CIRCUITS: ZOLDER

Name: Zolder

In the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, the Omloop Terlamen is situated close to the village of Zolder. Built in the early sixties, and opened in 1965, the track undulates through pine-covered sand hills. The area is dotted with lakes and the vast Albert Canal passes close to the track.

The first major international event was the Limbourg Grand Prix for Formula 2 cars in 1966, won by Jack Brabham. The circuit was originally fast but the addition of two chicanes has made it safer though a lot less interesting. After Spa fell from the F1 calendar in 1971 Zolder was upgraded and shared the race with the unloved Nivelles. The first Grand Prix was in 1973 and this was a chaotic affair as the organizers had been late doing resurfacing work and so the tarmac was still not properly hardened. The result was that it broke up in places and overnight resurfacing was necessary amid threats from the Grand Prix Drivers Association that they would cancel the event. The work was successful and the race went ahead with Tyrrell scoring a 1-2 with Jackie Stewart leading home Francois Cevert. There were back-to-back victories for Niki Lauda in 1975 and 1976 and in 1977 Gunnar Nilsson scored his only F1 victory at Zolder in his Lotus. Three years later Didier Pironi became a first time winner at the track in his Ligier. The 1981 meeting was chaotic with a mechanic being killed in the pitlane, a drivers' strike and then a nasty startline accident.

Zolder will always be remembered, however, as the place where Gilles Villeneuve died, hurled from his wildly cartwheeling Ferrari when on a flying lap in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix of 1982. By then Pironi was his team mate and a fortnight before the two had fallen out during the San Marino GP and Villeneuve had sworn never to talk to his French team mate again. There is a monument to Villeneuve at the top of the pitlane and, at most meetings, if you make your way out to the corner they now call Villeneuve, you will see flowers placed beside the track.

No-one much liked Zolder before Villeneuve's death, afterwards it faded dramatically from the international scene. The rebuilt Spa opened in 1983 and the Belgian Grand Prix returned to its rightful home. Major changes were made at Zolder in 1986 including the new Villeneuve chicane, the reprofiling of many of the corners, extra curbs and concrete barriers. The plan was to win the Grand Prix back from Spa, but it did not work, despite the disastrous 1985 race at Spa when the newly laid surface broke up, causing the postponement of the Grand Prix until later in the year. The circuit remains an important national facility with occasional visits from minor international series.

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