The Most Famous Motor Racing Events in the World – Part I
From stock cars to motorcycles, racing has captured the attention of speedsters of all ages. You probably have your favorite motor races that you attend in your local area each year, but there are many tracks and courses giving drivers and fans a heart stopping thrill throughout the world. It was difficult to narrow so many exciting races down to the top 10, but there are some that clearly rise above the rest when you consider their worldwide popularity, level of difficulty and technological edge.
There is something that sets each of these races apart, whether it’s the dangerous course that challenges even the most skilled driver or the length of time that drivers remain on the course. After exploring these extreme motor races, you may change your vacation plans for the upcoming year. This part one of the series about the most famous motor racing events in the world explores four exciting events and their history, so let’s get started.
24 Hours of Le Mans: The Ultimate Test of Endurance and Efficiency
Commonly referred to as the “Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency,” the Le Mans endurance race is the ultimate test of stamina and grit for human and machine. It’s held every year just outside the city of Le Mans in France, and teams of drivers line up with some of the most technologically advanced cars in existence today. They are hoping for their chance to buzz around the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is a combination of a specialist raceway and public roads. This race joins the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix to form the popular Triple Crown of Motorsport, and it was the first 24-hour motor race ever created.
The length of the race presented a new challenge for car manufacturers in the 1920s because just having the fastest car was no longer enough. They needed to design the fastest car that could maintain mechanical integrity even when driven continuously for 24 hours on public roads that aren’t maintained to perfection like a designated race track. These cars are designed to the high standards of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, so you won’t see them in action outside of a few select endurance races.
Monaco Grand Prix: The Most Prestigious Event of them All
On April 14, 1929, the world’s leading drivers arrived in Monte Carlo ready to put some of the most impressive cars to the ultimate test, including the Bugatti and the Mercedes. That first race was won by a Bugatti Type 35B, and the course was destined to become a Formula One race that now serves as one third of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. The pace that drivers keep around the Circuit de Monaco is slow compared to most motor races today, but the Monaco Grand Prix remains one of the most well-respected races due to the high risk that comes with speeding through narrow roads designed for everyday use.
In 1982, the race’s lead car changed five times before Riccardo Patrese came back from a run-in with the side barrier to steal the win. This turnover is common on a course where drivers are routinely losing control around incredibly tight turns and where wheels are slipping due to unpredictable weather. The race originally had no barriers, so cars would hit trees, houses, storefronts or whatever else happened to stand in the way. When muscling through the Monaco, the real challenge is staying on course and upright despite changes in elevation, fast turns and slick surfaces.
Dakar Rally: Stolen Bikes, Sandstorms, and Lost Contestants are just the tip of the Iceberg
The Dakar Rally is one of the few motorsport events that aren’t limited to a single type of vehicle. Motorcycles line up at the starting line alongside cars and trucks of every variety, and many winners have claimed multiple victories, sometimes on two wheels and other times on four wheels. Single riders complete the course along with driving teams, and the course changes location from year to year. The only constant is a sense of comradery between participants as they take on some of the most challenging and unpredictable desert terrains in the world.
It all started on December 26, 1978, when less than 200 participants came together at the Place du Trocadéro in Paris. They were ready to race through the desert to Dakar, and it was the challenge of a lifetime for many adrenaline-seeking drivers. The rally has shifted location and picked up new racers every year since. For instance, the 1992 race required drivers to travel almost 7,500 miles from the northern edge of Africa to the southernmost tip, crossing through 10 countries along the way. In 1995, the starting point shifted from France to Spain, and in 2000, the race ended at the foot of the Giza Pyramids.
In 1983, a massive sandstorm threw more than 40 participants off course, and it took many of them four days to find their way back to the race. Drivers in other years have had their bikes stolen and even lost their lives to the merciless desert. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to wander the desert on your own with the potential of winning a prize for your bravery, this is the race that you crave.
Baja 1000: A bit shy of the 1000 Miles Mark, but Extremely Challenging Nonetheless
The Baja 1000 as we know it today was originally called the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally back when it first hit the motor racing stage in 1967. The first race ran from Tijuana, Baja California to La Paz, Baja California Sur, which is a route just shy of 850 miles. In the nearly five decades since that first event, the race has survived multiple sanctioning hand-offs, an international oil crisis and multinational negotiations.
The race is now an official SCORE International off-road race that attracts drivers of buggies, motorcycles, trucks, and customized racecars every November. This includes some of the biggest names in motor racing, including Paul Newman and Ted Nugent. The course is always held in the Baja California/Baja California Sur peninsula, but it rotates each year between a loop of up to 850 miles that starts and ends in Ensenada and a route of about 900 miles that travels from Ensenada to La Paz.
Though it’s not exactly 1,000 miles as the name suggests, this is one of the most grueling off-road races because it cuts through unforgiving desert sands as well as public highways, mud plains and populated villages. Participants could find themselves winding along a mountain at one point, twisting through a forest the next and flying through relentless sand later on. This is rough on the tires, and manufacturers have the challenge of creating machines that can survive the varied terrains without mechanical failure. It’s also rough on the human participants, which is why many elite racers only attempt the Baja 1000 once in a lifetime.
Which of these races would you like to see or attend? Keep an eye out for part two of the series that will feature more thrilling racing events, like the Bathurst 1000, Indianapolis 500 and more.