2nd Europe race at Zolder

UPDATE #22 "We considered a number of options for our return to Europe, and these two events will prove to be very successful for our teams, fans and sponsor partners," Champ Car President Steve Johnson said in a statement.

01/15/07 The Indianapolis-based Champ Car World Series has added two European road course races to its 2007 schedule, pushing its total number of events for the season to 17. The new races will be in Holland and Belgium, marking the first time the series or its predecessor, CART, has staged races in those countries. The race in Assen, Holland, will be Sept. 2. It will be followed by the Sept. 9 race in Zolder, Belgium. The latter track once hosted Formula One races. Seventeen races are the most for Champ Car since the 2003 season. The Indy Racing League also will have 17 races this season. Indy Star

01/12/07 Champ Car has scheduled a media conference for Tuesday regarding an announcement on the 2007 race schedule. It is assumed the announcement will be for the two long awaited European races. We hear the deals have been signed. Meanwhile, according to this website, the necessary track modifications for Zolder have already started. In these photos it appears they are tightening up the chicanes to slow the cars down.

01/09/07 AutoRacing1.com has learned that the deal with Zolder will be signed this week and the track will make the safety upgrades that Tony Cotman required. This rumor is close to going to 'fact.'

01/09/07 In response to the reader Stuart Page below, Renault is not returning to Zolder with the World Series cars in 2007 and the Belgium event is scheduled at Spa on August 19. Zolder will have only the "slow" FR2000 and Megane cars this year. The track in its current state is very dangerous for Champ Car cars. The "improvements" made in 2006 did not make any real difference in the track safety. The track is said to be very fast with many elevation changes and blind corners, so it is questionable whether the race track owner will be willing to spend the money necessary to bring Zolder up to Champ Car standards and this may be the reason for the announcement delay.

We cannot see Champ Car going to Greece starting in June 2008 as a standalone event. That makes no sense because getting the series to Europe twice a year will be unnecessarily expensive and time consuming. The series should be looking to go to Europe once per year for 2 or 3 strong events. What should happen is that the rumored Athens race be paired up with Assen in September of 2007, or as the reader suggests, teaming LeMans up with Assen. And then of course Estoril, Portugal hangs out there should Tiago Monteiro be out of F1 and back to Champ Car. That race could also be teamed with Assen. As we previously stated, Monteiro's financial backers could, for the money they are spending in F1, have Monteiro in a top Champ Car ride and sponsor to have a race in their home country, something Bernie cannot deliver. Having Monteiro winning races instead of an F1 backmarker or a lowly test driver, will give his backers far more positive exposure. Mark C.

01/08/07 A reader writes, Dear AutoRacing1.com, I have been watching with interest the developments regarding the European Champ Car races as I hope to attend one, if not both of them. However, I find it quite amazing that Zolder is still under consideration. I don't know if this is indicative of Champ Car (or perhaps U.S. sports in general) not understanding the European racing scene, but I believe they would be crazy to hold to races so geographically close together on consecutive weekends. Both races are sure to fail, as Zolder and Assen are only about 4 hours drive from each other so anybody from Belgium or the Netherlands could attend either race fairly easily if they are so inclined. These are two small countries whose combined land area is smaller than 80% of U.S. states, and for all intents and purposes is the same market (Benelux). Would Champ Car hold two races in the same U.S. state on consecutive weekends? As much as I love the series, for most Europeans, it is just another open wheel series, of which we have many, such as GP2, World Series by Renault etc. You mention the WSR crowd of 30,000 – but I would question whether this was artificially inflated as some of these events are free admission (I don't know about Zolder), and therefore Champ Car should not expect to get anywhere near that number. From my perspective, the only logical venue for the second race is Le Mans Bugatti (but since when did anyone in motorsport do anything logical?). It's further from Assen (about 10 hours drive); the town has a rich racing heritage; the circuit has just lost its DTM date; and Champ Car may have four French drivers including 3-time series champion and hometown boy Sebastien Bourdais! Why is anywhere else even being considered? Stuart Page, England

01/08/07 This photo, taken at last year's Zolder World Series by Renault race shows that Zolder does have some elevation change, which is rumored to be of some concern as to whether the cars might become airborne. Note the decent size crowd for the Renault race, said to have been over 30,000.

01/03/07 According to this Dutch Champ Car website, the 2nd Champ Car race will indeed be held at Zolder in Belgium on September 9th, one week prior to the race in Assen, Holland. The article mentions some of the concerns we discussed below and what will be done to alleviate them.

12/22/06 We are hearing from our sources in Europe that Zolder is looking doubtful for Champ Car because there are too many problems with the circuit (pit-lane, fences, etc.), but mainly the "Sacramentsheuvel", which is a steep 'hill', which might cause Champ Car cars to lift-off. Apparently the "Bourdais" family is trying to persuade the ACO and the Le Mans city council to organize a race in their hometown (don't forget there are at least two other Frenchmen in Champ Car as well) and of course the Athens airport circuit is still out there though that was planned to be a May or June race.

11/14/06 This article confirms the Zolder event, but we believe this announcement is premature.

11/13/06 According to some internet reports, including this Belgium article, Champ Car will race at Zolder next year in a one year deal with four option years. However, AutoRacing1.com spoke to Champ Car President Steve Johnson today as we departed from Mexico City and he said, "Zolder is not a done deal yet, there are still some issues." He told us there would be no venue announcements this coming week.

11/11/06 Correction on the photo below right. The guy on the left is the 'Manager of the Technical Department' of the TT Circuit Assen: Johan van der Kaap. Lee van Dam, is not a rep of the Assen circuit. In fact he 'one of' the right-hand men of Bart Rietbergen, the promoter of the Assen race and – probably – also the other European race at Zolder. Lee van Dam has a marketing and promotion company located near to the Assen circuit. Mark C.

11/10/06 We spoke to Assen, Holland track rep Lee van Dam (pictured right in photo to right) this afternoon in Mexico City and he confirmed that they finalized the deal with Champ Car today for Champ Car to race in Assen, Holland in 2007. He told AutoRacing1.com that there could be an announcement as early as tomorrow. They are still waiting on the contract issues with Zolder. He also told AutoRacing1.com that negotiations are ongoing for both Dutchman Jos Verstappen and Robert Doornbos to race in Champ Car next year. One or both drivers will pretty much assure a sellout in racing-hungry Holland.

11/10/06 Spotted what appeared to be a contingent from Assen in the Champ Car Business Unit Friday morning in Mexico City, and they were sitting with Champ Car officials and going over what appeared to be contract documents. Hearing now that Zolder will be held on September 2nd and Assen on September 9th. Why the change? To get more spacing between the Zolder race and the Spa F1 race on September 16th – both are in Belgium. We have revised our 2007 race schedules accordingly. We'll try to investigate further….

11/10/06 We hear everything was on track to make an announcement this weekend regarding the two Champ Car races in Europe but a Champ Car source said some last minute contract issues came up that need to be ironed out so an announcement is iffy for this weekend. Could still happen but the European promoter is in New Zealand on business.

11/09/06 According to Dutch sources it's more than likely Zolder will be the 2nd European Champ Car venue in 2007! There is also a good chance both European Champ Car venues for 2007 will be announced this weekend in Mexico City according to those same sources. Mark C.

11/02/06 CORRECTION: Thank you for writing about Champ Car in Zolder next year. Just to point out that Paul Kumpen is NOT one of Circuit Zolder's owners. The Zolder track is owned by the town 'Heusden-Zolder'. A non-profit foundation called 'vzw Terlamen' exploits the track. Paul Kumpen is a member of the board of administrators, that is correct. Walter Goossens, Marketing Manager, Circuit Zolder

11/01/06 More aerial photos from Zolder:

10/29/06 According to AutoRacing1.com sources in Europe, the 2nd European Champ Car race the week after Assen next September could be held at the upgraded 2.47-mile Zolder, Belgium circuit. Zolder of course used to hold F1 races back in the '70s and '80s and was the site of Mario Andretti's first win with the Lotus 79, the car that carried him to the 1978 F1 World Championship. Zolder was also where the late great Gilles Villeneuve was killed. LeMans and Hockenheim are also supposedly still in the running.

Why Zolder makes sense

  • Jan Heylen is Belgian and (one of) his sponsors (Berghoff) is next to the track.
  • His other sponsor (Muermans), who is planning his own Champ Car team anyway, lives within a 30 minute drive. His former protégé, Jos Verstappen, lives within a 30 minute drive as well!
  • Jos is married to Sophie Kumpen, the daughter of one of the Zolder circuit owners Paul Kumpen
  • Robert Doornbos, the other Muermans protégé, also lives in Belgium, albeit 1 hour away.
  • Zolder is used to large numbers of spectators: World Series by Renault, Belcar (very popular Belgian Touring Car championship (incl. their own 24 hrs race!), Truck Grand Prix, etc. etc
  • Zolder is not so far from Assen (+/- 300 KM i.e. 200 miles), which makes logistics between the 2 tracks easy.
    Jos Verstappen has a huge fan base, just around the corner (southern part of The Netherlands).
  • 2 more Dutchman (Charles Zwolsman and Nicky Pastorelli) in Champ Car will even cause more Dutch fans to attend the race.
  • Maybe Ho-Pin (50% Dutch) will be in Champ car, which would also attract spectators.
  • UK (Justin Wilson, Katherine Legge, Dan Clarke), Germany (Andreas Wirth?) and France (Sebastian Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Nelson Philippe) are all within reach for fans who want to visit this race

10/20/06 On Saturday Kevin Kalkhoven confirmed that the two European races are very real, but he would not discuss what two tracks they would be run on. He did confirm that they have deposits for two races but that they would not confirm them until they have completed all their track inspections. Paul Stoddart, who was seated next to Kalkhoven at that time, and who currently lives in Europe, took a keen interest in Kalkhoven's answer to that question because he is seriously considering entering the series as a team owner. See related article.

10/20/06 As these photos show, the main straight of the A1-Ring was left with a large construction trench cut through it when work was stopped on the new pitlane and paddock facilities after the track lost its F1 date. However, money seems to be no object for Red Bull when it comes to racing and if they really want to get racing back at the track a Champ Car race might be their opportunity.

10/17/06 AutoRacing1.com sources tell us that the 4th European track under consideration is the 2.684-mile A1 Ring, formally the Ã-sterreichring. The Ã-sterreichring is an Austrian race circuit which hosted the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix 18 consecutive years, from 1970 through 1987. After being shortened, rebuilt and renamed A1-Ring, it again hosted races from 1997 through 2003. The track is located in Spielberg, Styria.

Mainly due to safety concerns, the track was abandoned by Formula One for nearly a decade. The circuit was totally rebuilt, at the same site, by Hermann Tilke in 1995 and 1996. The circuit was shortened to 4.326 km (2.684 mi), the fast sweeping corners replaced by three tight right-handers, in order to create overtaking opportunities for F1. It's three long straights, as well as a twisty infield section, asked for a setup compromise. Photos

Renamed A1-Ring (after a sponsor, the cell phone provider A1), the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix was held on it from 1997 to 2003.

The grandstands and pit buildings were demolished in 2004, rendering the track unusable for any motorsport category. In later 2004 and early 2005, there were intense discussions whether the owner, Red Bull, would find another use for the site or even bring back motor sports. However, in January 2005 Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz publicly announced that he had no intention to waste money on a circuit that had no big race. This failure of the project, which was of considerable importance for the surrounding municipalities, may even have serious political repercussions, as Styrian governor Waltraud Klasnic had strongly supported the project. With Red Bull making a deal to come into Champ Car next year with a very serious effort, this may be the chance Mateschitz was waiting for and perhaps now he will get on with his latest reconstruction efforts. In part from Wikpedia

10/17/06 Word here in Surfers Paradise is that four tracks are under consideration for the 2nd Europe race for Champ Car next September – Hockenheim, Oschersleben, Brno and now a fourth one has come into the picture. No word yet on which is the fourth track, but whichever is chosen, the 2nd Europe race will be held September 30th. There are many circuits to choose from, not the least of which is Valencia, Jerez, Nurburgring (can alternate with Hockenheim in F1 off-years), LeMans Bugatti circuit, EuroSpeedway, etc.

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