Racing Around The World – Sint Maarten, The Netherlands

Photo Stephen Cording

Photo Stephen Cording

Sint Maarten is a permanent, clay oval about 45-60mins driving time from Amsterdam. Sint Maarten is a rural area of Holland; we opted to stay in Amsterdam where hotels, restaurants and night life are plentiful. Amsterdam is itself a short drive from Schipol Airport: City Centre Car parking is the same the world over and not cheap so expect to pay around 50 Euros for a 24 hour period as most people use bicycles to get around. But of course you can reduce these costs if you opt to stay out of the city or even consider camping at a campsite (no camping at track). Sint Maarten is not hard to get to; but being in a rural location, pre-planning a route is always the best option.

Arriving at Sint Maarten, you drive down a new dirt road with blue ACON flags flying from flag poles to the left. There is plenty of free and well organised parking. The main entrance to the track is at the front of the main carpark. Eight Euros was the Adult entrance price, with two Euros being the cost of admission for children. Two Euros was also the cost of the meeting programme which held little in the way of articles but did contain full driver lists for each formula and sections to record results.
The main entrance is flanked by two food / drink outlets where hot food such as chips, Hamburgers, frikandellen (Dutch sausages) as well as beer and water/soft drinks can be purchased. Beyond this is the Pit area behind the home straight where there is full and unrestricted access and spectators can can walk around freely.

The Track.

Sint Maarten is a permanent clay oval of 386 metres. The track cambers down towards the dykes with steeper camber appearing to be on the homestraight. There is a permanent catch fence between the dykes and the spectator viewing except for on turn four where there is a greater distance between the spectator and the track.

The track has recently undergone some major work with the entire clay surface being removed, a concrete base laid down and the clay replaced on top. This gave (for this meeting) a very smooth, flat racing surface not too different from those present at the UK Shale tracks. This surface was not to everyone’s liking but it has opened the track up to more conventional shale cars, and faster, cleaner racing.
The track has also been shortened with the original turns three and four being shaved off and new turns put inside with the old turns now being a holding area for the next race. While one race is preparing to race, the next race is gridded up in the pit lane. The meeting format and heat allocation of drivers is clearly marked on the noticeboard on the pit side of turn four so drivers can see which heats they were allocated.

Click to Zoom - Photo Steve Cording

Click to Zoom - Photo Steve Cording

The Racing.
Dutch Dirt Racing is not typical BriSCA F1 Racing. It is of a slightly different more relaxed style, though they are fundamentally the same V8 powered cars as in the UK.
At Sint Maarten, the cars grid up three abreast for all the racing. A full, beautifully controlled rolling lap sees the cars come out of turn two and proceed along the back straight. The Starter stands just at the entrance to turn three and shows the green flag before running across the infield to his position behind the armco plating coming out of turn four.
Those who have experienced USA Dirt Racing will understand the track and how the clay needs to be ‘worked’ at to make it a good racing surface. For the first few heats the track was well watered and had quite a covering of loose clay, thus creating more unpredictable racing.

Video 1: Heat 1 start.

Between every race, regardless of formula, the track is regraded. As the clay is ‘worked’ (helped by the high car numbers, and sunny, hot, dry weather) so the speeds increase and the cars are able to get fully sideways around the turns, with many narrowly avoiding going into the dyke coming out of turn four as the back end continues to sweep outwards.
The dykes that flank the track provide a spectacular obstacle and any cars that lose control or are ‘fired’ into the dyke do so with a spectacular splash of dirty water that covers the crowd in that area. Hence, spectators at the turns have sheets of plastic to protect themselves from the water. Very few waved yellows are actually shown despite this; if the driver is safe (not upside down in dyke) a thumbs up is normally shown. The racing in itself is great fun to watch and a rear outside blow out doesn’t mean the end of the race. Many drivers opt to keep going for as long as they can; thus throwing an unpredictable track challenge to the rest as they cut up the clay and car handling becomes difficult.

Photo Stephen Cording

Photo Stephen Cording

Less deliberate bumper contact was the norm in the racing, so don’t go expecting a British style bumper-fest, but it is very entertaining to watch nevertheless; with cars all over the place – hitting the infield banking, splashing into the Dykes, rolling and spinning out causing a track blockage.
The format on this occasion with 70+ for the F1s was nine heats and the Final (Dutch Open) with three support formulae; thereby creating a twenty seven race format.

Video 2: Dutch Open start.

You can view from any point around the entire track. Both turns have banked areas and a small stand can be found on the home straight. Most people opt to take a chair, standing up to watch the F1 Stockcar races. We opted to view from turns three and four (described as Coventry distance) banking (see photo), despite being further back from the track than turns one and two (described as a Kings Lynn distance) but the overall viewing was very good. And the atmosphere at the meeting was pleasant and relaxed.

Large crowds were in attendance - Click to Zoom - Photo Steve Cording

Large crowds were in attendance - Click to Zoom - Photo Steve Cording

Both straights appeared very popular with people arriving and marking their space with chairs very early on. Race Results are not usually read out  though there is a clear PA system which calls the drivers for the next race. All the racing formulas used an efficient Transponder system. With the holding area being used to grid up the next race, there is very little waiting time between races. The only slight delay being from the track being regraded but as soon as the red flag is shown to signal the end of one race, the water truck and two regraders move onto the track and quickly begin work. Other tractors also move in to move cars from dykes or from being beached on the infield banking.

Photo Stephen Cording

Photo Stephen Cording

A Long Day.
Racing started at 12 noon prompt and was done by 18:30 with a delay for an on track incident. The majority of racing transporters remain in the pit area allowing spectators to leave first. Food outlets remain open after the meeting so you can relax, take in the pits while regular racegoers make their exit. The car park traffic is slow but steady on exiting, but that’s to be expected when there is such a big crowd present.
All in all, a great day out racing and hopefully a future regular fixture for me. If you are a fan of Stockcar racing or just dirt racing in general; then a trip to Sint Maarten for the Dutch Open should be on your list of Stockcar must sees. And hopefully with the smoother and flatter surface, this will now entice a few English over in the years to come to have a proper Dirty weekend in Holland.

Photo Stephen Cording

Photo Stephen Cording

S Cording

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