSL and M3 E30 DTM were accompanied by turbocharged monsters like the 320 Turbo and Nelson Piquet’s World Championship winning Brabham BT52. The other Formula One car to make an appearance was the ATS D6 from the 1983 season, which you can read more about here.
After admiring the BT52’s engine for longer than perhaps should have been appropriate, it was time to rush back trackside. The first demonstration of the day was about to start, and it was a doozy.
The Force F1 Legends, an owner club for classic F1 cars from 1980 to the current day took to the track, along with a Jaguar XJR-5 IMSA GTP, a rare Shadow Mk1 Can-Am racer and a number of classic Lotus F1 cars, including the four wheel-drive 63 and the illustrious 72.
Seeing such a varied group of cars on track at the same time was a great thing to see. With Michael Schumacher’s Benetton B192, Takuma Sato’s Jordan EJ12 and several less successful cars from teams like Coloni, Arrows and Minardi, there was no shortage of F1 action on track. Unfortunately the demo was cut short when the EJ12 spun into a wall, bringing out a red flag.
I didn’t have long to mourn the EJ12’s unfortunate demise, as the FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars Championship race was up next. With that class’ attempted murder on my sense of hearing last year still fresh on my mind, I found my spot at the start of the main straight and prepared myself for what was to come.
In truth, nothing could have prepared me for prototypes from the 60s - 70s thundering by flatout. It was a earthshattering, bonechilling amount of noise.
Some of my favorites included the five (!) Lola T70 MK3Bs, all of which were competing at the front of the field. The Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione was a bit of a showstealer, along with a ’69 Stingray, which was probably the loudest car I have ever heard in my life.
The racing was good, but the safety car came out a bit tóó much for my liking. It felt like about half the race was behind the safety car, but that was only because of the large number of incidents on track. If I’d been watching on tv, I probably would have loved such a chaotic race, but now it was all just a bit annoying. I just wanted to hear some ridiculous noises and see some great racing.
All things considered, the race was pretty good and it was fantastic to see these classic Le Mans monsters duking it out on track, so I couldn’t really complain.
In true Historic Grand Prix fashion, I was barely able to catch my breath after the sportcar violence, as the next demonstration was about to commence: BMW. The M1 Procar, Brabham BT52, ATS D6 and a couple of other cars made their way out onto the track to do some laps.
A pair of 2002 touring cars also made an appearance, along with a March 782 Formula 2 racer and a beautiful 328 Roadster.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the BT52 was the absolute highlight of this demonstration. Jan Lammers didn’t go easy on the turbocharged beast, with massive flames on liftoff as a result.
All in all, it was incredible to see some of BMW’s motorsport legends on a race track. My biggest letdown from this demo was the fact that the person driving the M1 took it very, very easy. The M1 is, like the BT52, somewhat notorious for its backfire capabilities, but during the demo it did not even come close to the level of driving needed for some exhaust flames.
Truth be told though: this demo was solid gold the second I saw the BT52 shoot flames on decelaration for five solid seconds. I’m an easy convert when it comes to exhaust flames.
After the BT52 was finished scorching every small animal within track range, it was time for what one could consider the main event: the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship.
17 cars from 1968 to 1985, with one particularly special entrant: the 1967 Lotus 49. 50 year after Jim Clark debuted the legendary Cosworth DFV engine at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, the car was back at that same track and racing in the Historic Formula One category.
The heritage and influence of the DFV engine was on full display during this race. Every single one of the 17 entrants of that race were running a DFV or some variant of that engine. In fact, 15 were running the original DFV. The only two cars that were different were the Tyrrell 012s, who were running the short-stroke DFY variant.
This race was not lacking in big names: cars from Williams, Lotus, Brabham, Tyrrell, March and Fittipaldi all lined up on the start grid. In fact, there was a lot of genuine F1 history in this race. The Tyrrell 001, Tyrell’s first ever F1 car, had Jackie Stewart as a driver in 1970. The De Tomaso 505 was entered by Frank Williams, who would later go on to found one of the greatest F1 teams of all time. The 1980 FW07B was the car that won Williams a constructor’s championship.
With that much quality on the starting grid, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that this was a fantastic race to watch. Sure, all cars sounded pretty much the same, but when that sound is as good this, there’s no reason to be sour. The race was won by one of the Tyrrells, which sported what is probably one of my favorite liveries in F1 history.
After about two hours of non-stop breathtaking racing action, I was finally able to have a sitdown and rest a bit as the Classic F3 took to the track for their race.
Historic Grand Prix still wasn’t quite done yet though. Like a gift that keeps on giving, one of the best parts of the whole Sunday was still to come.
About ten minutes after the F3 race had finished, I started to notice the unmistakable sound of a flat-12 thundering through the hills. The Porsche demonstration had started.
At this point I should probably admit that I have a slight obsession with the 917K. So you can imagine the pure childlike joy I got when the 917 came around the corner and accelerated towards me at full force. This was my second meeting with the 917, but it hadn’t lost a single bit of the magic it had one year ago.
The other four cars weren’t exactly unremarkable either: the 908/03 from 1970, the 1977 936/77 and the 1973 911 RSR completed the 70s lineup, and the RS Spyder from 2006 was the final piece of what proved to be quite a marvelous puzzle.
Seeing these five Porsches on track together was incredibly special for me. I grew up loving Porsche, and these cars were some of the most successful in company history. The RS Spyder and 917K in particular were true highlights of my day.
To be honest, saying that may just be a pretty little lie. It’s really rather difficult picking highlights from this day because this whole day is one huge highlight. Historic Grand Prix is a fantastic event. It’s not just the action on track that’s special. The atmosphere feels one-of-a-kind. Everyone’s there to just enjoy classic cars, no matter what their preference is. It’s also a very open kind of setting. Pretty much all of the cars are parked up out in the open, not locked away in a garage somewhere. This allows you to get up close with a T70 or a 917 and really adds something to the experience.
Last year I fleetingly called Historic Grand Prix ‘Holland’s Goodwood’. After this year’s edition, I no longer mean that as a joke. This event is as close as you are going to get to Goodwood without taking a ferry across the Channel.
If you love pre-war sportscars, this event is for you. If you love getting up close with a classic GT racer or a small touring car, this event is for you. If you love being in an environment with gorgeous cars and like-minded enthusiasts, this event is for you. If you love classic cars racing on track, this is for you.
Hell, even if you’re not sure you love classic car racing, I honestly suggest you give it a go next year. You might just find your next big passion, like me.