There are certain racetracks that stir the emotions and imagination of race fans more than others: Monaco, Indy, Daytona, Monza, LeMans. We could go on, so here at Drive Kulture we needed to establish some guidelines to narrow the list to the 5 greatest. For starters, the tracks have to be currently used for competitive racing. Secondly, the rankings are based on the existing circuit layout. As such, magnificent yet deadly speed palaces such as Avus in Berlin, which closed in 1998, and Monza, which has been necessarily slowed with chicanes, did not make the cut. Nor did the course for the Millie Miglia, which is currently run as a historic car parade. So, with that, here are Drive Kulture’s Top 5 Racetracks.
5. Goodwood – England
As with many racetracks in England, Goodwood began life as a WWII airfield. The Goodwood Estate held a Royal Air Force base, one that played a major role in the Battle of Britain. After the war, the Duke of Richmond, whose property the base was on, built a racetrack around the field’s perimeter. Opened in 1948, the track hosted the top cars, such as the GT-40, and drivers, such as Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart, of the day. As the speeds of the cars climbed though, concerns arose that the track was too fast, and the circuit was closed in 1966.
Fast forward to 1998, and The Earl of March, the Duke of Richmond’s grandson, decided to refurbish and reopen the track for historic racing. Every September since, Goodwood hosts the 3-day Goodwood Revival, in which the cars, and some of the drivers of the racetrack’s era compete. The grounds of the track are designed to replicate the 1940s – 1960s, and the majority of fans dress in period attire. The Revival is a step back in time, and Drive Kulture highly recommends a visit by any race fan.
So why does Goodwood make our list, aside from the Revival itself? First and foremost, the track design is essentially untouched from when it was closed in 1966. In other words, it is lightning fast. It is rare that one can still see cars competing on a track that has not been changed in 50 years. And they do compete. True, it is historic racing, but someone forgot to tell the drivers that their cars are worth millions of dollars. They drive them incredibly hard, and having attended several Revivals, it is some of the most competitive racing we have seen. The lack of aerodynamics, coupled with the track design, create close racing with non-stop passing. Just check out YouTube.
4. Spa-Francorchamps – Belgium
If there is a track defined by one corner, Spa is it, and the corner is Eau Rouge. Eau Rouge is a fast, steep, uphill right-hander that pushes drivers down into their seats. Radillon, a left-hander at the top of the hill, immediately follows. The Eau Rouge/Radillon complex is one of the most intimidating corners in racing.
Opened in 1921, Spa has undergone many transformations in attempts to slow speeds and increase safety. It started life as a 15km racetrack, and built a fast and deadly reputation. The Masta Kink, a high-speed chicane in between two long straightaways, is still remembered as one of the most fearsome corners of any track. It was Jackie Stewart’s crash at the Masta Kink in 1966 that was a catalyst for his safety campaign. Before the track was reconfigured, Henri Pescarolo set a record of 163mph average speed in a Matra 670B.
The track was shortened in 1979 to roughly its current 7km, 20-turn layout. And despite modern F1 cars being able to take Eau Rouge flat out, it remains a difficult circuit with sharp elevation changes, fast and challenging corners, such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, and changing weather conditions. Spa is a highlight of the F1, WEC and other racing series’ calendars.
3. Monaco – Monte Carlo
Jet Set. Royalty. Super Yachts. Super Models. James Bond. All these things come to mind when one thinks of Monte Carlo, and so does Grand Prix racing. Since 1929, this tiny principality on the Mediterranean Riviera between France and Italy has hosted the crown jewel in Formula One racing, the Monaco Grand Prix. Running through the heart of the city, past the world famous casino, through the tunnel, and down along the coast past the harbor, it is a breathtakingly beautiful setting for a race. Having walked the track, it is amazing that F1 cars can race on such a narrow strip of road.
Monaco is fast for a street circuit, has significant elevation changes, and no runoff. According to Nelson Piquet, it is “like trying to cycle round your living room.” The greats, such as Graham Hill, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and Michael Schumacher have excelled here. From 1984 to 1993, no one won except for Prost and Senna. Does Monaco always put on the most competitive race? No. But it combines everything we love about auto racing…glamour, speed, challenge, elegance, history, and glory.
2. Circuit de la Sarthe (LeMans) – France
“Racing is life… everything before and after is just waiting.” Steve McQueen said this in LeMans, the best racing movie ever made (at least until Rush). And it sums up what is arguably the greatest race on a great racetrack. The Circuit de la Sarthe, commonly referred to as LeMans, has hosted the 24 Hours of LeMans since 1923. While undergoing safety changes since then, the track remains a 14km, fast, unforgiving test for drivers and cars. The 6km Mulsanne Straight allows the cars to really stretch their legs, despite two chicanes being added in 1990. Today’s LMP1s, the top division competing in the 24 hours, average lap speeds around 140mph.
The list of cars and drivers that have excelled at LeMans read like an auto racing Hall of Fame. Phil Hill, Mike Hawthorn, AJ Foyt, Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Dan Gurney…Jaguar D-Type, Aston Martin DBR1, Ford GT40, Porsche 917, Ferrari 250. LeMans continues to be a proving ground for manufactures and a test of mettle for drivers. After 90 years, it remains a circuit that demands the best from man and machine.
1. Nurburgring Nordschleife – Germany
21km, 154 turns, 1,000 feet of elevation changes. Need we say more? Built in 1927, the Nordschleife is the ultimate racetrack. Drivers dubbed it Green Hell. It was home of the German Grand Prix until 1976, but safety standards were very sub-par. This was no more evident than in Niki Lauda’s terrible crash that year, when he had to be pulled from his flaming car by other drivers, not fire marshals. The track was just too big for adequate safety personnel. That was the last year of the German Grand Prix on the Nordschleife, and now a smaller, more modern Nurburging hosts the race. Top-tier sports cars raced on the Nordschleife until 1983, when Stefan Bellof set the track record at 6 minutes, 11 seconds in a Porsche 956. Today, the Nordschleife is still used for racing, while also serving as a test track for production cars and being open to the public.
Pictures and videos from grand prix and sports car races here are truly amazing. Not only are there over 150 turns, including the 270-degree banked Karusell, drivers had to control their cars in flight, as all four wheels would leave the ground over several crests, such as Flugplatz. There was hardly any runoff and, given the tracks size and location in the Eifel Mountains, weather could easily be a factor.
The Nordschleife remains an ultimate driving challenge, and therefore is Drive Kulture’s #1 racetrack.