Bob McMurray: Some tracks great, others grate
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The Bathurst 1000 Supercars event served to remind me what a great race track the Mount Panorama circuit is.
In turn that prompted the thought of what makes a great race track, what characteristics or design gives any motor racing circuit a personality or a reputation for — and I apologise in advance for using the word — “awesomeness”.
If it is elevation change, fast challenging corners, close walls and track limits, inbuilt danger, a decent length and being in a picturesque area with great trackside viewing, Mount Panorama ticks pretty much all the boxes.
With it’s 80th birthday this year (opened in April 1938) and still run primarily on public roads, the track design is little changed from the original and for those who push the limits, it can still bite back hard indeed.
Formula 1 was also racing last weekend at another of the “great” race tracks.
Although one of the oldest tracks Formula 1 still visits, Japan’s Suzuka International Racing Course is a masterpiece of design with a unique “figure of eight” layout. Dutchman John Hugenholtz was given the task of designing and building a test track for the Honda Motor Company, by Soichiro Honda.
Many of the “great” characteristics of Mount Panorama apply to Suzuka but, mainly due to the influence of Formula 1 and the many mandatory safety requirements of the sport, the track has been emasculated by the addition of a couple of chicanes; yet it retains its inherent and original character.
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is like a blend of Suzuka and Panorama but, like Suzuka, has had to bow to the demands of practicality and Formula 1, being shortened over the decades from the original almost 15km to a more manageable 7km.
Perhaps the greatest of all, certainly in terms of length and fearsome reputation, is the “old” Nurburging — Nordschleife in Germany — with elevation change, speed and challenging corners, set in a scenic area.
Some tracks simply make for great racing. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Silverstone, Monza and others have no elevation change and little scenic beauty.
What they do have is a layout that promotes blindingly quick, flat-out racing that tests the nerve and courage of any driver.
An overriding commonality among virtually all the great tracks is history. They were built when the restraints of run-off areas, kerbs, chicanes, track width, and other modern “recommendations” were a distant reality.
So why is it none of the new race tracks, especially those built for Formula 1, makes the list of “great”? It seems almost a travesty that racing cars and drivers considered the world’s best, have to endure the politically challenging, rather than physically challenging — tracks such as Russia’s Sochi or Baku in Azerbaijan or the multicoloured car parks in the Middle East.
Obviously design is dependant on terrain, the cash available and the demands of the people who are paying for it, not to mention the crushing regulations imposed in the search for absolute safety, but it is those tracks making for bland, even tedious, television watching. The glorious past can never be recaptured.
Great tracks built in past decades were responsible for many deaths and countless serious injuries and accidents that are, thankfully, comparatively rare now. Great race tracks invariably produce great races.
Surely that is reason enough for those tracks to “live long and prosper” while some pedestrian, “follow the leader” modern facilities fade into obscurity.
The Bathurst 1000 is only “The Great Race” because of the great track on which it takes place.
That name would not apply if the race was held on some faceless, sterile car park.