The Autódromo de Benguela, also known as the Benguela Race Track, was the first permanent circuit to open in Angola. Its design was less ambitious than its counterpart in Luanda, but it had a challenging layout that should have thrived. Unfortunately, decades of civil war prevented the circuit from realizing its full potential, and while it did reopen in happier times, it was only a brief flourish before being abandoned once more.
The circuit’s story began with the GT and touring car races that were organized on the streets of Benguela on the Circuito da Praia Morena in the 1960s. The Springbok sportscar series was beginning to thrive, and so too did the desire for a proper facility. In 1972, after a six-month construction, the Autódromo de Benguela opened on land to the west of the airport. The inaugural race was on May 21, just a week before the Luanda course.
The whole circuit was much more basic than Luanda but had plenty of charm, being located just 800 meters from the Atlantic Ocean. It was also quite challenging, with some reasonable elevation change and a number of fast corners as well as a long back straight. The full course measured 2.459 miles (3.958 km), while a short circuit was also used, which cut out the second half of the course completely to leave a 1.724 miles (2.774 km) layout.
Over the next two years, the circuit was used for a series of long-distance sportscar races in the Angolan championship, including 500km races in both 1973 and 1974. The first winners were Mário de Araújo Cabral and António Peixinho in a Lola T292 BMW, while Roger Heavens and Tony Birchenhough took the honors the following year in a Lola T294 Ford.
However, events overseas would soon have a dramatic effect on racing and the stability of Angola itself. In Portugal, the ‘Carnation Revolution’ took place, and soon its colonial territories were granted independence in 1975. In Angola, this quickly descended into a fierce civil war, bringing racing to an initial standstill.
While Luanda’s circuit remained closed during this period, there were sporadic attempts to revive racing at Benguela. A sportscar event took place in 1976, and other smaller events were documented over the next few years. Eventually, the circuit fell dormant, although in 1996 a privately organized race was held on the occasion of the 379th anniversary of the city of Benguela, in which several Porsche 911s, a Peugeot 205, and a VW Corrado competed against each other.
Another attempt was made to revive racing in 2001, when a Motorcycle Grand Prix of Benguela was announced. This was for local competitors only since Angola is not part of the African Motorcycle Union and was little more than a club event. Sadly, this did not translate into anything significant, and by 2005 the circuit was in a completely dilapidated state and seems unlikely to ever be revived.
Today, the remains of the circuit are located on the outskirts of Benguela, towards the rear of the city’s new multiplex cinema and adjacent to the airport. Buildings and grandstands are long gone, though much of the circuit’s surface appears intact – if in a dilapidated condition – on recent aerial photographs. Now in use as neighborhood roads, the circuit is slowly being lost to housing.
While the Autódromo de Benguela may no longer be in operation, its legacy remains an important part of the motorsport history of Angola. It was a significant achievement to build the first permanent circuit in the country and host a series of long-distance sportscar races during the 1970s, and it provided a platform for motorsport enthusiasts to showcase their skills and passions. The circuit also attracted spectators from across the country who enjoyed watching the races and supporting the local drivers.
The Autódromo de Benguela played a significant role in promoting motorsport in Angola and provided an opportunity for local drivers to compete in international races. However, the civil war that erupted in the country in the mid-1970s halted the development of the circuit and motor racing as a whole.
Despite attempts to revive racing at Benguela in the years that followed, the circuit was unable to regain its former glory. The lack of investment in the facility and the political instability in the country prevented any significant progress. While there have been occasional races at the circuit, it is now in a state of disrepair and unlikely to host any future motorsport events.
The legacy of the Autódromo de Benguela lives on, however, as a reminder of the passion and determination of the people who built and raced on the circuit. The circuit was a symbol of hope and progress for the people of Angola, and its decline reflects the challenges that the country has faced over the years.
Despite the closure of the Autódromo de Benguela, Angola is still home to a growing motorsport scene. The country has a number of talented drivers who compete in various disciplines, and there is a growing interest in motorsport among young people. It is hoped that in the future, Angola will once again have a world-class racing facility that can attract international events and support the development of motorsport in the country.