The Banked Oval That Once Hosted the Spanish Grand Prix

Sitges-Terramar, a pre-WW2 oval outside Barcelona, is set to be restored and become a horse riding facility.

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Image for article titled The Banked Oval That Once Hosted the Spanish Grand Prix
Photo: Garraf-2020 / Wikimedia Commons

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Formula 1 fan outside of Spain that enthusiastically looks forward to the Spanish Grand Prix. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the current home of Spain’s world championship round, is not known to put on exciting racing. It also doesn’t help that the venue is a staple of F1’s pre-season testing, so the teams run more miles here than anywhere else. Several other circuits had the honor of hosting the Grand Prix before the Catalonian course took over duties in 1991. Though, the most interesting track has to be the first.

Image for article titled The Banked Oval That Once Hosted the Spanish Grand Prix
Photo: EliziR / Wikimedia Commons

The Autódromo de Sitges-Terramar hosted the inaugural edition of the Spanish Grand Prix in 1923. Terramar is about 42 miles southwest of the Circuit de Catalunya. The interesting part is that Terramar is a steeply banked 1.2-mile oval. The two corners at the kidney bean-shaped ovals are banked progressively up to 66 degrees, or 78 degrees, according to the Grand Tour’s James May. For comparison, Talladega Superspeedway’s corners are banked at 32.5 degrees.

The 1923 Spanish Grand Prix was a largely duel between Frenchman Albert Divo and English aristocrat Count Louis Zborowski. Divo had a unique challenge of trying to beat American machinery with a British-built Sunbeam. Count Zborowski was driving a Miller 122 powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine and fitted with a two-seat body to meet European Grand Prix regulations. Earlier that season, a Miller had won its first Indianapolis 500 with the racing-only make putting six cars in the top seven positions. Miller would go on to win eight more Indy 500s in the 1920s and 1930s.

A similar Miller 122 in single-seat Indianapolis-spec
A similar Miller 122 in single-seat Indianapolis-spec
Photo: Writegeist / Wikimedia Commons

However, Zborowski missed out on Miller’s run of dominance. The Count’s Miller blew a tire while leading the race with seven laps to go. After a tire change, Zborowski got his car to the finish in second place, 50 seconds behind Albert Divo. This would be the only time that Sitges-Terramar hosted a Grand Prix. The track had perpetual financial issues due to cost overruns during construction and was eventually seized by the Spanish government in 1929.

Today, Sitges-Terramar is a chicken farm. The ruin of a racetrack has seen some use in the 21st century. In 2012, two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz Sr. did a promotional run with Red Bull in an Audi R8 GT3 car. The Grand Tour also visited the circuit during the second season of the Amazon streaming series. The facility will reopen in 2023 as a competitive equestrian venue, and the historic track will be restored during the renovation.