While international motor racing is on hiatus in December, January and February (before Daytona at the end of February and the Australian Grand Prix in March), time and money is spent on research and development, constructing new engines and ironing out various car problems. However, for motor sport junkies seeking their racing fix during this three-month period, there are a handful of competitive events that take place around the globe.
Here are five off-season motor races.
The Race of Champions
The format of the Race of Champions has roughly stayed the same since it first began in 1988. The principal aim is to gather the best drivers and champions from a range of motor racing disciplines from around the world and put them together in cars of equal performance to determine who is the champion of champions. In December 2011, the event was held in the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. Previous venues have included Wembley in London, the Stade de France in Paris and also Beijing’s National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, which famously held the 2008 Olympic Games.
Drivers race head-to-head in their own lane in machines like World Rally Cars and dune buggies, against each other and against the clock. This year’s drivers included IndyCar title winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Australian V8 champion Jamie Whincup and a number of other motor racing stars. The Nations Cup, where drivers compete together representing their own country, was won by Team Germany.
The Dakar Rally
Founded in 1979, the Dakar Rally has proven to be a tonic to any motor sport follower temporarily deprived of any sort of four-wheel action. Traditionally starting on New Year’s Day, viewers in Europe would do their best to catch daily highlights on an obscure satellite broadcaster. The event originally started in Paris and would cross Spain, North Africa and eventually finish on the East African coast in Dakar, Senegal. The event is an off-road endurance race, better known as a ‘rally raid’, and since the terrain is notoriously rough, drivers have to compete in specially-modified off-road vehicles which are capable of crossing dunes and rocks across distances of up to 500 miles per day.
After years of trouble within the borders of certain North African countries, organizers couldn’t guarantee the safety of all the participants given the outbreak of terrorist attacks, so the 2008 rally was cancelled and in 2009 was moved to South America. The Dakar Rally now takes place in Chile and Argentina, with races for cars (buggies to small SUVs), bikes and trucks. The event is still one of the most grueling motor sport challenges in the world and over 20 competitors have been killed tackling the daunting event.
Monte Carlo Rally
In 2011, the Monte Carlo Rally celebrated its centenary as one of the most important contests on the four-wheel calendar. Thankfully, rally cars are equipped to compete on snow and ice, because in the hills above Monte Carlo in late January, that’s exactly what you can expect to find.
In the past, competitors would start at various places around Europe and converge in the tiny principality of Monaco, close to the Italian border. Now the rally starts and finishes in Southeast France. If you ever visit the event, make sure you trek to one of the most infamous pieces of Tarmac in the world: the night time stage of the “Col de Turini”. The tortuous, snaking mountain pass high in the Alps has perilous drops one side of the road and unrelenting sheer rock faces on the other. A classic.
Former Grand Prix drivers such as Jacques Villeneuve, Alain Prost and Olivier Panis are regular competitors in the Andros Trophy ice racing series that runs in the Alps. Hundreds of fans line the kilometer-long snowy tracks in sub-zero temperatures watching saloon cars slide sideways on the ice. The Andros Trophy was founded in 1990, with the first event taking place in Serre Chevalier. Since 2010, there have just been two classes of cars: petrol and electric. The petrol cars weigh 950 kg, with their V6 engines producing 350 bhp. The four-wheel drive (and four-wheel steering) cars all use studded tyres and each tyre has 230 studs — all glued on by hand.
The Andros Trophy traditionally ends in the Stade de France in Paris, where 700 tons of ice are used to create the track. There has been the occasional overseas series, such as the one in Sherbrooke, Canada in 2003.
Snowmobile Race – Saalbach Hinterglemm
A number of Formula 1 drivers have been known to compete in the snowmobile race that takes place at the Saalbach Hinterglemm, Austria venue in early December. Racing on tracks similar to the ones designed for cars, drivers head off into the night surrounded by cheering fans trying desperately to stay warm. Back in 2011, returning Formula 1 world champion Kimi Räikkönen took part, but didn’t impress his new employer – Lotus – when he fell off his snowmobile and broke a bone in his wrist.