Motor Racing is one of those sports that divides people. Some think the endless laps are boring, while the other half see something different in every twist and turn. I’m going to assume you fall into the second group, and can share my appreciation of a really good racing circuit.
What makes a great circuit? Hairpin turns, scary gradients, super-fast straights? How about spectacular settings or years of motor racing tradition? Our list of the Top 10 Motor Racing Circuits has all these things and more!
10. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
To look at the layout of this track, you wouldn’t really think much of it – it’s an oval, with four round corners and nothing else, but it has an impressive history. Built in 1909, it was the first “Speedway” in the world and saw drama from its first racing event. Halfway through the first 250mile race on August 19, Louis Chevrolet got a stone in the face which smashed his goggles and temporarily blinded him. Then Wilfred Bourque flipped his car and crashed into a fence post, killing both him and his mechanic. After a disastrous first day, officials threatened to cancel the rest of the event, but the second day passed without accidents and some speed records were broken. Then on the third day, as people gathered for a 350mile grand finale, Charlie Metz’s tyre blew out, causing him to crash into fenceposts, killing two spectators and his mechanic. Ten laps later, Bruce Keen also crashed into a bridge support, thanks to a pothole in the track.
Luckily, the safety record at the track has much improved since those dramatic first days! It is now the highest-capacity stadium-type facility in the world, with a permanent capacity of 257,325, and it is home to the Indianapolis 500mile race, as well as the Brickyard 400.
9. Circuit de Spa Francorchamps
Now this is a circuit in a beautiful setting. Among the rolling hills of Belgium, this is known as one of the most challenging tracks in the world, due to its twisting, hilly nature. Originally, the track used normal roads, around three towns with houses and farms right next to the track, It was fast, exciting but also deadly and there were several fatalities in the 1960s, including two driver deaths in 15 minutes at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, along with a severe injury for Stirling Moss. A boycott of the Grand Prix in 1969 led to some additional safety measures, but these were only partially effective and there were more deaths during the 1973 and 1975 24 Hours of Spa races. Additionally, in 1972, a warning went up above the noise of the race – “Look out for body parts at the Masta Kink”. Driver Jochen Mass heeded the warning and arrived at the kink, expecting car parts all over the road. He was appalled to find out it was actually human body parts, due to the death of a marshal.
Unsurprisingly, the popularity of the track dwindled and a shortened track was opened in 1981, with considerably fewer fatalities, but the track remains extremely challenging and the unpredictable Belgian weather doesn’t help!
8. Targa Florio
Another challenging European race, this was run on the Circuito Piccolo delle Modenie in Sicily. The circuit was full of mountain roads and hairpin bends and was one of Europe’s most important races in the mid 1920s. By 1973, however, concerns were being voiced about the safety of the course, notably by Helmut Marko who called the track “totally insane.” Two fatalities and several other accidents in the race that year meant that the event lost international status, and continued being run as a national event until another 2 deaths in 1977 forced police to intervene and stop the race. Since then, it has continued as a rallying event.
7. Mount Panorama
If sharp gradient changes make a circuit interesting, then this Australian course has it sown up. It’s on a gradient of 174m, and all set against the scenic backdrop of New South Wales countryside. The track is all public roads, which are only closed on race days. Pity the people whose homes are only accessible from the circuit!
As you’d expect from such a spectacularly sloping course, it has seen its share of accidents. Since the inaugural Australian Grand Prix in 1938, there have been 18 deaths on the circuit (16 drivers, 2 spectators) although that includes Denny Hulme, who suffered a heart attack behind the wheel, which can’t be blamed on the course unless it was just too exciting!
Mount Panorama is near the town of Bathurst, which is notable for its resident Big Thing, the Big Gold Panner.
6. Laguna Seca
This course was built on a dry lagoon, and is chiefly famous for it “corkscrew” turn at turns 8 and 8a, giving it a rollercoaster feel. It also has the double-apex “Andretti Hairpin”, named after Formula 1 champion Mario Andretti.
For a track with such challenging turns, it has seen relatively few accidents, although Uruguayan driver Gonzalo “Gonchi” Rodríguez was killed during practices in 1999, which caused the installation of run-offs at that point. It is now safe enough that last year, a Ferrari crashed and came off the track at the Corkscrew and the driver walked away unharmed.
The track features in many video games, including Gran Turismo, but is significantly different from real life.