Bravery and bankings

Carlos Sainz seems to have braved the bankings on the old Sitges track. You-Tube videos show Ferrari and Porsche drivers accelerate like mad down the straights and pussyfoot the bankings, while last May Sainz took an Audi R8 round in 42.6sec for a Red Bull stunt. It looked a bit of an adventure, even for a twice World Rally Champion since the bumps and fractures in the 90 year old 60deg steep concrete sent the Audi bounding. Racing high on the bankings may have been all in a day’s work for Sainz, but hugging a low line suggests faint hearts in Ferraris and Porsches.

They have tidied the bankings since 1974, when I took the pictures with a road test Granada Ghia en route to the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. There were races at the Autódromo de Sitges-Terramar near Barcelona the 1950s, but it had been more or less derelict since its first season of 1923. A bit like Brooklands, but better built, it remains in surprisingly good condition.

Autódromo National SA was founded in 1922 to construct a concrete banked circuit for car and motorcycle racing. It took 300 days, and cost 4 million pesetas, for a 2km track in time for a meeting on 28 October 1923. Albert Divo won a race for 2litre GP cars in a Sunbeam, at 96.91mph, from Count Louis Zborowski in a Miller. There was no prize money and unpaid builders seized the gate receipts, leaving the organizers with nothing to pay the drivers. It was seven years before the birth of Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

The authorities forbade any more international racing. It was perhaps just as well; there had been complaints from drivers over the entry and exit from the bankings. They thought the change in camber from straight to banking and back again badly designed. It didn’t seem to upset Sainz. The local Catalunyan Automobile Club held races up to 1925 before the track was sold off in the 1930s. When I went there the surviving buildings, some beneath the well-made pillars of the banking, was a chicken farm.