September 22, 2008 The Ascari Race Resort seems to have been transplanted from a motorsport enthusiast's wildest playboy fantasies into a rolling valley among southern Spain's magnificent Andalusian mountains. An immaculate, 5.425km, FAI-compliant private racetrack awaits its wealthy patrons with 25 demanding and technical turns per lap, some designed to replicate famous turns from F1 tracks around the world. A fleet of hire cars that ranges from a "beginner" race-prepped Lotus Elise up to ex-Formula One machinery sits growling in the pits beside a full-time pit crew, tempting the anointed and the unworthy alike. And in a world first, Ascari's seven-star hotel complex includes serious entertainment, luxury and recreation to keep the whole family occupied as you exorcise your speed demons on the tarmac. As Fernando Alonso described it: "Unusual, exciting, beautiful."
The setting is fairy-tale beautiful - an undulating green valley among the mountains and oaks of southern Spain - and the accommodation is pure luxury, but the Ascari Race Resort's key attraction is one of the most brutally challenging racetracks ever laid out. In 5.4km there's 13 right-hand and 12 left-hand turns - 25 in total, compared with, say the 16 turns of Barcelona's Catalunya circuit, which hosts both Formula One and MotoGP races. There's also a lot of elevation and camber changes, and a couple of points where the quicker cars and bikes can get airborne - which adds up to a track that's very difficult to memorize and master.
The man behind the whole facility is Klass Zwart, a highly successful entrepreneur, racer and oil industry engineer who is no slouch behind a steering wheel - in fact, he holds the current lap record around the Ascari track despite several current F1 drivers having already enjoyed it. Zwart founded Ascari in Britain to create his own ultimate supercar - which he quickly achieved with the 220mph Ascari KZ1, which exploded out of the starting blocks straight into the top five fastest cars ever punted around Top Gear's test track.
The idea of building the perfect private racetrack resort had always been one of Zwart's goals, and after flirting with the idea of building a track near the Ascari factory in Aberdeen, Zwart decided on southern Spain as the area with the perfect mix of climate, accessibility and sheer, jaw-dropping beauty.
Zwart directed the design of the track to loosely emulate some of his favourite corners - the Karrousel, Eau Rouge, Paddock Hill... One high-speed Daytona-style banked corner produces so much g-force at pace that Zwart says an un-named ex-F1 driver lost his lunch trying to navigate it.
Ascari keeps a fleet of vehicles ready for visitors, from race-kitted roadcars up to the Le Mans-style, 600bhp Ascari LMP900 and a terrifying 750bhp ex-Bennetton F1 car. the resort claims to be able to procure just about anything you could wish to drive on the circuit, given time and sufficient credit card headroom. Alternatively, visitors can ship their own vehicles early to the circuit where the full-time pit crew can prepare them for serious driving, plus perform maintenance and repairs.
It's not the only private racetrack around - but it does stand out for the fact that it lives up to both the "race" and "resort" elements of its name. Recognizing that even the most fervent motorsports maniacs usually have families who may not be such petrol-heads, Zwart has equipped the track with a ten-villa luxury hotel, business center, health spa, beauty centre, driving range, clay shooting range, quadbike and go-kart tracks, pools, bars and helicopter pads to ferry visitors the 15 minutes to the nearest gorgeous Spanish beach.
While memberships cost just over US$162,000 plus a $6500 annual fee (entitling members to 50 track days, of which up to 20 can be presented as gifts), the track is also open for one-off experiences, race schools and corporate events hosting up to 400 people. The track has already featured as the background for some prominent vehicle launches, including the 2006 Ducati Monster S2R - check out this road test review from Superbike Planet, in which the track itself almost overshadows the bike.
For an idea of just how demanding the track is, see the following video, which shows a Hayabusa-engined Radical SR3 racecar getting around at a pace some 20 seconds slower than the 1:49.7s Zwart has achieved in the Benetton F1 car. Phenomenal stuff.