Ask anybody what makes a motorsport event truly special and almost everyone will talk about noise and atmosphere, perhaps with a bit of heritage thrown in. But picking just six of the best? That’s really hard. Anyway, after a lot of head-scratching, we’ve finally done it. Here are the six events that we reckon every aficionado needs to visit:
1. Indy 500
Built in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a staple of the American scene and the 500-mile race – traditionally taking place over the Memorial Day weekend in late May – is one of the biggest, most prestigious events on the calendar. And it’s easy to see why: modestly billed as ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing’.
The build-up to the Indy 500 spans the entire month of May, with qualifying taking place two weeks prior to the actual race. With speeds of over 225mph, qualifying is ruthless and cares little for reputations of driver and teams, as double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso from Spain found out last year when he sensationally failed to make the 33-car grid. Hasta la vista.
2. Monaco GP
The unique spectacle of the Monaco Grand Prix normally takes place on the same weekend as the Indy 500, albeit several hours before due to the time difference. Which surely makes that Sunday the greatest racing day of the year? One of the very few circuits to have featured in every Formula 1 season – before being cancelled this season due to the coronavirus outbreak – Monaco stands out as one of the most luxurious, and gloriously ludicrous, events of any sporting calendar.
The fact is, if it were introduced tomorrow, it would never have been allowed. While the tight confines of the circuit make overtaking difficult, the atmosphere is second to none. And you don’t have to be made of money to attend either. Thursday practice and Saturday qualifying ticket prices range between €60 and €130 while Friday’s non-F1 action is free. Perch yourself at the top of the Rocher near the palace or at one of the many grandstands and you’re guaranteed to be left in awe of the speed, noise and atmosphere. There’s nowhere like Monaco.
3. Daytona 500
If the Indy 500 is the stand-out event for single seater racing in the US, then Daytona is the stock car jewel in the crown. While NASCAR attendance has dipped in recent years, the Daytona 500 – dubbed the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing – has always delivered and is one of the most televised motorsport events in the world.
Spectating areas are plentiful for fans as they watch more than 40 cars bash the hell out of each other over 500 miles. And what’s even better, is that they are able to marvel at the race-winning car – in the condition in which finished the race – at their leisure for a year in the Daytona 500 Experience museum, situated adjacent to the circuit. One for the ultimate road trip.
4. Dakar Rally
A true test of endurance for both competitors and machinery. While the gruelling marathon rally now takes place a long way from its African origins, it still holds a fierce reputation of being one of the world’s toughest endurance events.
Currently based in Saudi Arabia after a stint in South America, the Dakar is best watched on TV rather than in person, due to its desert environment and incredibly long stages (although you can attend if you’re brave enough). Regardless of where it is held, the scenic views are superb and the
challenge for the cars, trucks, bikes and quads competing is as close to an Iron Man for engines as you can get.
5. Bathurst 1000
Australians love their motorsport and head to the romantically-named Mount Panorama circuit as far as a week in advance, camping at the top of the circuit to overlook famous bends such as Reid Park, McPhillamy and Skyline.
There are 23 corners in total and very little run-off, so this makes it a proper old-school test of Aussie grit for the V8 stock cars and their drivers. The race lasts around six hours and can throw up any number of eventualities, but the real value comes in the epic Top 10 Qualifying Shootout. This is where the cars are at their fastest and the drivers at their peak, in search of a top grid spot. Bathurst is more than a simple race weekend, it’s an annual pilgrimage. Get there, one day, if you can.
6. Isle of Man TT
The TT is the pinnacle of motorcycle road racing. Set on the public roads of the island, riders from all over the world tackle the natural elements – bumps, trees, bushes, lampposts and even houses – in search of the quickest time. As a time trial it’s a race against the clock rather than other riders, but most of all, it’s simply a gob-smacking spectacle.
Bikes reach unthinkable speeds, lifting off the ground several times per lap, and riders occasionally have to duck to avoid hitting houses, walls, and street signs around blind corners. Those are probably the best viewing spots in motorsport. It’s as close to the action (and the notion of gladiatorial combat) as you can possibly get in the modern era, and the danger is always there. But it’s an adrenaline-filled experience for spectators as much as it is for the competitors themselves. You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself