2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed (Photo: Nick Dungan)
As the European Formula One season opens, it’s time for travelling petrolheads to get organised – Ruraidh Conlon O’Reilly reports.
This Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix marks the traditional opening of the European Formula One season, whatever about the claims of April’s thrilling Azerbaijan Grand Prix to be a European event.
Unlike a Baku a fortnight ago, though, the ten teams will travel by road for the first time this season – building giant, highly-branded luxury hospitality suites out of a convoy of motorhomes and articulated lorries in a logistics exercise that looks, to the casual observer, completely disconnected from the two cars sitting in the garage waiting for their two-hour Sunday drive. The travelling circus is back on the road again.
Proximity to the teams’ factories in the UK, Italy and Switzerland encourages the first substantial upgrades to many of their cars, and if the next few months will be hectic for the hundreds of travelling mechanics, engineers and support staff, at least jetlag won’t be a factor.
For the motorsport fan there’s nothing like seeing a racing car in full flight – and Spain is a timely reminder that some of the world’s classic motorsport events are just a weekend trip away. It’s time to get planning.
Mondello Park, 12-13 May
This weekend sees Mondello Park’s biggest and most important event in many a year: the Co. Kildare venue’s 50th anniversary, and the new Irish Motorsport Support Fund’s first big event. World Rally stars Craig Breen, Paul Nagle and Rosemary Smith will be in attendance, there’s a gala dinner in Citywest, and throughout the weekend over 150 competition cars will take to the track across all the various disciplines from karting through circuit racing to drifting and bikes. Mondello, which emerged from a muddy Naas field in 1968, has been the scene of many famous moments: Ayrton Senna’s stunning 1982 win and the ear-splitting Jordan F1 run in 1999 come to mind. This weekend Ireland’s only FIA-accredited racetrack writes another such chapter.
Travel tips: a 25-mile drive via motorway south-west of Dublin. UK visitors arrive via ferry from Holyhead or Dublin Airport.
Rally Italia Sardegna (Sardinia), 7-10 June
Irish participation in the World Rally Championship is at an all-time high, and come October there will be plenty of support travelling to the forests of Wales to watch Waterford’s Craig Breen and Dungannon’s Kris Meeke hare past in Rally GB’s traditional rain-fest. For something less muddy, though, look to Italy – and the Rally Sardegna. A 313-km route cuts through Sardinia’s dusty, rugged terrain, so expect punctures and broken suspension from narrow and fast roads. The usual super-special spectacular takes place on Thursday evening, on a former motocross track. The highlight of the Rally Sardegna weekend will be Micky’s Jump, where WRC cars take to the air in front of a cheering crowd. Sardinia is a tourist island of fine weather and classic Mediterranean cuisine, making the event a tempting option for a motorsport fan with a sun-seeking family.
Travel tips: Ryanair, easyJet and Alitalia serve Alghero Airport, base of Rally Sardegna. The town is rich in history and architecture.
Le Mans 24 Hours, 16-17 June
Monaco, the Indy 500, and Le Mans: three names that have transcended their sport, much like Wimbledon and the Super Bowl. With good seats at Monaco reserved for plutocrats, and a transatlantic trip required for Indy, let’s whittle three down to one. The classic 24 Hours has provoked some extraordinary feats of endurance on the part of man and machine, who have to race through the night in teams of three drivers per car. Since its inception in 1923 Le Mans has helped to forge icons such as Porsche and Ferrari, and no less a personage than Steve McQueen added to the mythology with his feast of a 1971 movie, the cannily-titled Le Mans. This year F1’s Fernando Alonso is the star of the show in a Toyota that’s tipped for victory, and former F1 champion Jenson Button also makes his debut at the fabled Loire venue.
Travel tips: ferry to Cherbourg or Calais from Ireland/UK. Drive and avail of trackside campsites for the classic Le Mans experience. Combine with a tour of some of the world’s finest vineyards, remembering not to drink and drive.
Goodwood Festival of Speed, 12-15 July
Every year one wonders how Goodwood could get any bigger and more spectacular, and every year Lord March and his car-obsessive crew deliver. ‘Glastonbury for cars’ is an extraordinary experience: the only chance that most of us will ever get to see a Senna McLaren dart past at full speed, hear a ‘70s Ferrari V12 on full song, or bump into Jackie Stewart in the paddock. The competitive element is provided by a timed hillclimb, but for many the attraction is to finally see their all-time favourite cars in motion, and get up close to them thanks to a level of access that is elsewhere long in the past. Road cars both new and old are an important ingredient, with launches, auctions and promotional events taking place over the weekend. A family-friendly affair with plenty of non-car activities for less-enthusiastic guests, a two-day ticket is all but essential to take everything in.
Travel tips: car or train to Chichester in West Sussex; Gatwick Airport is the most convenient via air. Easy access to London and Brighton for an extended holiday in south-east England.
Belgian Grand Prix, 23-26 August
Ask a driver or a fan what their favourite track is and chances are they’ll nominate Spa-Francorchamps, a high-speed blast through the Ardennes Forest and its notoriously fickle microclimate. One of the most challenging tracks on the calendar, Spa’s road-racing DNA is embedded in corners such as the monumental Eau Rouge, a sharply uphill left-right-left jink that 20 cars will somehow tackle 44 times of a Sunday afternoon without lifting off the throttle. The grandstand above it is one of the best places in the world from which to watch a racing car, with La Source and Pouhon leaving one spoiled for choice. Memories include 1998’s multi-car wipeout and Jordan win, Michael Schumacher’s annual masterclass, and the compulsory local diet of chips with mayo.
Travel tips: fly via Maastricht, Luxembourg, Cologne or Brussels; or drive via UK. Book hotel accommodation early. Likewise, grandstands: do plenty of research, choose carefully and be prepared to shell out for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.