News 3 - On the right track

On the right Track

If all goes according to plan, not only will competitors on the 2020 Arctic Circle Rally enjoy  the finest driving roads that the Baltic States and Scandinavia can offer, but they will also get the chance to sample a few laps of some of the most extraordinary and least known race circuits in the world.

Poland is not exactly blessed with suitable circuits, at least not in the remote northern area of the country through which the event passes on the first two days, however once into Lithuania, things start looking up a bit with a planned visit to the Nemunas Ring, the only purpose built track in the country.  Opened in 1960, this 3.3km track undulates through the forest near the city of Kaunus and still hosts a round of the Baltic Touring Car Championship as well as several motor bike races.

The idea of a circuit at Birkeniekai near Riga dates back to the 1950’s, but it was not until 1965 that work began on the first of three circuits that linked together would total nearly 6km. From a start/ finish line overlooked by archetypally communist blocks of flats, a narrow ribbon of tarmac dived into the dark forest, its edges unprotected by safety features such as Armco or run-off areas.  Go off here and you would be straight into a tree trunk! 

The first meeting in July 1966 was for a mixture of motor bikes and cars, the two car races being won by a GAS 21 and Moskvich 407 respectively.  Once fully operational, Birkenieki soon became the premier circuit in the whole of the Soviet Union. Because of its close proximity to Latvias capital city, racing was always well attended; old black and white photos from the period shows the forest crowded with people, their only protection from the speeding cars being a rope strung from tree to tree.  Those were the days!

When we last visited the circuit nearly 20 years ago with the 2000 Mile Trial (probably the first classic rally ever to do so) it was a sad, forgotten place, still very much as it was built during communist rule.  However, in 2011 in was acquired by the Latvian Ministry of Transport who have brought the circuit up to date with refurbished pits and grandstands, and a resurfaced track and safety barriers to stop the cars damaging the trees!  It no longer quite has the period “feel” of the original, but it is still a challenging and interesting circuit to drive.

Like its Baltic neighbours, the Auto24 Ring at Parnu is the premier permanent circuit in Estonia. Established in 1930, the circuit was originally a 6km “triangle” of public roads before being redesigned in 1989.  When we used it in 2000 it was comprised of the southern half of a disused airfield perimeter track linked by a short section of one of the original public roads.  Since then, the airfield has been developed as Parnu Airport, and the circuit redesigned as four self-contained sections totalling 3.3km.

Finland has more choice of circuits, the most famous of which must be Ahvenisto Circuit at Hameenlina. Considered by many drivers to be one of the most challenging circuits in the world, Ahvenisto is unusual in that it has a “crossover” section, thus reversing the direction for part of a lap.  Built in 1967, the first International F2 race there was won by Jochen Rindt, with Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Frank Gardner and Graham Hill making up the top 5 finishers. So, if all goes to plan competitors could be driving in the wheel tracks of motor sport heroes on Day 6!

As the event moves north through Finland, the short circuits at Ruuhimaki and Kajaanin should provide suitable “book-ends” to Day 7 but, once into the wilderness that is Lapland, motor sport venues become few and far between so we will probably have to be satisfied with the hill-climb at Iso-Syote which again we used in 2000.

Northern Sweden is equally devoid of suitable circuits so competitors will have to wait until reaching Norway.  Not only is the Arctic Circle Raceway the longest track in Norway, but it bills itself as the most northerly motor racing circuit in the world.  Situated just 30km south of the Arctic Circle, the 3.3km circuit was opened in 1995 and hosts both bike and car meetings.  There is even the possibility of 24hour racing completely in daylight! 

However, despite being the longest and most interesting track in Norway, spectator numbers are woefully small, mainly because of its remote location.  The nearest city, Trondheim is 7 hours drive away whilst Oslo is 1000 km to the south.  This means, when competitors reach the Arctic Circle Raceway, they will still have a long way to go to the finish of the Arctic Circle Rally near Oslo…

However, detailed examination of satellite images has revealed the existence of a newly constructed short circuit about a kilometre or so south of the Arctic Circle in Finland.  If we can discover the owners of that before the first recce trip in June, competitors on the Arctic Circle could be amongst the first to sample competitive driving in such northern parts.

For more details of this exciting Arctic Challenge please contact:

Classic Events NL. PO Box 94. 8171 Vaassen. The Netherlands.

Tel +31 (0) 578 561 115                Email: info@classicevents.nl