There are few venues in motor racing that need no introduction. They are the tracks that, by themselves, make the event special. They need no promotion. Fans and drivers alike long to be there. The great cars and drivers of today are competing with not only themselves, but the ghosts of racing’s past. By themselves, corners and straightaways have more history in them than entire lesser tracks. One is a glamorous street circuit; winding Mediterranean public roads the majority of the year. Yet for one week it is turned into motor racing nirvana. One is a purpose built high speed oval with a famous yard of bricks. Here cars average well over 220 mph. One is part purpose built road racing track, part public roads. It has high speed straights and difficult corners with the added challenge of 24 hours of continuous racing. All of them great, all of them unique; and all of them hosting their most famous race within the next 30 days.
With all due respect to other tracks, none can match these 3. Yes, here in America we have tracks like Daytona, Sebring and Laguna Seca. They are all great tracks, but not in the same league as the (forgive my phrasing) “Big 3.” The speed of Indy, the glitz and glamor of Monaco, and the punishment incurred on both man and machine at Le Mans. Only one man has won all three. Graham Hill. Of the currently active drivers, only Juan Pablo Montoya could match that feat. (Editor’s Note: in theory only) And with Juan currently tied up with NASCAR, it seems unlikely they will allow him to chase history. It all gets started this weekend with the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and Le Mans a few short weeks down the road on June 22nd.
Nothing embodies the glamorous world of Formula 1 quite like Monaco. A city on the sea, with luxury homes throughout and massive yachts in the harbor only a select few could ever dream of owning. A city exclusively reserved for the richest of the rich (real estate currently valued at 6k/sq ft), and within that city they have carved out one of the greatest racing circuits of all time. In a city where the riff raff only have one luxury yacht, they don’t shut down their streets for just anybody. Only Formula 1 has the power, the poshness, the joie de vivre (Editor’s Note: I prefer je ne sais quoi) to belong here. But that alone is not what makes Monaco so great. The racing circuit itself is truly amazing. Almost every driver throughout the generations, who has ever driven round it says it is among their favorite tracks to drive. Add the most technically advanced cars in the world and you begin to understand what makes Monaco truly special. It is the premiere race in the world’s premiere racing series.
Indianapolis; Indy, The Brickyard. All synonymous with one thing… Speed! Today’s cars are qualifying at over 225 mph. That is the average over 4 laps of the 2.5 mile oval. The pole position was recently won with an astonishing 228.728 mph average. Simply amazing. Even more so is the fact that this isn’t the track record: Arie Luyendyk in 1996 averaged 237.498 mph in qualifying. From wood, to the famous bricks, to today’s asphalt, Indy has a rich history of amazing races, close finishes and spectacular drivers. My personal favorite was Little Al’s (Al Unser Jr.) win in 1992. 3 years earlier he battled Emerson Fitipaldi, eventually wrecking in the closing laps. He finally broke through in 1992 but only after a fantastic battle with Scott Goodyear. Winning by just 0.0331 seconds! Unser’s dad, Big Al, finished 3rd all while his Uncle, Bobby, was announcing the race for ABC. Incredible.
Le Mans, or more specifically, Circuit de la Sarthe, is 8.5 miles of purpose built race track, and public roads through the French countryside. It has seen its fair share of changes, most notably the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight designed to try and slow cars down. That said, the top cars are still hitting upwards of 220 mph so the jury may still be out regarding the effectiveness. I love the 24 hours of Le Mans. I love the cars, the endurance factor, and the 4 classes all racing at the same time. I love the fact that the top Prototypes are pushing the technology limit in the quest for speed. I love the GT cars because they’re, at their core, stripped down and tweaked versions of cars anybody with the money can go and buy. Yes, the races in recent years have been dominated by Audi in the top class. But beyond that, the GT Racing has been spectacular; often coming down to the last few laps. In a race that lasts a day, that is truly astonishing. Not to mention, Porsche is making its return to Prototype racing next year, and Toyota is improving to a point where they can give the 4 ringed boys a run for their money. A full preview of this year’s twice around the clock classic will be coming your way in the coming weeks so, stay tuned race fans. Le Mans is the perfect blend of the other two. It has the glorious high speeds of Indy and the glamour and technologically advanced cars of Monaco and Formula 1.
Peter Dumbreck’s Flip in a Mercedes at Le Mans in 1999
So there you have it. 3 tracks each hosting 1 of the 3 greatest races of the year. Each venue perfectly suited for its specific race. Man and machine pushing the limits of speed and technology. They are the short list on any Gear Head’s Bucket list.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
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