Circuit Overview

The Autódromo Internacional de Maputo, originally the Autódromo de Lourenço Marques, has been central to Mozambique's motorsport scene since the 1960s. 

The semi-permanent original course used a portion of the coast road, but a serious accident in 1967 lead to significant safety reforms and the construction of a completely enclosed permanent circuit in 1970.  Sadly, the political upheavals of the 1970s led to the track's closure when all motorsport was banned in 1978.

Happily, efforts to overturn the ban and revive racing bore fruit in the 1990s and the circuit has returned to prominence, despite another lengthy closures in the 2010s when redevelopment work was undertaken and part of the track remodelled. Today, the track continues to evolve, balancing its heritage with modern motorsport demands and playing a crucial role in developing the sport in Mozambique and Africa.

Circuit History

The Autódromo Internacional de Maputo (previously the Autódromo de Lourenço Marques and sometimes referred to as the Autódromo da Costa do Sol) holds a rich and tumultuous history in the realm of African motorsport. Its origins are deeply rooted in the early 20th century, with the first organised motorsport events in Mozambique tracing back to the 1920s, primarily orchestrated by the Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques. These early events were mostly motorcycle races and gymkhanas, which evolved over time into more formalised speed contests, such as the Polana ramp and the Starting Kilometer, initiated in 1927.

During the 1930s, despite a decline in urban racing, inter-locality races gained prominence, highlighted by the Lourenço Marques – Johannesburg Race. However, it was the post-World War II era that saw a significant resurgence in motorsport in Mozambique. The 1940s witnessed the establishment of city circuits and the emergence of local drivers who competed against well-equipped foreign racers from South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. This period also marked the founding of the Auto Clube de Moçambique, which later became the Automobile and Touring Club of Mozambique (ATCM) in the 1950s, playing a pivotal role in the development of both tourism and motorsport in the region.

A new racetrack is born

The 1960s brought about a transformative period for motorsport in Mozambique. The construction of the Costa do Sol racetrack in 1962 marked the culmination of a long-held dream for the local motorsport community. The initial track incorporated a stretch of the coastal road, closed off for races, creating a unique 3.362-kilometre circuit. This track hosted significant national and international events, including Formula 1 and endurance races like the "3 Hours of Lourenço Marques," part of the Springbok Series, which attracted top-tier cars and world-class drivers.

The inaugural race on 21 July 1962 set the stage for a new era of motorsport in Mozambique. The race was officially opened by Governor-General Admiral Sarmento Rodrigues and the president of ATCM, Eng. Manuel Oliveira Braga. The event brought widespread attention to Mozambique, as drivers from Portugal, South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia competed fiercely on the circuit. Notable races continued throughout the decade, solidifying the track's reputation on the international motorsport stage.

However, the Autódromo de Lourenço Marques was not without its tragedies. On Sunday, 23 July 1967, disaster struck during the fourth edition of the Taça Governo Geral de Moçambique race, an event celebrating the city's anniversary. Halfway through the race, South African driver Luki Botha, piloting a Brabham BT11-Climax, lost control of his vehicle. The car spun off the track and crashed into a group of spectators standing on an embankment near the circuit.

The consequences were devastating. Seven onlookers, including five teenagers, lost their lives in the accident. The deceased included nine-year-old Armando da Costa Lobo, Carlos Manuel Sacramento de Oliveira (12), José Samessone Matana (14), António José Trindade (18), Augusto Salvador Marques (25), and Joaquim Soares da Costa (10). The seventh victim, a young male of African origin believed to be around seventeen years old, remained unidentified. Nearly ten other spectators were hospitalised, many with serious injuries. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that most of the victims were young, causing particular distress within the Mozambican community.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, chaos ensued. Police had to use dogs to help Red Cross workers navigate through the hysterical crowd. The accident raised serious questions about spectator safety at the Lourenço Marques circuit and led to widespread criticism of the event's organisation and safety measures.

Contrary to some initial reports, Luki Botha survived the crash physically unharmed. However, the psychological impact was profound. While he participated in a few sportscar races the following season, his interest in motorsport waned, and he soon retired from racing altogether.

The 1967 Tragedy: An Eyewitness Account

The tragic events of 23 July 1967, during the Taça Governo Geral de Moçambique race, left an indelible mark on Mozambican motorsport history. A first-hand account from Antonio Botelho de Melo, who was seven years old at the time, provides a poignant perspective on the day's events.

Botelho de Melo was positioned at the beginning of the curve where cars exited the marginal straight, witnessing the accident unfold directly in front of him. His father, Manuel Inácio Botelho de Melo, a PSP (Public Security Police) officer commanding the race's policing, was nearby in his VW Beetle, which was equipped with a large radio communication device.

Immediately following the accident, the elder Botelho de Melo sprang into action. Despite the race continuing - as the race director was likely unaware of the incident - he drove his VW Beetle onto the track, weaving between cars racing at speeds of up to 160 km/h. Throughout the journey to the control tower near the pits, he desperately attempted to contact the general command in Lourenço Marques via radio, urging them to send doctors and ambulances to the scene. However, the radio's limited range rendered his efforts futile.

Upon reaching the control tower, Botelho de Melo's arrival in a civilian vehicle on the track caused confusion. He quickly informed the race director of the accident and the fatalities, insisting that the race be suspended. When the director refused, a heated exchange ensued, culminating in Botelho de Melo physically confronting the director, arresting him and ordering a subordinate to stop the race. He then headed back out to the scene to supervise the response.

The impact of these events was profound and long-lasting. For the young Antonio Botelho de Melo, it marked the end of his interest in motorsport - he never attended or watched another car race in the 44 years following the incident. For the broader Mozambican community, it raised serious questions about spectator safety and the management of such high-risk events.

In the days following the tragedy, steps were taken to improve communication, with a more powerful radio system installed in police vehicles to prevent similar communication breakdowns in the future. This incident, while devastating, became a catalyst for enhanced safety measures and more robust emergency response protocols in Mozambican motorsport.

New circuit quickly falls silent

In 1970, the circuit underwent significant modifications, moving the main straight inside the track's terrain, thereby transforming it into a closed circuit and improving safety by eliminating the need to close public roads. This new 3.909 km layout retained parts of the original design while offering enhanced facilities and safety measures. Despite these improvements, the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent political changes following the Carnation Revolution (also known as the 25 April Revolution) in colonial masters Portugal led to the prohibition of most motor races, culminating in the closure of the circuit in 1978 when the new Mozambican government banned all motor racing activities.

The circuit fell silent and the future looked bleak, however the mid-1980s marked a turning point for motorsport in Mozambique. António Marques, a passionate motorsport enthusiast, embarked on a mission to reactivate the Automobile and Touring Club of Mozambique (ATCM). His dedication involved countless hours of work and numerous meetings, which ultimately bore fruit in the rebirth of this esteemed institution.

The fruits of these efforts became evident in June 1990 when the first motorsport event of the new era took place at the newly re-named Autódromo Internacional de Maputo. This marked the beginning of a long journey towards modernisation and adherence to new safety standards in motorsport. The following year saw a significant step forward with the first training sessions for track marshals and race officials. This initiative demonstrated a clear commitment to modernisation and alignment with the radically changed safety rules in international motorsport.

Revival of racing and a new look

1992 was a pivotal year for Mozambican motorsport. The "Maputo City Speed Championship" was successfully held, bringing competitive racing back to the capital. Additionally, motocross races reappeared on the track, and an international race featuring the return of the well-known Formula Vee took place. Perhaps most significantly, karting made a comeback, laying the foundation for future driver development.

Substantial improvements to the racetrack were delivered in 1993, ushering in its third iteration. These upgrades included:

  • Construction of a chicane on the main straight
  • Alterations to the pit entrance
  • Addition of a protective wall
  • Introduction of electronic timing
  • Installation of gantry lights for starting and pit-lane circulation

A section of the paddock area was also given over to the creation of a new kart circuit (the country's first). This new karting facility proved crucial for nurturing young talent, with some riders going on to achieve success at the international level.

In 1994, the country's first single-make trophy was introduced, adding a new dimension to local competition. A speed championship brought vehicles of great competitive level and technical development to the racetrack. Moreover, the classic "Pretoria-Maputo" rally was resurrected, reconnecting Mozambique with its regional motorsport heritage.

The late 1990s continued to see growth in motorsport activities. Speed events became regular occurrences, and karting reached new heights of popularity. A major milestone was achieved in 1997 with the hosting of the "Two and a Half Hours of Maputo," an endurance race that counted towards the South African championship. This event significantly elevated Mozambique's status in the regional motorsport scene.

Land development prompts track redesign

The turn of the millennium brought both challenges and opportunities. In 2001, the ATCM leadership embarked on a new direction, interrupting use of the racetrack to design a new layout that would accommodate upcoming real estate investments on the land. This decision, while controversial, reflected the changing urban landscape and economic realities of Maputo.

A portion of the circuit was sold off for development, resulting in the 'Baia Mall' shopping centre springing up next to the Marginal Road at roughly the point where racers in 1962 would have headed onto the permanent section of track. This necessitated a redesign of the course but provided much-needed funds to invest back into the remaining track.

However, constant delays in the development works of the main racetrack created a prolonged hiatus in racing, despite the new layout largely being in place by 2007. It wasn't until November 2019 that speed races finally returned to the racetrack, marking a long-awaited revival of circuit racing in Mozambique.

Despite these challenges, the ATCM continued to progress. It achieved full membership in the FIA, solidifying its place in the global motorsport community. The organisation also increased its focus on training, recognising the importance of skilled officials and support staff in modern motorsport.

Today, Mozambican motorsport stands at an exciting juncture. While honouring its rich history, it looks to the future, embracing new challenges and opportunities. The sport continues to evolve, balancing the preservation of its unique heritage with the demands of modern international motorsport.

Circuit info

Automóvel e Touring Clube de Moçambique, Av. da Marginal, Centro Baía Mall, Piso Superior, Loja F9, Maputo, Mozambique
+258 84 328 4790
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