An Introduction To Dutch Vrije Standaard Racing

Exploring the mad world of speedy scaffolding.

3y ago
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The history.

The noble sport of grass track racing (Autocross) has a long and varied history in the Netherlands. It started out in life as a simple friendly contest between farmers, who pitted disused cars against each other on simple circle tracks in the farmlands.

Modifications in those early post war days were minimal. Much like the more professional American variant (NASCAR) the cars competing were simply stripped of their interiors and glass surfaces, and rolled out onto the track. In extreme cases, the front and rear sections were cut off, and replaced by large metal girders forming a primitive crash structure.

A typical autocross car in the early days of the sport.

A typical autocross car in the early days of the sport.

At the time, the secondhand car market was flooded with large body-on-frame cars of British and American manufacture, which had become largely obsolete in a market where life revolved around being as frugal as possible.

Most families couldn't afford to run the cars, and really had no need for them either. As a result, these behemoths ended up on disused fields slamming chucks of metal off of each other in amateur races.

Big rear wheel drive cars were a mainstay of the sport for decades.

Big rear wheel drive cars were a mainstay of the sport for decades.

Over the years the cars started adapting to their new role as dirty snarling racing machines. But by the 1970’s rudimentary roll cages, seat belts, helmets and strengthened body shells were already a common sight.

As time went on, the massive lumbering rear-wheel drive monsters slowly disappeared. In their place lighter, more agile and faster cars took to the stage as they filled the scrapyards. As the auto industry switched to front wheel drive in the late 1970's and early 1980's, autocross grids slowly followed suit as the cars went through their normal life cycle.

Cars like the Volkswagen Golf would dictate the sport's direction in the 1980's.

Cars like the Volkswagen Golf would dictate the sport's direction in the 1980's.

By the time peppy little hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf, Opel Kadett, Ford Escort and Peugeot 205 started to be discarded by the general public, the sport was transformed. XRi, GSi and GTi were the magic words in this era, as plenty of hot hatches received a new life as weekend racing heroes.

Interest in the sport among Dutch youths increased during this time, as it offered them a cheap opportunity for a fun weekend of intense racing. Any farm kid could simply buy up his grandma's old Escort, strip it down, bolt some scaffolding inside and have a go.

An early Vrije Standaard car based around a Mk1 Golf shell.

An early Vrije Standaard car based around a Mk1 Golf shell.

Fast forward another 20 years, and the playing field changed completely. In typical motorsport fashion, competitors in the Standaard (Stock) class began modifying their cars to increase performance as well as safety. Limited slip differentials, souped up engines and severely strengthened chassis threatened the affordable and straightforward nature of the Standaard category.

As is plain to see, a modern Vrije Standaard chassis retains only the roof and some suspension parts from the donor.

As is plain to see, a modern Vrije Standaard chassis retains only the roof and some suspension parts from the donor.

In response to this development, a new category was called into life in 1992, the Vrije Standaard (“Free Standard” = Unlimited) class. These cars were allowed extensive performance improvements, and were only limited by a few boundaries.

The engine was limited to a maximum of 5 cylinders and 3 liters of displacement, forced induction was however allowed without and equivalency formula. In essence, this meant drivers were free to use anything from a naturally aspirated Opel C20XE 16V 2.0L four cylinder, to a 3.0L turbo from a Porsche 968.

The radiator had to be mounted in the back of the car to protect it from impacts, a safer racing fuel cell needed to be fitted as well as a regulation roll cage and an approved racing bucket seat. Everything else could be modified as the owner saw fit.

The rear-mounted radiator on my father's car, a key element of a Vrije Standaard design.

The rear-mounted radiator on my father's car, a key element of a Vrije Standaard design.

The new class provided a platform for drivers with bigger budgets to go crazy, while the true amateurs could continue in the cheaper unmodified category. Vrije Standaard was only adopted in the Northern provinces of Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe and Noord-Holland. Elsewhere in the country Toerwagens (Touring cars) was established, a class vaguely similar to the current RallyX cars.

The freedom of the new regulations meant anything was possible, but once again progress was made slowly and steadily. Many drivers simply souped up their Standaard car a bit and crossed over, but this strategy was quickly made obsolete by more specialized machinery. Weight reduction was the major concern, and it was dealt with in a rather agricultural manner.

The Audi eventually morphed into a 260 horsepower turbocharged brute.

The Audi eventually morphed into a 260 horsepower turbocharged brute.

I witnessed this first hand as a wee lad back in 1999. My father had taken me to pick up an immaculate 1985 Audi 80 with a rare 2.3L carburated 5-cylinder engine. Upon bringing it home on a trailer he received praise all around from the neighbors for his snazzy new car. He parked it in the backyard, and to my shock and horror pulled out an angle grinder and promptly cut the entire rear section off.

The modern era.

By the early 2000’s power had risen from 150-200 horsepower to over 330 for the fastest cars in the field in a very short time. Sequential shift gearboxes, racing differentials, turbocharging and expensive suspension systems from Reiger and Proflex drove the speed up massively.

Along with the speed, the price of building a competitive car exploded, with some cars costing well over €50,000. The banning of four wheel drive instated during this time did little to slow the cars.

This Volvo C30 roofed machine is powered by a billet aluminium 340 horsepower naturally aspirated four cylinder.

This Volvo C30 roofed machine is powered by a billet aluminium 340 horsepower naturally aspirated four cylinder.

With the large amounts of cash brought in by private business owners floating around, specialized tuning companies turned their focus to what once was a humble hobby. The slightly tweaked road engines making modest power were outgunned by purpose built full blown race engines. Although the rules stipulated a road engine base, the front runners interpreted this rule rather loosely.

A Subaru EJ20-engined car was also seen, rumored to possess as much as 450 horsepower.

A Subaru EJ20-engined car was also seen, rumored to possess as much as 450 horsepower.

The increased financial freedom and technological possibilities made moving away from the traditional Volkswagen and Opel engines a lot easier. Soon one exotic concept after another was tried. Turbochargers made their debut joined to Audi’s five cylinder, and soon found their way to massively powerful Saab, Volkswagen, Volvo and even Subaru engines.

My father even experimented with a VW 1.9 TDI diesel-powered car, which proved unsuccessful due to the lack of funds to buy a suitable gearbox. Naturally aspirated 2.0L 4 cylinder engines akin to Formula 3 spec still dominated however, with Opel, VW, Volvo, Renault, Ford and even Mercedes-Benz represented.

The danger.

Unsurprisingly, the massively increased speeds lead to many various horrifying accidents. The technological arms race had seen the speeds surpass the simple tracks where the cars were still competing. 

Winsum, the nearest autocross track.

Winsum, the nearest autocross track.

Small farming communities still hosted the events, and the venues were still hastily converted meadows surrounded by deep watery ditches. The sport’s governing body introduced stricter regulations calling for improved roll cages and mandatory FIA-approved fire proof overalls to aid safety.

The improved safety measures were more than welcome, but could not prevent another string of accidents. Competition on track was fierce, and a loving tap on the back was still tolerated. In the old days this might have resulted in a slow and awkward spin and a very annoyed Dutchman.

The pace of the new machines however escalated the dangers of such a minor move. Now a car brought off balance could easily snap into an uncontrollable cartwheel and end up upside down in a water filled trench. Stranded cars could also suffer impacts much harder than before if they were overlooked. 

Stricter punishment of unsportsmanlike behavior has been enforced to counter this problem, and it has been reasonably successful. To prevent the drivers from inadvertently drowning, the ditches are now drained before every event. In an effort to protect the crowd from flying debris, aluminium fencing now lines the tracks, where before there was little more than a single rope.

My car has taken a beating as well. This is it after a series of rolls in the hands of its previous owner.

My car has taken a beating as well. This is it after a series of rolls in the hands of its previous owner.

Despite the safety issues the Vrije Standaard category remains one of the fastest in the sport, second only to the single seater Super Kever (Super Beetle) and Sprinter categories. Dwindling numbers caused by the economic malaise of the financial crisis have since been restored, and it always makes for exciting racing.

The races.

Autocross follows a very similar format to rally cross. Each event consists of three to four heats, contested over around 8 laps depending on the length of the specific track, and the time allotted based on the number of overall entrants in all classes.

The points scored in these heats are then added up at the end. If enough cars have survived the day's racing, a selection is made of the top drivers based on their finishing positions. These drivers compete for cash prizes and trophies in a class final, with the top 5 in the scoring range. Should the grid be thinned out by retirements, the leftover cars automatically qualify for the final.

Race day is usually on Saturdays, and the races are typically run between 12:00 and 18:00, depending on the amount of incidents during the day. Each class alternates through a predetermined schedule, with Vrije Standaard usually last on the roster. As they are usually the fastest cars, and the tracks are just grassy fields, the slower cars are used to plow the surface before the big guns come to town. 

Scrutineering is handled about an hour for the race, where stewards check the car's safety features, the driver's equipment and the car's ability to brake in a straight line. However, Vrije Standaard drivers are usually left alone after the first race, as their cars are built to a much higher standard and they are part of a small, well-known group.

My car is in the process of receiving a sweet Drivetribe livery with stickers supplied by DT's own James King.

My car is in the process of receiving a sweet Drivetribe livery with stickers supplied by DT's own James King.

Entree fees are generally around 10 euros for adults, and less for children below twelve years old. Food and beverages are readily available from catering trucks and stand at trackside, making sure the crowd stays well hydrated and fed. A cheap PA system broadcasts race commentary, though the engines usually drown the poor fellow out, and the occasional 80's music is available during breaks. In all, it's a fun day out for all involved.

I close out this article with a fantastic onboard video taken several years ago, giving you a good taste of the manic nature of Vrije Standaard racing. This tribe will be all about the season to come, and the way I got there.

This will include a series of build posts to be released over the coming days. Additionally, I will post a detailed look at both cars complete with a technical run-through and the obligatory engine sound videos. When race day finally comes, expect a full recap and photo report, as well as a peek at the high-tech weaponry used by my rivals.

I hope you enjoyed this little intro piece, and are as excited as I am to dive deep into the mad world of Vrije Standaard.

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Comments (14)

  • This is so cool and amazing!

    If you think the World Rallycross Championship is crazy, this takes crazy up to eleven!

      3 years ago
  • Really good to see you're making a niche, this certainly seems interesting and I hope more people hop in on this mad world! Best of luck Dylan

      3 years ago
  • Never heard of this type of racing before, but my God, it looks like epic fun! All the very best of luck buddy! Thanks to for reposting this to my tribe :)

      3 years ago
    • Haha no problems Angelo, they're speed machines after all :D

        3 years ago
    • Thanks Angelo. It'll be a learning year for me at best though. Hopefully I'll get some mileage in to prepare me for next season!

        3 years ago
  • Whats the average 0-60 time on one of these?

      3 years ago
    • Nobody has a functional speedo in one of these. And at some tracks you might never reach it. So no clue.

        3 years ago
  • Can't wait to see your beast in action!

      3 years ago
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