The racing weekend took us across the whole world last weekend, with dull or spectacular racing being influenced not only by the quality of the drivers’ field and weather conditions, but also by the eternal topic of the rolling surface, the asphalt strips laid out with inspiration or clumsiness on various grounds, depending on the sporting and economical interests.
At the end of the 80s, French president Francois Mitterand had the ambition of developing the Magny-Cours racetrack, using as a source of inspiration some of the corners that drivers loved on other circuits: Imola, Nurburgring, Adelaide, Estoril. The most recent modern track from the United States, built near Austin, continues this spirit of imitation, thus producing a far better end product than other Tilke designs that were based entirely on the imagination of the German architect.
Racing fans always tend to be obsessed with charts and classifications. What is your favorite racetrack? If it’s hard to pick just one, give me your top 5. Even the drivers are often asked which existing turns would they pick for an ideal racetrack. Leaving the pub talks behind, we can talk for days about the legendary tracks of the past or the present.
Coming back to the action from last weekend, it comes as no surprise that varying tracks have decisively influenced racing quality. Starting with the negatives, the political framework has pushed Russia forward to a greater implication in sports, going from raising drivers and sponsoring teams to building a circuit from scratch near Moscow (at about 100km). The track was erected in a hurry, based on a project drawn by the omnipresent Hermann Tilke, and the Russian money started to convince important series: World Series by Renault, World Superbikes, WTCC and DTM. The track was overlooked by the top championships, F1 and MotoGP, another low point being last year’s Supersport tragedy, claiming the life of Andrea Antonelli.
Yet, the giant German manufacturers have big interests in the ex-soviet market, thus moving forward to bring the DTM series to Moscow for the dullest round of the season. The youngsters from Formula 3 were drawn into the same ordeal (except those six who chose not to go to Russia), as any sprint race features a minimal show, just like at the Hungaroring, but with a lot less audience and higher travel costs. Pole position and a good getaway was the success key in all the races at the Moscow Raceway this year, with Maxime Martin and Esteban Ocon getting the laurels.
As we move further away from the big bucks whirlwind, there is suddenly room for pure racing, as witnessed in the GT competitions all around the world. Happy drivers were fortunate to race on fast-flowing tracks, filled with history, like Mosport Park or Fuji.
Crossing the Ocean, there’s no point in stating that oval racing is dull or exciting. It’s just a matter of taste. Though, there was a disconsolate Tony Kanaan that lost a near-certain win at Iowa, when Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay came out of nowhere with just two laps to go, propelled by a brilliant strategy by his Andretti team. Superbikes ran at Laguna Seca, as the officials quickly contracted the Californian track when it was dropped from MotoGP. The two races were electrifying, in a natural arena that takes your breath away. Seeing the infamous Corkscrew live, I can reassure you that the TV cameras don’t do justice to the 33 meters drop, a natural constraint that would never be accepted on a modern racetrack design. Laguna Seca is a real rider’s circuit, where fortune favors the brave, as Americans rightly say.
The World Series by Renault went to the Nurburgring, the races being just as drab, in line with the 30 year-old track that lacks width, character and iconic turns, despite all the alterations to the layout. Fortunately, the sleeping monster that lies beneath, the Nordschleife, has been announced as host for a round of the WTCC next year.
As the old Assen track was chopped down, the MotoGP calendar only has four manly circuits, with a great personality: Mugello, Brno, Phillip Island and Sachsenring. The latter staged a round last weekend, with a feisty microclimate similar to the Ardennes mixing things up before the MotoGP start. Marc Marquez delivered once again, even though he started from the pit lane, but the real story of the weekend can be seen on any onboard footage of the second half of the lap. This German track is a famed exception, the modifications from 2000 being truly positive by adding the fearsome valley near the end of the lap.
We will visit Germany next weekend too, for the Formula 1 race and the support races, in an environment that has been destroyed by security obligations and financial constraints, imposed by TV companies. The low-downforce setups that were brought until 2001 will stay in the box, their time coming only at the end of the European season, on Spa and Monza.
Luckily there are still simulators around that can give you a taste of the old Hockenheim and guess where I’m heading now.