On watching races...

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 CinemaScope 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 110-120 m.p.h. 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 Ste. 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 and while it is practical to move around on foot during practice on race day it gets pretty crowded, so it is essential to get to 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 café 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.

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. In the circuit itself a seat in the grandstand opposite the pits is well recommended, especially if you can get one at the back, for you are then quite high and can see the section of the track behind the pits, the notorious Hunze Rug hairpin and the hill leading off into the sand dunes. You also get the sight of the cars passing in front of you at 150 m.p.h. 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 right hand hairpin first. 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.

An entirely different event is the Targa Florio, round the mountains of Sicily, with the start and finish near Cerda, some 30 miles from Palermo. Getting to Sicily is quite an undertaking so it is understandable that the race itself is an even bigger undertaking. The circuit is some 44 miles in length and all but a few miles of it is in stark mountains, the road running through the villages of Cerda, Collesano and Campo Felice. Spectating at the Targa Florio has a fascination all of its own and, if you think Brands Hatch or Mallory Park are the ideal spectator circuits, then do not bother with the Targa Florio. Spectating at the Targa Florio, if you are up in the mountains, is rather like an airline pilot’s life, “hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror,” except that the moments are of excitement rather than terror. With over 40 miles of exciting mountain road you can watch from any point and see some good dicing, while the sight and sound of a P3 Ferrari fairly charging up a village main street is something well worth watching. The pits and grandstand area are chaos and confusion and are to be avoided at all costs, for anywhere else round the circuit you are pretty free to do what you like, providing you are not actually on the road when a racing car is within sight or sound. Between the arrival of cars you can cross the road or walk along it, but the moment the army or police blow their whistles you have to get up the bank or over the hedge, and quickly. The whole atmosphere of the Targa Florio is one of happiness and joy and a pleasant day out in the country, usually in scorching sunshine. In the midst of ruminating in the wonderful mountain countryside there is the unbelievable sight of blood-red Ferraris and silver Porsches really motoring hard on the rough and undulating roads, with stones and grit flying on most of the corners. The Sicilian crowds love every minute of it and you know when Vaccarella is arriving for every Sicilian is three feet off the ground and waving and cheering, even if he isn’t in the lead.

The circuit is closed to traffic at some unearthly hour in the morning, like 4 a.m., but until that time you can drive round the course and pull off almost anywhere, providing you are well clear of the road and not blocking some essential escape route. You then try and go to sleep in your car until the rising sun wakens you, or a mobile policeman thinks you are too near the road, or a farm cart wants to get by. The traffic flows out to the circuit from early Saturday evening and everyone camps out in the mountains and awaits the arrival of the Targa Florio. There are numerous places from which you can see three or four miles of the circuit, winding its way up and down the mountain slopes, and other places from which you can see the cars as much as 15 minutes before they arrive at your point. For this you need binoculars, unless you have superb eyesight like the Sicilian boys. Above all else you must be prepared for a long day, armed with iron rations and a good book (such as the current Motor Sport ) for towards the end of the race when survivors are few there are some long moments of silence. Even when the race is over you still have to be patient, for it can be as much as two hours before the roads are open and then there is a mad rush to form the longest and slowest traffic jam imaginable, but everyone is happy, the sun is shining, another successful Targa Florio has been won (by Vaccarella in a Ferrari for preference) and the jostling crowds of Fiats nearly flatten their batteries with horn blowing. If you can get back to civilisation before dark you have done well. It is a long, tiring, dusty day, and as you lie down you think “Mamma mia, I’m glad all motor races aren’t like that.” If you enjoy the Targa Florio the first time, you will always enjoy it, for it is something special. Long live the Targa Florio.

To return to serious Grand Prix racing, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium is one of my favourites, for it lies in the southeast 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. Equally you can get into the fields around the Stavelot area where the long series of right-hand 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 140-150 m.p.h. 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 races do 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 150 m.p.h. 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 G.P., 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 Ponts 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 r.p.m. in top gear down Hanger Straight for perhaps 1-1/2 seconds; at Spa you hold peak r.p.m. 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.

Probably the most impressive circuit of all for continuous flat out running is Le Mans, with its long Mulsanne straight and the best place to be (in practice, at any rate), is in one of the cafes at the Hippodrome. By this point the cars have nearly reached their maximum and they disappear down the long undulating straight with the exhaust note at a constant pitch all the time. If you are inside when a Ferrari or Ford goes past you just cannot help jumping, for the crash of sound is fantastic, especially now that the big ones are knocking on 200 m.p.h. Last year I had the fine sight of seeing a 911 Porsche going by at 135 m.p.h. as it was being overtaken by a Renault Alpine doing 150 m.p.h., and then a 7-litre Ford went by both of them. The Ford was really motoring and it made me lean back and say ” wow! ” When you get three Fords and a Ferrari in a bunch your evening is made. On race day this goes on for 24 hours, providing they don’t blow each other to pieces. For some strange reason tens of thousands of spectators crowd the area opposite the pits, which must be one of the dullest places from which to spectate. There are good viewing points on the outside of the long curve tip to the Dunlop bridge after the pits, in the Esses and along to Tetre Rouge, while Mulsanne corner and Arnage corner are first-class places to be. Arnage is particularly good as you can get very close to the edge of the road and can walk quite a long way along the circuit. As with all races, the crowds are thick, so you have to be prepared for a bit of jostling, and I hope you enjoy the garlic and Gauloises fumes. Of course, you can spend the whole 24 hours in the “village” and be kept entertained without actually seeing a car, and a lot of people do just this. What you will never get away from is the continual drone and roar of passing cars. Even if you manage to sleep in your car in the vast car parks you will wake up to the same sound, for once 4 p.m. on Saturday has passed Le Mans goes on until 4 p.m. on Sunday. People seem to love Le Mans or hate it, you either go every year or you stay away completely. It is a sort of religion, but you don’t have to join if you don’t want to. Personally I would not miss Le Mans; there are some things I like and some I loathe, but for me the finest part is the 10 minutes after 4 p.m. on Sunday, for then you can watch a great number of deliriously happy people, and I get great satisfaction out of seeing other people happy. The winning team are the happiest of all, but just to finish at Le Mans is an achievement and the drivers, team manager, timing crew, mechanics, helpers and supporters of every car that arrives at 4 -o’clock express a joy that is a pleasure to watch. All this is happening in the pit area, but you must spare a thought for the handful of people who have been down at the signalling pits at Mulsanne for the last 24 hours. They cannot see their team arrive, but they must get a great satisfaction when it passes them for the last time at a few minutes to 4 p.m. These signalling pits are connected to the main pit area by direct telephone, so that drivers can get instructions conveyed to them as they accelerate away from the slow Mulsanne corner, instead of trying to read the signals as they pass the main pits at 140-150 m.p.h. The Le Mans 24-Hour race is like the Targa Florio in that it could only happen once a year, the organisation and racing world could not physically support two Le Mans in 12 months.

A circuit that is used continually throughout the season is the Nurburgring, where more racing miles must be covered than anywhere else. It is 14 miles to the lap and everything happens at the Nurburgring, 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 G.T. cars, which takes place on May 28th this year, and the German G.P. in August. People often say “where is the best place to watch? ” and the answer to that is ” almost anywhere.” 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 Höhe and see a panoramic view of a long section of circuit. At Adenau Bridge near the village of Breidscheid you can see some really interesting cornering, as you can at Brunchen 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 p.m. TV show, it is a full day’s outing to be enjoyed to the full.

A long and fatiguing day is provided by the Italian G.P. 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 South 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 south 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.

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 B.R.M., 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 share 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 —D.S.J.


The B.R.D.C. has issued a Year Book for 1967 which lists its members, its rules and its history, gives race results of 1966, has a picture supplement of pre and post-war interest and contains a tribute to members who died racing or in action, Silverstone lap tables, F.I.A. World Champion and Graded drivers and much other useful information. It is available to non-members at 12s. 6d., from the Club. at 9, Down Street, London, W1. The Foreword is by the Hon. Gerald Lascelles, President of the B.R.D.C.