During the second week of July we will be looking forward to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Rally Bulgaria and the Le Mans Classic in France. It’s a busy week for motor sport in Europe and a busy one too for citizens of the Spanish city of Pamplona.
Why? Because of the bulls. Not the Red Bulls but the bovine variety, which will be chasing people through the streets of Pamplona in the feast of adrenalin they call the ‘encierro’, or the running of the bulls. I mention this because last weekend, just down the road from Pamplona, a new motor racing circuit was launched, the first of its kind in northern Spain.
You are going to hear a lot more about the Circuito de Navarra. In years past racing fans in this part of the world were obliged to trek hundreds of kilometres to satisfy their passion for speed. Nearest to the people of the Navarra region was Jarama, an 800-kilometre round trip, while further away were Barcelona, Jerez and Monteblanco in southern Spain.
But now the enlightened regional government of Navarra has invested 43 million Euros in the construction of a truly spectacular new circuit, certified for Formula 1 and MotoGP testing by the FIA and FIM respectively. There is also a kart track and a ‘sliding & drifting’ track with its own sprinkler system. If Bernie Ecclestone is serious about sprinklers for dry Grands Prix, then Navarra is prepared.
The big deal here is the enthusiasm and energy of both local politicians and racing fans, with 25,000 of the latter turning up for the opening ceremonies last weekend. Yes, you read that right, that’s how many car and bike fans came along for the day and there wasn’t even a race; that’s how much these people appreciate having a place to go racing in their own part of the country.
My colleague Charles Bradley from Autosport and I joined these aficionados in a mammoth traffic jam, warmed by the Spanish sunshine, on one of the many motorways that lead to the circuit. The organisers were simply taken by surprise, not expecting such huge crowds just yet. But by the time the first race comes around they will have invented a more friendly traffic system. Yes, they will – down here problems are challenges.
Sitting on the motorway, surrounded by T-shirts and caps proclaiming the talents of Signors Alonso, Pedrosa and Lorenzo among others, I reflected on what all this means to a region that lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, just a short hop from the French border. More visitors, more tourists, more spending and, yes, more taxes for the government to collect in return for its far-sighted investment. The BRDC would have loved some government support for the ‘Home of British Motor Racing’. Ah, happy days…
British fans may well be interested in a long weekend in this fascinating part of Spain. A short flight to Bilbao or a leisurely ferry to Santander takes you to within a couple of hours’ drive of Circuito de Navarra. Then, as well as a race, you may like to enjoy the pleasures of an area that lies alongside the route of the famous ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. There are Roman towns, rolling hills, wooded valleys and, of course, being in Europe, excellent roads. And don’t forget that in midsummer there is the extraordinary running of the bulls. But you may prefer to take a rain check on that particular attraction…