Circuit Overview

Possibly one of the most extraordinary locations for a motor race, for two years Ciney’s covered market swopped the gentle lowing of cattle for the roar of horsepower as it hosted the finale of the Belgian ProCar Series in 1990 and a further round in 1991.

The idea of racer Eric van de Poele, the track utilised the giant concrete apron around the cattle sheds to lay out a temporary circuit, lined by concrete blocks. The tight and twisty 1.9 km circuit presented significant challenges, particularly in overtaking and should have favoured the handling of the BMWs and Porsches, though the four-wheel drive of the Audi’s proved unbeatable in wet conditions.

Despite programmes supporting local charitable initiatives, the race never managed to attract huge crowds and was dropped for the 1993 season, never to return.

Circuit History

Ciney is a small town in the middle of the Condroz region of Belgium with a history going back to the Roman period. It is famous across Belgium for two things however; beer and cows. Alcoholic beverages have been brewed in Ciney since 1450, with the brown version of the modern beer being among Belgium’s most famous. The town also calls itself the ‘capital of the Blanc Bleu Belge’ (literally Belgian White & Blue cows), as the surrounding farmland is home to large herds of Frisian cattle. As a consequence, it has the biggest cattle market in Europe, with 4,000 animals passing through each week.

Ciney's cows are also famous for having started the Guerre de la Vache (War of the Cow) in the Middle Ages, when a the hanging of a peasant who had stolen a cow from the town sparked an all-out feudal war, which only ended three years later when the King of France intervened…

Procar puts Ciney on the motorsport scene

Fast forward 700 years or so and the town would be thrust into the spotlight once again, this team as the host of a battle of a different kind: a motorsport title decider. For 1990, the Belgian motorsport authorities had instituted a new ruleset for its domestic touring car series, sweeping away the old Group N cars and replacing them with the new Procar class. This was an attempt to recreate the success of Germany’s popular DTM, albeit with a bespoke ruleset which mixed DTM-style cars with Group N, GT cars and other non-Group N machinery.

Set to become Belgium’s top domestic motorsport series, interest was high. As with the forerunner Belgian Production Car Championship, the series was set to continue with a finale on the streets of the Belgian capital, racing around a temporary course in the Heysel Park area. In previous years there had also been a race at the Koksijde Airfield, but this was dropped for 1990, but organisers signalled that they were still keen on alternatives to Spa, Zolder and Chimay which formed the mainstay of the calendar.

Step forward former DTM and future F1 and sportscar racer Eric van de Poele. He was a childhood friend Olivier de Wasseige, a councillor from Ciney. The pair quickly concluded that the vast esplanade around the covered market gave good potential for a temporary circuit. After consulting with fellow racers Jean-Michel Martin and Pascal Witmeur who concurred, the pair began making more definitive plans.

Approaching the Procar bosses, they received a cautiously warm response, with the potential Ciney race being included as a reserve event on the calendar. The expectation was that they would signal full approval the following year, allowing more time to put detailed plans in place.

Unfortunately for the Procar organisers, the Brussels street race collapsed into financial difficulties part-way through the season, leading the series without a finale race. While a switch to Zolder or Spa was a possibility, the organisers remained keen to have something different to round off their inaugural championship. The Ciney race seemed to tick this box, so suddenly, it fell to van de Poele and de Wasseige to make it a reality in just six weeks.

Race is on to build the track

Van de Poele put together a narrow and twisty 1.900 km circuit using the concrete roads of the surrounding car park area to form the main track. This lined with 1.5km of concrete blocks, 3,000 used tyres and some 500 pallets to create the rudimentary course. Fortunately, the organisers to could rely on the employees of the covered market, the city council and charities working with unemployed for labour and, together with local sporting clubs, the track was assembled. An added complication was that the market was hosting a major livestock sale the day before testing was due to take place.

An artistic rendering of the Ciney circuit
The 1990 course map, as shown on the race programme's cover.

In total a 400-person workforce was assembled to ensure the smooth running of the competition. This included the many concession stalls that usually operated on market days - the owners of which got a welcome boost in their takings over the race weekend.

Somehow, they managed to pull it off and the Procar racers duly arrived in October 1990 for the season finale, which was feature a pair of separate heat races for the Division 1 and Division 2, ahead of a super final race. Prior to this, van de Poele sought to set the outright lap record in his GA Motorsport F3000 car.

Sadly the weather gods were not onside and heavy rain showers affected the races. The Division 2 title had already been decided ahead of the Ciney race, leaving the prospect of a non-holds-barred race in prospect. It duly provided an entertaining set of heats, even if the Toyota MR2s proved utterly dominant. José Close and Renaud Verreydt won their respective heats, with champion Wolfgang Haugg finishing second in heat 1 in his Opel Kadett. However, its was his teammate ‘Jamar’ who stole the show in Heat 2, starting form the pit lane and rising to second place by the finish, when he started from the pit lane in heat two and finished second, albeit nine seconds behind winner Verreydt.

The major attention however was set for Division 1, which featured a battle for the championship between Jean-Michel Martin in his Hartge BMW M3, the similar BMW M3 of Patrick Slaus and the Porsches of Guy Nève and Thierry Van Dalen. It was win or bust for all but Martin, with the points leader able to take a more comfortable approach.

The weather played to the advantage of the Audis however, so the wet crowd watched on as the four-wheel drive cars proved utterly unbeatable, helping secure the title for Martin. Eric Bachelart took Heat 1 in his Belgian Audi Club V8 Quattro, trailed by the similar Ecurie Bruxelloise car of Bernard Winderinckx and the second Belgian Audi Club car of Philip Verellen. Heat 2 saw another win for Bachelart, this time backed up by Verellen, with Martin achieving a podium as first two-wheel drive finisher. Bacheleart completed a clean sweep in the super final, leading home Verellen.

Second year brings revised track

The organisers at Ciney could pat themselves on the back for having pulled off the race in record time, attracting some 6,000 spectators in the process. They had done enough to prove the worth of the race and secure their place on the calendar for 1991. This time they were set to be the third round but any hopes of improved weather from a June fixture were sadly dashed when the races proved wet once again. In an attempt to improve the racing, the track was modified and shorted to 1.550 km, removing one of the tight hairpins and creating a more sweeping start to the lap, which now ran clockwise.

Once again, the Division 1 and Division 2 categories were split into separate races. Heat one for Division 1 got off to a chaotic start when the starting lights malfunctioned, showing first a red light, then going out before going back to red and then finally green. In the confusion, Jean-Michel Martin and Thierry Tassin escaped out front in their M3s, but behind them all hell broke loose, when Michel Neugarten closed the door on Michel De Deyne’s similar BMW, causing both to spin and everyone else to pile in. A red flag quickly flew and a new start ordered, though the battered Opel of Michel Delcourt, Pierre-Alain Thibaut’s Audi and Roland De Jamblinne’s Porsche were unable to restart.

The second start was clean and Tassin took the lead ahead of Martin, who tried everything in the book but couldn’t find a way past on the the twisty course. Philip Verellen was a lonely third ahead of Neugarten and Patrick Slaus.

Heat two was no less chaotic. A drying track saw the field replace their wet-weather tyres for slicks, only for the rain to return. Tassin took off in the lead, with Martin in second. The field seemed reluctant to pit for wet tyres, assuming that a red flag would soon follow. When in didn’t, the cars were forced to creep round slowly and await the inevitable. Sure enough, leader Tassin tangled with Willy Maljeanas he headed to the pits, causing his retirement a lap later. Martin, Slaus and Verellen continued to the finish, the first two having opted for a wet setup, despite their choice of slicks.

In Division 2 things were calmer; José Close dominated Heat 1 in his Toyota MR2 , while Renaud Verreydt was on his way to do the same in Heat 2 in his similar car, when he had to retire with a damaged suspension, leaving the victory to the Peugeot 309 of Pierre Nirrengarten. There was no super final race this year, so that rounded off the racing action.

For 1992, the Procar series organised a new race across the border at Luxembourg’s Colmar-berg circuit, leaving no space on the calendar for Ciney. So one of motorsports more unusual experimentations came to a close after two runnings, to become a footnote in touring car races history. Given its tight and twisty nature and the difficulty of passing, its demise was not much mourned.

Circuit info

This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.

Rue Du Marché Couvert, 5004 Namur, Belgium

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Location Information

Ciney’s temporary racing circuit was located in the parking lot of the Belgian city’s covered market. Today the cattle market continues to operate and the esplanade remains largely as was when the racers were screaming round between the concrete barriers. The site is also now host to an exhibition centre, which hosts events as diverse as flea markets, food festivals and family fun days.

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