The Autódromo de Benguela, also known as the Benguela Race Track, holds a unique place in the rich tapestry of motorsport history in Angola. As the first permanent circuit to grace this nation, it was a symbol of ambition and dreams. However, the circuit's journey was fraught with challenges, and it ultimately succumbed to the tumultuous events that unfolded in Angola. In this article, we delve into the captivating history of the Benguela Race Track and explore its profound impact on motorsport in Angola.
The story of the Benguela Race Track traces back to the 1960s when GT and touring car races roared to life on the streets of Benguela within the Circuito da Praia Morena. As the Springbok sportscar series gained momentum, the need for a dedicated racing facility became apparent. In 1972, after six months of diligent construction, the Autódromo de Benguela was unveiled on a plot of land west of the airport. Just a week before its counterpart in Luanda, the circuit hosted its inaugural race on May 21, 1972.
Though less elaborate than the Luanda circuit, Benguela boasted its unique charm, nestled just 800 meters from the mighty Atlantic Ocean. The circuit was challenging, featuring elevation changes, fast corners, and a lengthy back straight. The full course spanned 2.459 miles (3.958 km), with a shorter 1.724-mile (2.774 km) layout as an alternative.
Over the next two years, Benguela's circuit thrummed with the energy of long-distance sportscar races as part of the Angolan championship. In both 1973 and 1974, the circuit hosted grueling 500km races, with the likes of Mário de Araújo Cabral and António Peixinho securing victories in a Lola T292 BMW. The following year, Roger Heavens and Tony Birchenhough claimed the honors in a Lola T294 Ford.
However, geopolitical shifts overseas, notably the 'Carnation Revolution' in Portugal, triggered a cascade of events that would have far-reaching consequences for Angola. The ensuing civil war in Angola disrupted the continuity of racing, with the Luanda circuit remaining dormant. Nonetheless, sporadic attempts were made to revive racing at Benguela, with a sportscar event taking place in 1976, and other smaller events documented in the subsequent years.
Despite these efforts, the circuit gradually fell into dormancy. In 1996, a privately organized race marked the 379th anniversary of Benguela. It saw several Porsche 911s, a Peugeot 205, and a VW Corrado battling for supremacy on the track. Another attempt to revive racing emerged in 2001 when a Motorcycle Grand Prix of Benguela was announced. However, this event was limited to local participants, as Angola was not part of the African Motorcycle Union, and it didn't develop into a significant motorsport spectacle.
By 2005, the circuit had deteriorated to the point of dilapidation, with little hope of revival. Today, remnants of the circuit can be found on the outskirts of Benguela, gradually being absorbed by the urban landscape. While the Autódromo de Benguela may no longer host motorsport events, its legacy endures.
The Autódromo de Benguela left an indelible mark on the motorsport history of Angola. It served as a pioneering achievement, providing a platform for long-distance sportscar races during the 1970s and a stage for motorsport enthusiasts to showcase their skills and passion. It attracted spectators from across the country, fostering a spirit of unity and excitement.
Despite the challenges and turmoil that ultimately led to its decline, the Autódromo de Benguela remains a symbol of hope and progress for the people of Angola. It serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of those who built and raced on the circuit.
If you're planning a visit to explore the legacy of the Autódromo de Benguela, there are several hotels in close proximity that offer comfortable accommodations:
Hotel Benguela: This conveniently located hotel provides comfortable rooms and excellent amenities, making it an ideal choice for motorsport enthusiasts and history buffs.
Benguela Hotel: Situated near the circuit, the Benguela Hotel offers a pleasant stay, with easy access to both the racing history and the city's attractions.
Ocean View Hotel: Experience the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean while enjoying a comfortable stay at the Ocean View Hotel, which is not far from the historic racing circuit.
Your visit to Benguela can be a unique blend of exploring motorsport history and enjoying modern comfort. As you embark on this journey, you'll not only witness the remnants of the Benguela Race Track but also the enduring spirit of motorsport in Angola.