The month of May is fast approaching and every year there is one special day at the end of the month which holds two of the most famous motorsport races of the season. Sunday, May 26, 2013 plays host to both the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. We celebrate these two momentous events in addition to a number of other classic single-seater auto races of the 2013 season.
The Indianapolis 500
Ever since the first running of the Indy 500 in 1911, the spectacular 500-mile race has been characterized by big crowds, big winnings, high drama, tragedy and controversy on one of the most fearsome single-seater circuits in the world. The 2.5-mile course was originally made out of bricks and today the start/finish line of the ‘Brickyard’ still features a strip of those original bricks. The whole month of May is dedicated to teams and drivers practicing and qualifying for a place on the 33-car starting grid. On race day the spectator attendance at the Indiana oval is over 250,000 making the facility one of the highest-capacity single-day sporting arenas anywhere in the world. Legends are christened at the daunting venue – drivers such as AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – have all been presented the traditional pint of milk for each of their numerous visits to Victory Lane. Billed as ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’ where average lap speeds regularly top 230 mph, winning the Indy 500 is a supreme test of nerve, courage and skill.
The Monaco Grand Prix
The ’round the houses’ single-seater street race is one of the most enduring in motorsport history. First conceived in 1929, this 2.07-mile circuit starts at the harbor front of the small French-speaking Principality, rises up the hill to the famous casino, plunges down through the daunting tunnel where speeds can reach 185mph, before the ribbon of Tarmac snakes back around to the sea. Here multi-million dollar yachts bob about on the Cote d’Azur seafront where the great and the good mingle, and the sound of corks popping off champagne bottles are drowned out by the sound of two dozen 800bhp Formula 1 cars blasting around Monte Carlo’s tortuous, narrow streets. The demanding nature of the track – there are some 39 gear changes a lap (over 3,000 in 78 racing laps) – makes being presented with the trophy from His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco, one of the greatest achievements in racing.
The Macau Grand Prix
At the mouth of China’s mighty Pearl River sits two former European colonies. On the Eastern side is Hong Kong and on the opposite side of the estuary is the smaller Macau, which until 1999 was administrated by the Portuguese. In 1954, racing commenced around the streets of the enclave and an Oriental version of Monaco was born. Like its European counterpart, the Macau Grand Prix quickly became established as a demanding test of skill, as maneuvering a car around the tight, twisty streets is akin to riding a bicycle in your bedroom. In fact one corner, the Melco hairpin, is so tight that overtaking is prohibited as two cars cannot both get around the same corner together. In 1983, the race was first held for one of the sport’s junior categories, Formula 3, and that inaugural GP was won by Ayrton Senna, who went on to great success in Formula 1. Today, all of the future single-seater stars seek to make their name in the annual blue-riband event held amongst the casinos of Macau every autumn.
The Italian Grand Prix
If there is one circuit in the world that is imbued with more passion than virtually any other, it’s the Monza. As the delirious Italian fans, the “tifosi,” sit in the ancient grandstand opposite the pits – they stand and cheer in unison whenever one of their beloved red cars – a Ferrari – roars past. Monza was built in the 1920s, originally with huge banked corners (which now stand as silent, ghostly relics in the Royal park) and long straights that make this one of the fastest circuits on the Formula 1 calendar. The Italian Grand Prix is one of the oldest races, and Monza in the warm, autumnal sunshine is one of the most beautiful racetracks in the world. The weekend is always one of drama, mixed with spectacular food and wine, beautiful women and pride and passion for the Scuderia. And when Ferrari win, as they did in 1988, just a few weeks after the death of their founder Enzo Ferrari, the noise of the crowd for once drowns out the noise of the engines.
The Firestone 550
The one and a half mile high-banked oval in Fort Worth, Texas is one of the most spectacular places to watch Indycar racing as drivers duel within inches – sometimes millimeters of each other – at speeds of over 200mph. To add to the drama, Indycar hosts this single seater auto race on a warm summer Saturday night under dramatic floodlights. The closeness of the wheel-to-wheel racing means that Texas has hosted some of the tightest finishes in all of motorsport and the victory margin is frequently less than a tenth of a second. One of the inevitable consequences of pack racing is the propensity for accidents which can involve a large number of cars, Thankfully, the advances in cockpit safety have significantly reduced the number of injuries, and drivers frequently are able to walk away unharmed. This is a race you can’t take your eyes off for a second.