|Motor racing on the continent|
|GOING TO MONACO - Chris Amon in the hot spring of southern France|
|As each european season begins I receive numerous letters from readers who are planning a holiday on the Continent and wish to take in a motor race while they are there. Quite often they ask for suggestions about how and where to watch, not knowing the circuit or the conditions. At other times in my correspondence I receive letters from readers who have made a trip to a Continental motor race and the whole thing has been a ghastly failure, and they have seen nothing at all. They usually finish their letters by saying "it's all right for you with a special track pass ... etc, etc"
At the majority of the circuits I spend some of the practice time in public enclosures, partly to get an appreciation of what the paying customers are getting for their money, but mostly because the right places afford a better view of driving than can be obtained from the pits, the press stand or the edge of the track. Unfortunately, it is not possible to be in such places on race day as you cannot keep closely in touch with the race, from the point of view of writing a story. This necessity of gaining facts and details as the race is in progress means keeping in close touch either in the pits or the press stand, where information is delivered and some of the most exciting races are in reality only seen in the imagination. Having watched at some of the exciting points during practice it is not difficult to visualise what is going on during the race.
You cannot be everywhere, and I detest pocket-handkerchief circuits where you see everything going on in an arena; they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination and often there is so much happening all around that you need Cinema-scope vision to take it all in. What usually happens is that while you are watching the left side of the arena something interesting is happening on the right side and you miss it. It is a bit like the circus, where one ring is enjoyable, but three rings are just confusing. If there is a high-wire act going on at the same time as the three rings then the whole thing becomes a bit unreal and worthless.
At Monaco the pit area is about the worst place for watching the race as are the grandstands in front of the pits and on the promenade behind the pits. You can follow the progress of the race but that is about all, whereas there are numerous other vantage points where you can see some interesting driving and cornering. The best for showing up driving ability is the Casino square and the main grandstand is just about perfect, for you see the cars shoot into view from round the side of the Hotel de Paris, charge across the square and disappear down the hill to the hairpins by the station. You can easily tell the drivers who are trying as they come up the hill towards the Casino, for they arrive into the square slightly airborne and slightly out of control. This involves some heavy braking as they pass the front of the Hotel de Paris, and if they get everything right the cars are on tip-toe as they breast the hump before plunging downhill. The public grandstand here is all that anyone could desire, and I always spend part of practice in this grandstand.
Another good viewpoint, for the fortunate ones, is from a balcony on the front of the Hotel de Paris, for you can get an interesting plan view of the lines through the square and it is easy to see which drivers know what they are doing. The new grandstand on the site of the old station gives a good view of the downhill hairpin and you see the cars approaching and leaving, but the action is rather slow, for the hairpin is very tight.
If you like action on hairpin bends, then a seat in the Gasometer turn grandstand is good value, with cars approaching you head on at about 180-200 kph and then braking heavily almost to a standstill. I find this stand a bit unnerving since watching Brabham do a 360-degree spin under braking some years ago. It always looks as though the grandstand customers are going to get a racing car in their laps one day, except that all the drivers are doing their utmost to get round the hairpin.
On the outside of the Sainte Devote corner, leading from the sea front up the hill to the Casino, is a good vantage point for watching fairly fast cornering, but the grandstand is of the standing variety and it can be very hot in the Monagasque sunshine on race day. Just opposite is the balustrade above the tobacconist shop that overlooks the corner on the promenade and this is an exciting one, especially if you get there early and get a front row position.
The Monaco circuit abounds in good viewing points, and while it is practical to move about on foot during practice, race day gets pretty crowded, so that it is essential to get a good point early and stay there. Traffic in Monaco on race day is chaotic and it pays to avoid using a car, even if you are staying out of town. There are hardly any parking places very near the circuit and there is such a good public transport organisation that it deserves to be used, or to walk once you get into town. Until an hour or two before the race there is a free bus service plying between the station and edge-of-town car parks to take spectators to the various popular points around the circuit. One thing is certain at Monaco and that is that the organisation is doing its utmost to get everyone into the circuit, providing they do not have a car with them. Nearly all side roads leading to the circuit are boarded up and at those that are open there are pay boxes. Monte Carlo town probably has more steps than roads, so walking is of prime importance, and when the race is over it is almost as quick to walk to the top of the town as it is to try and drive there. If you are walking you can always stop at a cafe for a drink, if you are stuck in a car in Monte Carlo you are really stuck. I stay in a hotel within a few hundred yards of the Casino square and when I arrive on the day before practice I put the Jaguar away and don't use it until after race day is over, unless it is for a trip out of town.
|Monaco - Station hairpin|
Another circuit that has similar conditions as regards a car is Zandvoort, which is built in the sand dunes on the edge of the seaside town of Zandvoort in Holland, not far from Amsterdam. It is not a very big town and it is quicker to walk from hotel to garage if you want to see the racing teams, for parking in Zandvoort at the height of the holiday season is terrible. No spectators' cars are allowed into the circuit, the car parks being along the sea front and you then walk into the circuit, carrying anything you need to take with you, so travel light at Zandvoort. If you are staying in Zandvoort town for the race it is easier and nearly as quick to walk all the way between town and circuit, especially on the way back after the race, for traffic dispersal is hopeless.
Main straight and Tarzan bend
In the circuit itself a seat in the grandstand opposite the pits is well recommended, especially if you can get one at the hack, for you are then quite high and can see the section of the track behind the pits, the notorious Hugenholtz hairpin and the hill leading off into the sand dunes. You also get the sight of the cars passing in front of you at 250 kph and then braking really heavily for the Tarzan hairpin; this last-minute braking from high speed shows up the ace drivers. The start at Zandvoort is well worth watching for it is a "drag race" down to the Tarzan hairpin and you see the gentle art of acceleration demonstrated splendidly, with some skilled elbowing movements as the front row all try to get round the righthand hairpin first.
In the dunes
If you cannot aspire to a grandstand seat at Zandvoort there is no need to despair, for over most of the back part of the course you can stand up on the sand dunes and get a fine view of the racing and there are numerous vantage points from which you can see some quite high-speed cornering. When it is all over it pays to not be in a hurry for getting away from, Zandvoort by car takes a long, long time as there are so few roads leading out of the town.
|Zandvoort - Hugenholtz hairpin|
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium is one of my favourites, for it lies in the south-east corner of the country in magnificent fir-clad hills, and here the cars go really fast. The lap speed is as high as the maximum achieved on most British circuits, and you can watch high-speed cornering at its best.
Almost anywhere round the circuit is impressive, the main grandstands provide a fine panoramic view of a large part of the circuit, as does the open grandstand on the slopes of the Eau Rouge hill. This latter stand is one of my favourites during practice, for you can get quite close to the cars as they cross the river bridge and climb up the very fast sweeping turn, and here you see drivers working for their living.
Masta and Stavelot
Equally you can get into the fields around the Stavelot area where the long series of righthand curves are taken on full bore by the brave ones, or you can get to the exit of the S-bend on the Masta straight and get a head-on view of the cars coming through the 250 kph S-bend.
In all cases you must be prepared to leave your car a long way away and walk, there is none of the Brands Hatch business of driving your car up to the track fence. The Francorchamps circuit is on normal everyday roads, except that these are well looked after, and they are closed to traffic by mid-morning on race day, even though the race does not start until after lunch. It is like the Targa Florio on a small scale, for you must be prepared to spend all day over the event, unless you have a reserved grandstand seat, but it is well worth while, and there are places where you can park your car well off the road in the woods and watch almost from the road edge. To watch a grand prix car cornering at 250 kph on a public road is something you do not forget in a hurry, and you will want to see it again, and wonder why we cannot do it in the British Isles. (In the Isle of Man perhaps?).
There is no real centre for the Belgium GP, although a lot of people stay in Spa, which is a 15-minutes drive from the circuit, but there are numerous villages in the area, such as Stavelot, Malmedy, Trois Fonts and special trains run to and from Bruxelles for the race. The Spa circuit fascinates me because it is so fast, and yet includes a first-gear hairpin bend, and the cars have to be well screwed together, for they are on full-throttle in top gear for a very long time. It is not like Silverstone, where you reach peak rpm in top gear down Hanger Straight for perhaps l.5 seconds; at Spa you hold peak rpm in top for two minutes or more, during which time you have gone through a number of corners, if your name is Clark or Surtees. On a fine clear day it is most impressive to stand at the top of the Burnenville forest and hear a grand prix car flat out round the long righthand Burnenville curve and then watch it doing its maximum speed all along the Masta straight, including the S-bend in the middle, the scream from the exhaust seeming to go on and on for ever.
|Spa Francorchamps - In front of stewart in the BRM. Coming out of the fast sweeper of Burnenville and diving into the double S-bends of Malédy|
A circuit that is used continually throughout the season is the Nurburgring, where more racing miles must he covered thananywhere else. It is almost 23 km to the lap and everything happens at the Nürburgring, from bicycle races through sports car races, grand prix races to the Marathon of the Route, the present-day Liege-Rome-Liege event run by the Belgians, which now lasts four days on the Nurburgring. The two big events are the 1.000 kilometre race for sports/prototype and GT cars, which takes place on May 21th this year, and the German GP in August. People often say "where is the best place to watch?" and the answer to that is "almost anywhere."
Start to Flugplatz
The only flat portion of the circuit is the pit area, for the rest the cars are plunging downhill or climbing uphill, leaping over crests or bottoming their suspension in dips and there are more corners than you can count. You can drive into car parks quite close to the edge of the track, even up to the barriers at some points but this is not popular with fellow spectators, and everywhere is numbered and labelled. You can look down into the cars from high banks in the wooded Hatzenbach section soon after the start, as they go through a series of sharp bends, or you can stand on the grass slopes at Flugplatz and Quiddelbacher Hohe and see a panoramic view of a long section of circuit.
Breidscheid to Schwalbenschwanz
At Adenau Bridge near the village of Breidscheid you can see some really interesting cornering, as you can at Brünnchen and Pflanzgarten. You can enjoy the open spaces at Karussel and Schwalbenswanz or the circus-like scene on the south curve after the pits. There are dozens of good vantage points around the Nurburgring, but there are also vast crowds, so you need to be early on race day. During practice you can walk round a lot of the circuit, and like most European circuits, walking is essential if you want to see anything worthwhile and you must have plenty of time. You do not take in a continental motor race between lunch and rushing home for the 6 o'clock TV show, it is a full day's outing to he enjoyed to the full.
|Nürburgring - Pfanzgarten|
A long and fatiguing day is provided by the Italian GP at Monza, for the Italian race invariably provides a close and exciting event, amidst the most uproarious and noisy crowd imaginable. The sun is usually blazing down, the air is dusty, the people are shouting and cheering and the cars go by on full song. There is no "on-off-on-off " stuff on the throttle at Monza, you put your foot well and truly down on the small pedal and keep it there until you transfer it to the brake pedal and then you push like hell and try and stop for the Lesmo turns or the Parabolica turn. If an engine is weak it will blow to pieces at Monza without fail.
From the main grandstand, which is a most imposing ferro-concrete affair, completely rebuilt in 1948 (yes, nineteen forty eight), while we were trying to erect grandstands out of rusty scaffold poles and lengths of canvas (did I hear someone say we are still doing that!) you get a wonderful impression of speed looking down on the cars as they go by three and four abreast, while the exhaust noise echoes between the concrete pits and the concrete stand, so you need strong eardrums.
If you can get into the grandstand on the outside of Lesmo corners you will see some terrific driving, but there are a lot of people at Monza, and even if you have a numbered ticket you will probably find that six more people have an identical ticket. Everyone shouts and yells but if it is possible for you all to squeeze into the one place this is what you do, but watch out if Bandini comes by in the lead, for the whole grandstand will rise as one man and scream with delight, and you could get hurt by waving arms.
Another grandstand that rocks visibly when an Italian driver or Italian car gets into the lead, is the tubular one at the entrance to the Parabolica curve (yes, they do use scaffolding as well). This stand is in the open air and the sun burns on to it all day, so it is to be avoided if you cannot stand heat and noise and the closeness of your fellow spectators.
Apart from the organised grandstands there are viewing areas along most of the straights, and raised earth banks at many points, so there is no excuse for not seeing, but the crowds are thick and once you lose a place in the front row you will not get it back again. In the more exciting points the crowds are very thick, especially in the tree-shaded areas on the inside of the Lesmo corners so that once in place you are unlikely to get out until the race is over, and when it is the 80.000 to 100.000 people have to get their Fiats out of three small gateways. It takes an awfully long time, and when you are out of the Monza Park you join the traffic returning from the lakes and the mountains. It is black chaos all the way to Milan, and is not for the weak or timid. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer other than not being in a hurry to leave the track.
|Monza - Rettifilo Tribune|
The continental spectator
Continental motor races are very different from British events and the crowds that go are out for an enjoyable day centred around the motor race. The majority of them are not very worried about knowing the diameter of the two inlet valves on the Ferrari engine; they are more than satisfied with the fact that there is a Ferrari running at all, or a Porsche, or a Matra, depending on where you happen to be. They all love the drivers, and know them all as personalities to be respected and admired, but not copied, for racing drivers are special people who drive racing cars, not ordinary people like you and me who drive ordinary cars.
The average crowd at a continental meeting may not know much about the spring rates or roll-bar thickness on the BRM, but they do know who is driving fast and who isn't and are not slow to show their disapproval of a pathetic driver. They have an uncanny way of following the progress of the race, as far as the leader is concerned without lap charts and stop-watches, just as they can sense the last lap even if they are not in sight of a score-board or near a loud-speaker. Whether they be French, Belgian, Dutch, German or Italian, they are a communicative crowd and it only wants one keen type to keep a lap score for the knowledge to be passed on to the thousands around him.
One classic year in Cerda during the Targa Florio the whole main street seemed to be kept in touch with the progress of the race by two Sicilians, one on each side of the road, who were sitting at their bedroom windows keeping tabs on the race. The British spectator seems to be embarrassed about muttering to his neighbour in a quiet voice that there is one more lap to go. Abroad, the spectators shout the news to anyone who wants to know, and if a car is passing he shouts even louder. Perhaps it is the overall noise at a continental race that gives the impression of happiness, whereas silence, even if it is appreciative, seems dull and gloomy by comparison. Whatever it is the atmosphere is intriguing and, like so many things in this world, you love it or hate it, but it is your own choice.