Fancy yourself as pretty handy behind the wheel? Meet 10 of circuit racing’s toughest tracks – the kind that will bring you crashing back down to earth, hopefully not literally.
ISLE OF MAN
When it comes to challenging circuits, the 60.7km Snaefell Mountain Course that hosts the Isle of Man TT each year is the grand daddy. Sadly, every year riders lose their lives attempting to tame it, but such is the allure that no-one questions coming back.
It’s better known for two-wheeled exploits than four, but settle down with a cuppa and watch dumbfounded as Mark Higgins attacks the course to set a production car lap record in a Subaru WRX STI in 2016. It’s insanely fast.
Most of us have ‘’Ring fatigue’ these days. Between car makers constantly quoting lap times and its appearance in every driving game around, it’s easy to lose sight of why it’s so revered in the first place. It’s fast, there’s little run-off, and even if you’ve memorised the 154 turns, you then have to deal with the thousands of bumps.
And there’s the weather, never better illustrated than in one of the most amazing bits of racing footage ever recorded, Leh Keen’s helmet cam during the 2013 Nurburgring 24 Hour.
Every year, when the Japanese GP rolls around, the F1 grid starts getting all giddy and excited. Few places show off a modern F1 car’s abilities better than Suzuka, and unlike most circuits on the calendar, it still punishes mistakes harshly.
Who better to illustrate the correct way to navigate this tricky track than the great Ayrton Senna during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix?
CIRCUIT DE LA SARTHE
There are those that argue Le Mans isn’t the same these days, that the installation of two chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight in 1990 neutered the famous French circuit. That’s all nonsense, of course.
While drivers no longer have to contend with 400km/h+ top speeds, it remains one of the fastest and most difficult tracks in the world that poses plenty of challenges for the likes of today's top-tier LMP1 cars.
The uninformed may sneer at the inclusion of a circuit with only four turns, all of them left. But when you consider Indycars average upwards of 370km/h around the 4km oval you get some idea of the challenge involved.
And there are no gravel traps, so if anything goes wrong you’ll be eating concrete before you can say “oh crap, I’ve lost it”. To get a taste of the flat-out, separated-by-milliseconds nature of Indy 500 racing, here’s the tense final laps of the 2014 Indy 500.
In the pantheon of great racing circuits, only the Nürburgring and Spa are on the same level as the ‘The Mountain’. It’s a cliché, but you can’t appreciate just how steep and blind some sections of the track are until you’ve seen it in person. It gives you a whole new appreciation for the drivers that tackle it at full speed each October.
One of the most amazing videos ever filmed at Bathurst was ex-MOTOR staffer Dean Evans during the Lotus Trophy race in 2005. We don’t know what Deano had for breakfast that morning, but it must have been heavily garnished with brave pills.
When a circuit places permanent yellow flags on one of its corners, you know it’s tricky. So tight is Macau’s hairpin that overtaking is forbidden there. In fact, overtaking is almost impossible everywhere thanks to most of the track being barely wider than a car.
Only the very best conquer the streets of this gambler’s paradise, as it offers zero margin for error. WTCC driver Tom Chilton gives you a commentary on how to tackle this unique circuit.
Jingoism? Not a bit of it. While PI is another location perhaps better known to motorbike fans, its sweeping high-speed layout makes it a stern test of even the best drivers. Whereas tracks like Winton or Sandown can be largely figured out in a day, you always seem to come away from Phillip Island feeling no closer to understanding it than when you started.
Ride with Scotty McLaughlin in a Porsche Carrera Cup car as he shows you the fast line around this magnificent circuit, and gives a graphic illustration on what happens when you slightly overstep the mark in turn one – oops!
Most tracks have one seriously balls-out corner; at Spa you are spoilt for choice. There’s the fearsome Eau Rouge, the flat-out Blanchimont and the super-fast, downhill left-hander Pouhon. Combine these with Spa’s unique weather, where it can be raining on one part of the track and dry on another, and it’s easy to see why it’s loved by fans and drivers.
For a lesson in how to tackle the famous Belgian track without ever pointing in a straight line, check out this video onboard a 1965 Porsche 911 with Roman Caresani.
While the Monaco grand prix circuit may seem nice and friendly with all the million-dollar boats, casinos and picturesque ocean views, it’s extremely difficult to drive around in a pathetic little Fiat 500 let alone a F1 car.
Because Monaco is a street circuit it’s very bumpy and the cambers are all wrong, plus the walls are very close. And solid. So if you muck it up, something’s going to break. And when it rains, things really get dicey, as this onboard from the 2008 Monaco GP proves, riding with Fernando Alonso.
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