With the late cancellation of the OMV MaxxMotion NASCAR Show at Autodrom Most due to the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Europe, NASCAR Whelen Euro Series have announced that they will visit Croatia’s Automotodrom Grobnik to replace the spot vacated by Most in the 2020 season calendar.

Yesterday, NASCAR Whelen Euro Series announced that Croatia’s Automotodrom Grobnik will become the new host for the third round of the 2020 season after the massive second wave of COVID-19 that struck Europe led to restrictions that prevented the series to fulfil its scheduled plan to visit Autodrom Most this year.

The second wave of COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented spike in the number of new cases in Europe, with some countries like France receiving an alarmingly high number of 42,032 new cases yesterday. Czech Republic, where Most is located, have enacted lockdowns once again after the country recorded 14,970 new cases on 21 October, a new high for the country.

“In such a challenging and uncertain situation, we all have to be responsible and put safety as the top priority. Having to postpone the NASCAR GP Czech Republic is really sad, but it’s the best decision for everybody. We are already at work with our great partner Autodrom Most to offer our Central Europe fans an even better show next year,” said series President and CEO Jerome Galpin to euronascar.com.

“Due to epidemic restrictions issued by the Czech government, we were forced to close the race track to the public. In this situation, and due to uncertainty of the length of the restrictions, the event cannot be organized,” said Autodrom Most Marketing and Business Director Jana Svobodová.

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series have announced that they would visit Croatia’s Automotodrom Grobnik to replace the spot now vacated by Most. Titled NASCAR GP Croatia, Rijeka would be the third round of 2020 on the same date that Most was initially scheduled to host their round.

Automotodrom Grobnik, better known as Rijeka due to its close proximity to the coastal town of Rijeka, will become the 18th track to host a NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race in the NASCAR era while Croatia will become the 9th country to host a EuroNASCAR race.

“We all have to adapt to this fast changing situation and we are very happy to develop a new event in Croatia with a very motivated partner at Automotodrom Grobnik,” said Galpin on Rijeka’s addition to the calendar.

“The Croatian riviera is just wonderful in this season, Rijeka is a perfect location and Automotodrom Grobnik is a fast, technical and fascinating track. We’re enthusiastic to offer this new challenge to NWES teams and drivers and we very much look forward to the first ever NASCAR GP Croatia.”

Rijeka was built in 1978 as a response to replace the Opatija street circuit, which has grown to become a track too dangerous to race for MotoGP following the death of riders Ulrich Graf and Giovanni Ziggiotto in the 1977 running of the Yugoslav Grand Prix.

The first permanent racing circuit in Yugoslavia – and still Croatia’s only permanent race track, Rijeka would host MotoGP’s Yugoslav Grand Prix from 1978 until 1990. Famous names such as Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, and Kevin Schwantz all experienced glories during Rijeka’s stay in the MotoGP calendar as the track built up a reputation as a fast and fearsome track.  

Unfortunately, the final Yugoslav Grand Prix at Rijeka in 1990, just like the final GP at Opatija in 1977, was a total disaster. By 1990, the race organization and medical care at Rijeka proved to be incredibly inadequate. Riders Christian Sarron and Sito Pons received unprofessional treatment by marshals after they fell out during qualifying and the race respectively, while the 125cc race was shuffled back unceremoniously for the 500cc race after a first corner accident resulted in lengthy red flag.

The worst, however, came during the 250cc race. Rain started to fall with two laps to go but the marshals failed to show the red flag, leading to a general confusion between the riders. Some, such as last-minute replacement rider Darren Milner, believed the race had been stopped while some others kept going thinking that the race was still going.

Reinhold Roth, a veteran in the MotoGP paddock, was one of the riders that believed the latter. Disaster would come when Roth, still going at full speed, came across Milner’s Yamaha at Turns 12-13.

Roth attempted to move to the inside line without knowing that Milner had already been on the inside line, as his vision was somewhat blocked by Helmut Bradl and Luca Cadalora who were right in front of Roth. By the time Roth realized Milner was on the inside, it was too late – Roth slammed into Milner’s bike face-first at full speed while defending 125cc World Champion Àlex Crivillé, who was right behind Roth, fell down trying to avoid the two riders.

Roth miraculously survived the crash, but it came at a major cost. His spine was partially compressed into the base of his skull. He fell in coma for 6 weeks and suffered permanent brain damage. Roth ultimately became hemiplegic and had to stay under a 24-hour care by his family and a health care team that has been assigned to keep Roth’s health in check.

The incidents at Rijeka that year, coupled with the impending collapse of Yugoslavia would ultimately spell the end of Yugoslav Grand Prix. MotoGP dropped the event in 1991 and has never returned to Rijeka since.

After the Yugoslavian Wars, racing at Rijeka – now under part of Croatia – resumed, although lack of funding for infrastructure improvements meant that international racing didn’t return until 2005, when the FIM World Sidecar Championship returned to the track.

Rijeka has hosted a round in the Sidecar Championship since then and the improvements made to the track in 2018, including the track’s first ever repave, ultimately led to Rijeka’s selection to the 2020 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series calendar.

“Automotodrom Grobnik could not imagine a better end of season and this is for sure the first step for our track to have more attractive car events for our public. It is a proof that NWES President/CEO Jerome Galpin recognized all the improvements we did in last years on the track itself but also on the facility. One of our goals is to give support to auto sport in Croatia and in the region.”

“We have great cooperation with HAKS (Croatian Automobile and Karting Federation), and its president Mr. Davorin Štetner believes that working together with us is inevitable for the future of national motorsport and for our drivers to participate in higher level competitions. All of this makes us happy no matter of this crazy year giving us a right to believe that next season will bring new sporting challenges,” said Board Member of Automotodrom Grobnik Robert Žiković.

Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Automotodrom Grobnik.

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