The Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo is a road course located just outside the city of the same name, in the province of Santiago del Estero. It nestles alongside the banks of the artificial Río Hondo lake.
An unusual feature is the presence at the far end of the pit lane of a motor racing museum, telling the story of the area and wider country's rich motorsport heritage and dedicated to Argentine ace Juan Manuel Fangio.
Following a devastating fire in 2021 which destroyed the main pit garages, press room and grandstand, extensive rebuilding works have been completed, allowing racing to resume in 2022.
The circuit originally opened in 2008, having been built by the provincial government at a cost of 144 million pesos. The traditional Turismo Carretera series drew a crowd of more than 65,000 spectators for the inaugural meeting on May 11, 2008, nearly a quarter of a century after the series had last visited the area on a temporary road course.
The TC2000 touring car series and local Formula Renault also competed at the circuit, which was among the longest in Argentina, with a main straight of 1350 metres. Variants with a chicane halfway along the main straight and a short circuit bypassing the second half of the circuit were also utilised.
Redesign has international ambitions
At the conclusion of the 2012 season, the circuit underwent a substantial rebuild in a bid to improve facilities and attract international motorsport. Italian circuit design specialist Jarno Zaffelli was brought in to bring the circuit up to FIM Grade A standards. Using his Dromo company's sophisticated computer simulation software, the new course was designed with safe run-of areas for motorcycle racing, and an entirely new track surface laid.
Layout changes include a new infield loop, creating a fast 180 degree first turn which slows the eventual entry onto the long straight. The curving middle sector is broken up with the addition of a longer straight, to create a new overtaking spot. The final corner was also tightened slightly and a revised pit lane entry installed.
The redesign met its objectives, with the FIM including the circuit on the MotoGP calendar for 2013. However, a row broke out between Spanish oil firm Repsol and the Spanish and Argentine governments, following the latter's forced expropriation of 51% or Repsol's shares in the YPF oil firm. A directive from the Spanish government warned against riders or teams sponsored by Repsol making the trip, forcing the race to be withdrawn from the 2013 calendar. Although the directive was later withdrawn, the timing meant it was too late to be reinstated. Instead, MotoGP organised a mid-season test for a handful of riders, at which it announced the circuit would host the Argentine GP from 2014-2016.
While the circuit's redesign had been prompted by a desire for top class motorcycle racing, the four-wheeled world also took notice. The FIA certified the track to Grade 2 standards, allowing all categories below F1 to compete. The WTCC duly arrived in 2013 for the first time, with the local crowd delighted to witness a win for home hero José María López in race two.
MotoGP makes the circuit its home
MotoGP has since settled into its new Argentine home, with a number of memorable races to its credit. Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez famously clashed in Turn 5 in 2015, with Márquez's bike hitting Rossi's rear tyre, sending the Spaniard into the gravel trap and retirement and the Italian to victory.
Tyres were the issue in 2016, when a high speed blow out for Scott Redding's Pramac Ducati in practice prompted Michelin to limit the laps and a mandatory pit stop was introduced for the race. Márquez made the best of the situation and rode home to victory, while Ducati suffered ignominy when Andrea Iannone tried an overly optimistic manoeuvre at Turn 12 and wiped himself and team mate Andrea Dovizioso out of the final podium positions...
After a Yamaha 1-2 for Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi in 2017, the following year's race provided one of the most bizarre starts in MotoGP history. As he had done so to earn pole position, Pramac Ducati rider Jack Miller made an early switch to slick tyres as the field gridded up on a damp but drying track. It was a bold move that the other riders soon regretted not following and they held up the race start in order to switch tyres. Cue a 30 minute delay while the officials figured out what to do; in the end they dished out grid penalties to the whole field bar Miller, leaving a four row gap between the Australian and the rest.
Marc Márquez had a troubled day, earning himself no fewer than two penalties; first a ride-through for stalling on the grid and then riding the wrong way back to his grid spot, then a 30 second post-race penalty for colliding with Rossi and ending his race. Such was the Spaniard's pace that he still finished fifth... Through the chaos, British rider Cal Crutchlow preserved his tyres and rode to a well-earned victory, which propelled the LCR Honda rider to the top of the championship table after three rounds. In doing so, he became the first British top class championship leader since Barry Sheene in 1979.
Major fire destroys pit building
The circuit dropped off the MotoGP calendar in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but had been expected to return in November 2021. However, on February 6, 2021, a major fire broke out in the pit building, which quickly engulfed the whole complex, including the media centre, TV broadcast booths and VIP area, leaving them a total loss. No injuries were reported. Firefighters were, however, able to save the circuit's Juan Manuel Fangio Museum, the control tower and hospital from damage.
Circuit director Héctor Farina assessed the scale of the damage in a statement the next morning, saying: "The autodrome has full fire insurance, so the issue of economic damage is covered in that regard, but it will surely take quite some time to rebuild that important area necessary for national and international competences.
"Thank God, we did not have to mourn victims, and we want to thank all those who collaborated in this accident that generated moments of great danger because of the wind that was running. Many thanks to the different staff of firefighters, police personnel, municipality personnel, autodrome workers etc. who did their best to avoid further damage."
Reconstruction work quickly began and, while the circuit was unable to host racing events in 2021, the new race garages, media centre and grandstand building sprang up across the course of the year, with completion in early 2022, ahead of the Grand Prix in April. In boost to the circuit, category organiser Dorna announced a new agreement to keep MotoGP returning until at least 2025. It is also expected that the circuit will return to the calendars of the major domestic championships once they have been finalised.