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Five Minute Wonders: Five Circuits With Short Lifespans

 Neil Tipton
 Sunday, May 10, 2015

Every parent hopes their offspring will go on to enjoy long and successful lives and circuit developers are no different: at the outset of every project hopes are high, talk is big and the sense of anticipation is huge.  But for every Indianapolis, Monza or Nürburgring there are countless others whose light is set to shine for a much shorter time.  Whether due to financial mismangement, environmental factors, plain old bad luck or even war, some circuits only have short lives.  Here's our pick of the top five.

  • 5. Dalsland Ring

    Aerial photo of Dalsland Ring

    The Dalsland Ring enjoyed a bright but short lifespan, helping to launch the careers of Ronnie Peterson and Reine Wisell in the process.  Opened in 1966 near the village of Bengtsfors in Sweden, the circuit was initially popular but safety upgrades forced on Swedish circuits in the wake of a fatal accident at Karlskoga in 1970 stretched finances severely.

    It took nearly a year and a considerable amount of krone to bring up safety standards, but with spectators now further from the action, crowd numbers plunged as the popularity of the sport took a dent, with attendances never more than 6,000.  The 1974 oil crisis was the final nail in the coffin and no races were held that year.

    With debts mounting, the operating club could no longer pay its rent and the lease on the land was cancelled.  At the end of the year, the farmer simply ploughed up most of the track and turned it back into a potato field. All that remains now is a very small section of ageing tarmac, slightly hidden by vegetation. Few in the village have any recollection that the Dalsland Ring was ever there.

    For those who speak Swedish, view the excellent documentary on the history of Dalsland Ring by Bengt-Åce Gustavsson.

  • 4. Valencia Street Circuit

    The swing bridge, an important element of the Valencia Street Circuit

    The Circuit Urbà de València, to give it its local name, burst onto the F1 scene in 2008 with bold claims about creating another Monaco-style street race.  Located around the Americas Cup yacht harbours, the circuit featured a mix of public roads and specially-created track designed (almost inevitably) by Hermann Tilke.

    Home to the European Grand Prix, the event failed to live up to the hype and somehow never quite captured the imagination of the F1 crowd.  The collapse of the Spanish economy did little to help its long term future and, when a deal to alternate hosting the Spanish GP with Circuit de Catalunya failed to materialise, the Valencia race was history.

    It's quite astonishing how quickly the circuit remains fell into decay, with photos in the past year showing flooded access tunnels and weed-infested barriers, while  anything of value was quickly stripped from the track by thieves.  A sad end after just five years.

    Image by Nestor Correa Mayo/Flickr

  • 3. Nivelles-Baulers

    Aerial view of Circuit de Nivelles - Baulers

    Nivelles-Baulers was probably doomed from the start.  By modern standards it was a safe if unremarkable track, perhaps akin to an early forerunner of Oscherslebern or Adria.  Its biggest problem was that it was effectively a replacement for the majestic Spa-Francorchamps and the contrast couldn't have been more marked.

    When it opened in 1972, racers and spectators alike were less-than-thrilled.  Essentially it was short, with a hairpin at one end and a medium-speed loop at the other, with several chicanes thrown in for good measure.  There were acres of run-off and the crowds were largely confined to the grandstands and distant from the action - a far cry from the close-up trackside experience at Spa.  It made even Zolder seem exotic.

    Soon in financial trouble, the F1 race organisers went bankrupt in 1974, leaving one Bernard Charles Ecclestone to agree to be promoter at the last minute.  It was next due to host the race in 1976 (part of a deal to alternate the event between the Walloon and Flemish circuits) but the track surface had deteriorated and was not considered suitable.   By 1980, it was deemed to dangerous for cars and soldiered on for one more year as a motorbike venue until closing for good in 1981.  Few mourned its demise.

    Abandoned for the next decade, the land was eventually turned over for development, with an industrial park now built on its site. Some of the public roads roughly followi the original circuit, though are now punctuated by roundabouts.  

    Image by Tibo62081/Wikimedia Commons.

  • 2. Casale Monferrato

    Aerial view of Autodromo di Casale Monferatto

    A small track on the banks of the River Po in Italy, Casale Monferratto opened in 1973, with the initial laps being conducted by Arturio Merzario in a Ferrari 312 B2.  It became a popular stop for national racing between 1973 and '76,including Italian F3 and the Ford Escort Mexico championships, as well as being favourted testing circuit.

    Complaints about noise from the neighbouring municipalities brought a virtual halt to proceedings in 1976, with few races held.  The following year someone took matters into their own hands by breaking through the gates with an excavator and gouging away 500 meteres of the track, rendering it unusuable.  Efforts were made in the intervening years to revive racing, but politics always intervened.

    In 1980, the track was finally resurfaced and there were hopes of racing being revived (indeed, there was also rumours of Alfa Romeo having tested there).  Nothing eventually came of this and the track was left to gently decay away.  Its overgrown remains now sit inside a park and environmental laws mean it will now never be revived.

  • 1. Funabashi

    Aerial photo of Funabashi Circuit in 1966

    Japan's second ever motor racing circuit had everything going for it: located on Tokyo Bay it had a huge population on its doorstep, a circuit design penned by racer Pierro Taruffi and a booming car and motorcycle industry with intense rivalry between Honda, Datsun and Toyota to capture the public's attention.  There was even an airport immediately adjacent to the back straight.

    Opening in July 1965, the circuit had a capacity for more than 50,000 spectators and saw regular use.  The circuit was perhaps a little rough-and-ready; the track surface was gravelly and the instead of curbs, the track limits were defined by half-buried tyres, which had an unfortunate habit of launching errant cars skywards...  Nevertheless it soon became a regular stop on the national motorsport calendar.

    However, the advent of Suzuka and Fuji – built on a grander scale and with modern safety features – allied with the dramatic expansion of the metropolitan Tokyo area, meant the writing was on the wall for Funabashi.  After just 35 races across two years, cash flow issues led to management disputes and in July 1967 the circuit closed for good.

    Today, there is almost nothing to suggest it was ever there as the landscape has changed beyond almost all recognition.  The waterline is now further away thanks to land reclaimation, while apartment blocks and a giant Ikea fill part of the site, while the top half was ploughed away by a mutli-lane elevated highway and rail line.  The only connection with the past is the Funabashi auto race track (a uniquely Japanese form of motorcycle speedway, held on tarmac ovals), which stands roughly on the location of lower portion of the track.

    Photo courtesy of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan

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