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Alcañiz: From road races to Aragon GP

Alcañiz: From road races to Aragon GP

Aragon may now be known for its world-class MotoGP™ facility, hosting Grands Prix since 2010, but one has to go back almost half a century to discover the event’s real roots. Ahead of the fourth Aragon Grand Prix, here is its remarkable story…

Back in the day, motor racing in the Spanish Province of Teruel related not to the so-called Motor City complex which now sits proudly amongst the mountains, but to the Premio Ciudad de Alcañiz – an annual road race around the streets of the small town itself.

Promoted by Dr. Joaquin Repolles, (1913-1984), a passionate motor racing fan himself, the race - first staged in 1965, as Hailwood ruled the roost on bikes and Jim Clark in cars - would take no time in becoming an instant hit that over the years attracted all sorts of vehicles ranging from SEATs to Minis and Porsches to Fords. Numerous big names would take to the streets: F1’s Luis Perez-Sala, Adrian Campos, Gabriele Tarquini and Emilio de Villota plus Carlos Sainz who would go on to claim a pair of World Rally Championship crowns. The Alcañiz track record is still held by Juan Fernandez, whose PA9 Osella-BMW managed a lap time of 1 minute and 33 seconds at a staggering average speed of almost 150km/h (90mph).

“I had heard comment after comment about how difficult a test that circuit was,” Sainz, who participated in the 1983 edition with a Renault 5 Turbo, reminisces to “When I got there, I realised immediately that the circuit had a special charm about it and that the driver would really make the difference. I adapted to it well and won the race. True enough, I already had rallying experience which helped, but that win did encourage some extra fame.”

During the 1970s and 80s, one particularly popular championship was the National Renault 8 TS Cup, in which a certain Carmelo Ezpeleta took part. “It was a very fast and dangerous circuit,” the now CEO of Dorna Sports recalls. “I raced there for three years, between ’72 and ’74, and only once I think I finished inside the top ten – and that took some doing!”

Bikes never competed on the urban Guadalope layout, as it was known, although into the 1990s it became all too apparent that the street track was too treacherous for the ever more powerful high performance cars it was attracting. Furthermore, brand-new permanent racing venues in Jerez and Catalunya only rendered the Alcañiz venue an unnecessary risk for competitors and spectators alike. The last event was staged in 2003, but hope was not lost as two years earlier an ambitious new project had already sprouted up in the pipeline. MotorLand Aragon, part of ‘La Ciudad de Motor’ or Motor City, was to be a multifunctional and cutting-edge complex showcasing technology, sport, leisure and culture on a single site.

With the assistance of local institutions, the circuit – which was to become instantly popular with MotoGP™ fans – was designed by Germany’s Hermann Tilke. The rest is history, as they say. 2010 welcomed the MotoGP™, Moto2™ and 125 fields as no less than 70,000 fans packed into the brand-new grandstands. The icing on the cake for Aragon was the post-season IRTA award for Best Grand Prix, thus becoming the first circuit in the history of the World Championship to receive the prize in its inaugural season on the calendar.

The spectators couldn’t complain either, as Spain’s own Pol Espargaro took the very first win at Aragon in the 125 category following a spectacular battle with compatriot Nico Terol. Italy’s Andrea Iannone took the chequered flag in Moto2™ while in the premier class Casey Stoner sealed a popular first win of the season for Ducati. Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden would follow him home, making it two Ducatis and a Honda on the podium.

Second to Stoner in both 2010 and 2011, Pedrosa would seal an all-important victory in 2012 following a pass on Lorenzo’s Yamaha. This would come as the first of four victories for the Repsol Honda rider across the last five races of the campaign – something one can guarantee he would love a repeat of in 2013. Marc Marquez has not been short of Aragon success, either, having sealed the top spot in the Moto2™ race of 2011. May the battle continue…


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