Populous Magazine 02: Fantasy Racetrack
From the archive: Issue 02, 2010
If one could weave together the most dynamic and infamous racetrack sections from motor sport venues all over the world, what would the resulting course look like? Henry Hope-Frost, from motor racing magazine Autosport, selects his ultimate fantasy racetrack.
What is it that makes a great corner or section of a racetrack or rally stage? Something, surely, that offers both driver and car a serious workout? Gradient, run-off (or lack of it) and speed up to or though the section all add variables that give intrepid racers and their steeds cause for concern. The one key ingredient, however, is reputation. Any part of a track or stage that strikes a little fear, or earns a little respect, is on the list. Here, then, are 10 sections from motor sport venues around the world that do both.
Racetrack: Nurburgring Nordschleife
Town: Nurburg, Germany
Sport: Formula 1
Undeniably the most terrifying racetrack on the planet, the 14-mile Nurburgring Nordschleife has wound its way unforgivingly through Germany’s Eifel mountains since 1926. It took motor racing’s greats years to learn properly, and, even then, they reckoned it could bite you. Perhaps the most infamous section is the blind and curved summit of the Flugplatz. Named after a nearby airfield, the ‘flying place’ was a point on the circuit at which the cars also flew. Evocative images of 1970s grand prix cars off the ground, the whites of drivers’ eyes often visible, are ingrained in fans’ memories. They are images that real purists cherish, for F1 never returned to the Nordschleife after Niki Lauda’s near-fatal shunt in his Ferrari in the 1976 German Grand Prix.
Racetrack: Silverstone Circuit
Town: Silverstone, UK
Sport: Formula 1
The legendary Silverstone Circuit, which hosted the inaugural world championship grand prix back in 1950, has undergone some dramatic developments since then. None more so than in 1991, when the original layout was changed beyond recognition. With drastic alterations to famous corners Becketts, Stowe, Club, Abbey and Woodcote, one of the fastest Formula 1 circuits on the calendar was given a new and exciting look. It was the Becketts complex, however, that created the biggest storm. As soon as the F1 circus first sampled the high-g-force, left-right-left-right S-bends in 1991, they became a favourite amongst drivers and fans. 18 years later, Becketts remains one the best places in the world to watch a grand prix car in its most raw, visceral environment. (Populous is once again upgrading the circuit ready for this years Grand Prix).
Section: Porsche Curves
Racetrack: Circuit de la Sarthe
Town: Le Mans, France
Sport: sports car racing
A relentless series of downhill lefts and rights, the Porsche Curves at Le Mans – home of the world-famous 24-hour sports car marathon – are named after the celebrated German marque that has won a record 16 times in the French endurance classic since 1970. Originally conceived to bypass the dangerous public-road section of Maison Blanche in time for the 1972 event, the new, closed-to-the-public sweepers quickly became the drivers’ favourite section of the 8.5-mile circuit. With 50-plus cars in four different classes doing battle around the clock each June, the narrow, off-camber Porsche Curves offer one of sports car racing’s biggest buzzes – especially at 3am when it’s raining.
Section: Eau Rouge
Racetrack: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
Town: Spa, Belgium
Sport: Formula 1
Since the early days of grand prix racing in the 1920s, the daunting Eau Rouge switchback on Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit remains one of the sport’s biggest challenges. Named after the stream over which it crosses, Eau Rouge presents drivers with a plunging downhill-uphill section and blind summit at Raidillon. And it’s a crucial part of the 4.3-mile Ardennes Forest road circuit because it leads onto a long straight on which top speed is vital to lap time. However, the notoriety of racing’s only real rollercoaster is measured in the number of huge accidents that have befallen many of the top names. The death of young German Stefan Bellof – the Michael Schumacher of the 1980s – added further infamy to this terrifying spectacle.
Section: Fafe jump
Race: Rally of Portugal
Town: Fafe, Portugal
Sport: world rally
World championship rally fans recall with a mixed sense of fascination and horror the images of Group B-spec monsters from Audi, Lancia and Peugeot leaping through the air between thick walls of Portuguese spectators. Those mid-1980s images of daredevil rally aces threading their 600bhp, turbo-charged, four-wheel– drive specials between suicidal fans came to define an era in which manufacturer budgets and car speeds escalated out of control. High-profile fatalities – among drivers and fans – soon signalled the end, however. When local driver Joaquim Santos ploughed into the crowd during the 1986 Rally of Portugal, killing six fans, the governing body put their own foot down. For 1987, cars were neutered and spectators forced to stand back.
Section: The Corkscrew
Racetrack: Laguna Seca Raceway
Town: Monterey, California, USA
Sport: Indycar and MotoGP
Built in 1957 in the hills of California’s Monterey peninsula, Laguna Seca remains one of the last bastions of driver challenges in North America.
The 2.2-mile circuit features a variety of corners and, significantly, massive elevation change.
The highpoint on the lap, for drivers and spectators, is the aptly-named Corkscrew, a stomach-churning drop into a left-right S-bend, approached uphill with a blind entry-point.
Although Formula 1 has never visited, The Corkscrew has given American Indycar aces and world championship motorcycle stars plenty to think about over the years. Sadly, the death of Penske Indycar top name Gonzalo Rodriguez during practice in 1999 only added to The Corkscrew’s reputation.
Section: Bunnings Forest Complex
Race: Rally Australia
Town: Bannister, Australia
Sport: world rally
When Rally Australia joined the world championship schedule in 1989, the event soon became popular among competing crews.
The flat-out gravel roads, lined by enormous, and merciless, eucalyptus trees, offered a massive challenge to drivers. The familiar clay-orange dust plumes thrown up by cars added to the appeal, especially for photographers. Add in a series of enormous cliff-edge jumps – like those found in the Bunnings Forest complex series of stages – and a driver’s bravery, not to mention his car’s strength, is measured by the amount of visible daylight between road and car. British heroes Colin McRae and Richard Burns, world champions in 1995 and 2001 respectively, never disappointed in the their quest to fly the furthest.
Section: Turn 1
Racetrack: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Town: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Enshrined in motorsport’s hall of fame for 100 years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a four-turn assault on the senses for the best American and European drivers since Carl Fisher commissioned its construction from 3.2 million bricks back in 1909.
The Brickyard, as it’s known, was paved soon after, but a yard of bricks still exists on the starting line.
What remain fully intact, however, are the banked curves of the 2.5-mile oval circuit. Angled at nine degrees, the four corners have ensured huge speeds and a heart-in-the-mouth experience for the generations of hardy souls who have tried – not always successfully – to tame them.
Section: The Dipper
Racetrack: Mount Panorama Circuit
Town: Bathurst, Australia
Sport: V8 touring cars
The historic Mount Panorama Circuit can justifiably claim to be one the world’s most picturesque and demanding road courses. Constructed in 1938, the track climbs and plummets for almost four miles on the hillside outside the university town of Bathurst in New South Wales. The circuit really hit the headlines in 1963 when Australia’s biggest saloon car race, the Armstrong 500, moved there from Phillip Island. Quickly establishing itself, the event soon became known as the Bathurst 1000, with the country’s top racers battling it out for Holden or deadly rival Ford. At the top of the course is The Dipper, a wheel-lifting, left-hand plunge at which even the best can come unstuck. Nine-time race-winner and Australian folk hero Peter Brock often drove beyond the limit through The Dipper, just to remind himself where it was.
Section: Loews Tunnel
Town: Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Sport: Formula 1
The most famous of all the grand prix circuits, the round-the-houses layout of Monaco was inspired by local cigarette manufacturer Antony Nogues in 1929. 80 years later, this narrow ribbon of asphalt remains largely unchanged, save for the addition of a harbour-front chicane in 1986 to slow the cars and a repositioning of the cramped pit lane. Perhaps the most daunting part of this sinuous two-mile track is the tunnel that feeds traffic back onto the seafront from the heart of the principality. With a flat-out, right-hand corner to contend with – in darkness! – drivers keep their throttles nailed and their fingers crossed as they plunge downhill back into the Mediterranean sunlight. Amazingly, in 56 Monaco grands prix since 1950 there has only been one fatality – Lorenzo Bandini – perishing in 1967 at the wheel of a Ferrari.