The History of the AusterlitzRing – Part 2 (1975-2021)
This post is an exercise in creative writing. Everything written in this post is entirely fictional, but interwoven with real facts. This is part 2. Did you miss part 1? Read it first by clicking here!
The AusterlitzRing had its first F1 race after three decades of planning. It proved to be a disaster. Roderick de Wit, the track’s godfather, left the project disillusioned. What would become of the Dutch circuit?
Roderick was devastated and lost all motivation to carry on with the Dutch circuit. Instead, he put his efforts to get into politics. He had been a member of the Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid). In the 1977 Dutch General Election, the Labour Party under Joop den Uyl won by a slight margin. However, it was the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) together with the Liberal Party (VVD) who formed a coalition, meaning that Roderick spent his day in the Dutch congress (Tweede Kamer) as a member of the opposition.
Frustrated again by a lack of results, De Wit withdrew his electability for the 1981 election cycle, as he went into retirement. Unable to sit still, he took on an advisory role with the KNAF (the Dutch Racing Association) to pass the time.
Potential comeback and redesign (1985)
In 1985, the final Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort was held and won by Niki Lauda. The track was no longer suited for F1. Prior to the 1985 race, the FIA was looking for alternatives to the Zandvoort track and approached Roderick. Roderick, at that point no longer involved with the circuit, saw a glimmer of hope to redeem the track and himself for the disappointing 1974 outing.
He hatched a plan, with which he, in turn, approached the new circuit director. The plan involved upgrading the track to the then-current safety regulations by increasing the amount of run-off, using state-of-the-art safety barriers, upgrading the facilities and finally resurfacing the tarmac.
As far as the FIA was concerned, this would be enough to prevent another disappointment. The cars had developed further, with tire and brake technology catching up to the aero development of the 70s.
Doing the planned renovations required money. Even though Roderick again offered to invest a large sum of his own money, the project needed outside financing.
Again, Roderick’s connections proved fruitful. This time, it was the (national) government still ruled by the CDA and VVD under Lubbers. The government wanted to keep Formula 1 in the Netherlands. And in doing so, they did not hesitate to help a rival former politician.
Not only did the government finance 70% of the cost for renovating the track, but they also built a train station right next to the circuit. There had already been a prior railroad parallel to the A12 highway, so the investment to create a railway station proved to be relatively low. Furthermore, this meant the permit for renovating the track required fewer trees to be cut down for increasing parking space.
The changes that were made to the track can be seen below.
- The track length was decreased from 5.430 to 5.215 meters, while the number of turns increased from 16 to 18.
- Turn 4, the fast kink, was removed. Instead, drivers would head straight towards a medium speed left-hander, followed by a tightened turn 5. The combination was dubbed ‘Nieuwe Chicane’ (New Chicane). This meant that the cars would arrive with less speed at the tricky Karoesel section. The fast turn 12/13 combination was smoothened out a bit.
- The hairpin, formerly turn 14, was cut for a sweeping and tightening double left turn. The hairpin stood in the way of necessary infrastructure improvements. By cutting it from the track, a new access road could be built improving the ability of fans to reach the track in a timely manner.
- Finally, the first part of the fast chicane before start/finish was tightened, again to decrease speeds at the end of the straight leading up to Van Lennep, named after the driver who broke his wrist in up till then first and only running of the Dutch GP at AusterlitzRing.
Along with the changes to the track and surrounding infrastructure, new grandstands were built south of the start-finish straight and on the inside of Van Lennep. Turn 15 also received a grandstand, offering a great view of cars arriving from turns 14 and 13. A state-of-the-art radio control tower was created, as well as a new paddock area with a helicopter pad.
Below, you can see the changes made to the track in late 1985.
The 1986 Dutch Grand Prix
In August of 1986, the Formula 1 circus arrived for a second time at the AusterlitzRing. The people who had been at the 1974 iteration congratulated De Wit on the progress the track had made. Most notably, Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone.
The free practice sessions had no notable events. Contrary to the 1974 disappointment, the 1986 cars were a great fit for the track. However, much like Zandvoort, there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm among the Dutch fans. With just a couple of thousand fans watching on Friday, the new (and old) stands were largely empty.
Because Roderick wanted this Grand Prix to be a success on every front, he went to work. He offered free Saturday tickets to the people living in the surrounding villages of Austerlitz, Driebergen, Maarn, and Zeist.
On Saturday, nearly 50.000 people witnessed Alain Prost grab pole position. Boosted by the free tickets, the images of well-filled stands went around the world. In turn, this caused last-minute ticket sales for the race to drastically improve as the before mostly skeptical Dutch fans decided a trip to the AusterlitzRing might prove worth their money.
As such, nearly 75.000 people saw Prost start from the pole position of the 1986 Dutch Grand Prix at the AusterlitzRing.
Prost lost the lead on the starting line to Brazil’s Nelson Piquet. An enticing battle for the lead commenced, with Piquet coming out on top. Prost finished second, a couple of seconds behind Piquet, while Mansell managed to finish third.
The event proved to be a great success, and Roderick was elated. This was his dream come true. He was certain things could only improve for 1987.
However the 1987 Grand Prix would unfold, Roderick would unfortunately not be able to witness it. In November of 1986, Roderick de Wit had a heart attack. Even though he was able to survive the initial heart attack, a lack of oxygen to the brain meant he had slipped into a coma from which he would never awake.
Roderick de Wit died, January 15th, 1987, just 60 years old. He was survived by his wife (Anne) and his son, Frenkie.
The 1987 Dutch Grand Prix
In August of 1987, the teams would once again visit the AusterlitzRing, but this time Roderick would not be at the gates to greet them. Roderick was not just known as the director of the Dutch Grand Prix. Because of his tenure at the KNAF, his political connections, and his connections with the FIA, it was as if the soul of Dutch motor racing was absent.
This somber feeling rang through the whole event, as it proved to be a sober state of affairs. The race, which was ultimately won by Piquet, was preceded by a moment of silence.
The race was hindered by a large crash at the start, which rendered 8 cars out of the race before reaching even the first turn. A restart commenced, and the eventual race was uneventful as the remaining cars dutifully made it to the finish.
The race attendance was low, as financial troubles which had pestered the Netherlands endured and people found an extravagant outing to the race track to be too much. And, with Roderick gone, the track was sent into great financial trouble as well.
The 1987 Dutch Grand Prix would be the last Grand Prix at the AusterlitzRing – for the time being at least
Potential comeback and further redesign (1998)
With Roderick gone, the AusterlitzRing had lost the main driving force for its past successes. Roderick’s estate had sold its shares in the track to a consortium after a few years. Other than a few minor national and European racing series, most notably German Formula 3, the track saw a minimum of racing activities.
This all changed when Jos Verstappen entered Formula 1 in 1994. The popularity of F1 in the Netherlands was back on the rise, now that there was finally a Dutch driver capable of scoring points.
In an attempt to rekindle the track’s importance on the international level, the track’s owners named Roderick’s son, Frenkie, its new director.
Frenkie had grown up in the world of F1. He had dabbled in racing himself, spurred on by his father, but ultimately proved unsuccessful in his endeavors to become an F1 driver. Still, he maintained a lot of connections in the racing world which the ownership consortium aimed to make use of.
The track was, at the time, awfully dated. It needed a complete overhaul in terms of safety requirements and facilities. The consortium also wanted to rethink large parts of the track, to improve racing and increase the technical challenge it would pose to drivers.
Early 1998, the new proposal was submitted to the municipal authority to apply for the required building permits.
The most notable changes can be seen in the figure below, they are detailed further down:
- The number of turns was increased from 18 to 22, with the total length increased from 5.215 to 5.480 meters.
- The start finish straight was widened and a new pit entry and exit was built. The grid was placed further back, increasing the run towards Van Lennep and giving drivers more time to settle before breaking into the turn at the start of the race.
- Turn 3 (Van Lennep) was widened and slightly banked, to increase the speed at which drivers could take the near 180 degree turn.
- The old kink (turn 4) was brought back, which now led to a technical section of 5 tight, slow speed turns called Speeltuin (play area), after the children’s playing area it was located at.
- An ecoduct (a wildlife crossing bridge) was placed between turns 12 and 13 to allow local wildlife to cross into the tracks in-field.
- The Karoesel was renamed to “De Wit Karoesel” in honour of the late Roderick de Wit. It was also slightly widened, while the banking was maintained.
- Turn 15 was tightened and the lead up to Links-Rechts was changed slightly.
- The run up to Lammers (previously turns 14 and 15) was widened to allow for multiple lines to be taken and to increase overtaking opportunities
Another addition was a small chicane between turns 11 and 12, which sought to decrease the speeds of cars entering the De Wit Karoesel. This chicane would only be used as an alternate layout for motorcycle races and certain national touring car series.
Another Dutch Grand Prix? (1999-2002)
Hoping that the changes would be enough to lure F1 back to the Netherlands after over a decade, Frenkie started lobbying with the FIA. The track was granted a Grade 1 status, meaning its facilities were good enough to be able to organize an F1 race.
Unfortunately, Jos Verstappen proved to be unable to live up to his hype and as the work on the track was finalized, enthusiasm in the Netherlands about a potential Dutch Grand Prix was already subsiding. Organizing an F1 race not only required an investment towards the track’s facilities, but it also needed to pay Bernie Ecclestone a large sum for the privilege of doing so.
This ultimately proved too big a hurdle for Frenkie to overcome, and the track soon abandoned its bid for a fourth Grand Prix.
From 4 wheels to 2 (2003-2006)
Instead, the board wanted to lure motorcycle racing towards the AusterlitzRing. In the 500cc class (later rebranded to MotoGP), Valentino Rossi was quickly becoming a fan favorite proven by his fans at the TT in Assen.
As soon as the news came out that the AusterlitzRing had entered a bid to replace Assen, however, fans revolted. Assen, a staple on the calendar, was not to be replaced. Dorna, the regulating body, did not want a second Dutch Grand Prix besides Assen.
With another resounding “no”, Frenkie set his sights on the next best thing: Superbikes. Frenkie approached Gerrit ten Kate of the Ten Kate Racing team to help bring the WSBK to the AusterlitzRing. Ten Kate had his base roughly 70 kilometers from the AusterlitzRing, and was supportive of the idea.
Ultimately, Frenkie de Wit and Gerrit ten Kate were able to bring the WSBK to the AusterlitzRing’s B layout for the 2006 season. The race proved to be a success, and it became a regular venue for the WSBK championship from that point onwards.
…but also 4 wheels (2006-2016)
While German Formula 3 was still regularly visiting the AusterlitzRing (except for the 2002 and 2003 season), Frenkie wanted more 4-wheel series to use the track. He approached DTM, which had a Dutch hopeful by the name of Christian Albers.
While Albers made the move towards F1 for 2005, DTM remained a prime candidate to increase the AusterlitzRing’s portfolio of series. And, in 2007, the series finally made its debut on the track. It too would visit the track in many years to come.
Another series that made its way to the AusterlitzRing was the FIA GT series (now GT World Challenge), supported by the World Series by Renault.
While on a limited budget, the AusterlitzRing finally was able to provide fans with regular events at the venue. And, when there would be no racing, Frenkie had opened the track to fans and racing enthusiasts to drive their own cars on the tarmac. It is how his father would have wanted it to be. His father, who had been inspired by the Nordschleife. The track he had visited in the 1930s and after which the AusterlitzRing’s Karoesel was fashioned.
With the existence of the AusterlitzRing financially secure, and its place among some of the historic racing venues gained, there was just one thing missing.
Another shot at a Grand Prix. To make his father proud.
A final shot at a Grand Prix? (2016-2021)
Much like 1998, when Jos Verstappen proved to be able to score points in F1, so did his son when entering Formula 1. And again, Formula 1’s popularity in the Netherlands grew. Exponentially so.
In 2016, murmurs of a potential Dutch Grand Prix started to make the rounds. Behind the scenes, Frenkie started to gauge interest in a potential return of the AusterlitzRing on the Formula 1 calendar.
However, so were Zandvoort and Assen, the other two permanent race tracks in the Netherlands.
Frenkie inquired with the FIA, which assured him the procedure was still open but that he’d need to be able to pay the entry fee. While Frenkie was his father’s son, he was not his father. Many potential financial backers preferred a Zandvoort return to the scene.
Before any plans were finalized, Frenkie chose to withdraw the AusterlitzRing’s candidacy, opting to focus on the series they were already hosting instead. This proved to be a wise decision, as the Grand Prix was (unfairly, in the eyes of people with insider knowledge) granted to Zandvoort for 2020.
The Future of the AusterlitzRing
While the AusterlitzRing has finally become financially stable, with recurring series events, its facilities are starting to age. The tarmac has not been repaved in over a decade and is starting to show cracks. The stands, most brand new in 1998, are in need of replacing. In order to renew its Grade 1 status, the AusterlitzRing would need to upgrade large parts of its safety features.
Meanwhile, environmentalists wish to tear down the track to let local wildlife flourish.
It is currently unknown what the future of the AusterlitzRing will bring. In order to survive another decade, it would need a large investment to upgrade its facilities. However, in the times of the Coronavirus, investors have become hesitant in to invest large sums of money in grand projects such as this.
Perhaps, with the Coronavirus gone, the track would be able to withstand the test of time. However, at the time of writing, not much is known about the future plans for the AusterlitzRing.
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