June 20, 2015

Horse 1921 - The Greatest Corners In Motorsports

 Just like a child's colouring book, driving a motor car is about keeping between the lines. Unlike a child's colouring book, driving a race car is about keeping between the lines at 150mph. In both cases, going off wildly outside the lines results in catastrophic disaster and the shame that follows on from that.
I took a straw poll across three forums to find out what the greatest corners are in motor racing. The consensus comes down to the same five in most cases but interestingly, all four involve a change in elevation, which means that not only do you have to keep within the lines but you have to do it whilst several forces push through the car. In all four circumstances, going outside the lines results in breaking the car; going wildly outside the lines results in catastrophe.

4. Station Hairpin - Monte Carlo

This is the slowest corner in the entire of the Formula One calendar and yet it is easily the most iconic. If video game manufacturers want to put out a Formula One racing game, then this is the corner which their graphics will invariably be judged upon. On this list of five, it's one of the three that I've driven through and that's because most of the year, it's just a tight corner on a road out the front of a hotel.
There's nothing technically difficult about driving through the corner at all, its just that it's tight. The steel lined streets of the Principality of Monaco are narrow enough as it is but Lowes Hairpin also adds the element of turning hard against the steering lock. Virtually everyone approaches the corner as widely as they can before sweeping through and exiting as wildly as they possibly can. Most of the mishaps that happen through Lowes Hairpin are because someone with more ego than sense has decided to jam his car through a space that it never could fit through and ends up banging into the sidepod of the car in front. As a regular piece of road during the rest of the year, the tight lane through the inside of the corner is uphill and road cars pass through at no more than about 10mph but a Formula One car even with extra play on the steering wheel and with more turns lock to lock, would generally find it impossible to come back down in that same lane.

3. Eau Rouge - Spa de Francochamps

Eau Rouge is not the corner that it once was of the 1970s because of those annoying things like safety and trying to ensure that drivers don't kill themselves but even so, it's still a test of courage to run through this upwards right hand waggle.
After turning through an unbelievably tight corner at the Radillion hairpin the track drops away before again climbing up a hill and over a crest which is totally unseen. On the in car shots as they're heading through Eau Rouge, it kind of looks as though they are driving headlong into a wall before flicking upwards and to the right. I can't imagine what that must be like at 300km/h and when you're seated less than four inches from the tarmac.

2. Mcphillamy Park - Bathurst

One of the most joyous stories of the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst involves multiple winner Alan Moffat. Before he had started his motor racing career in Australia he was taken on a tour and he asked his guide where this legendary circuit was, the tour guide told him that he was actually on it.
This 6.2km strip of tarmac is almost like holy ground in the never ending religious war between Holden and Ford. Other manufacturers have come to play there over the years but the General's boys and Henry's lads have made this something of a perpetual arm wrestle. There are many famous corners on the layout including Forrest's Elbow, The Cutting and The Dipper but I think that the best corner on the circuit is the run through Mcphillamy Park.
After sweeping through Reid Park and then Sulman Park, cars crest a small hill before sweeping through a fast left hander. The apex can be seen but the exit is blind and there is a gravel trap on the outside but on the other side of the wall on the inside of the corner is a drop to oblivion.
Even when this is open to regular traffic this is a scary place but powering through in a touring car at more than 200km/h across the top of the mountain must be only made enjoyable by the fact that you're in a car with a properly built roll cage and there's no one coming the other way. I have seen cars come around Mcphillamy , dip a wheel in the dirt on the out side and either spear back across the track and into the wall or tag the inside wall and be thrown out. Driving through Mcphillamy Park at racing speeds must be like trying to slide down a ballistrade made of a razor blade. Fall off even just a little bit and its going to hurt.

1. Paddock Hill Bend - Brands Hatch

Over the years Brands Hatch has hosted Formula One, DTM, WTCC, Formula Three and many other classes of car but the greatest of all and certainly the most furious is the British Touring Car Championship. Even in the mad days of 500bhp Ford Sierras, the BTCC was still about thrashing repboxes and family hacks around racetracks with more abandon than any other class of motor racing. Paddock Hill Bend with its off camber drop is easily the greatest corner on the BTCC calendar and dare I say it, the greatest corner in motorsports.
Cars whizz past the pits on an undulating rounded arc before the track turns right and drops away blindly before once again rising to wash all the speed off at Druids. The apex of Paddock Hill Bend is entirely unseen and yet the drivers manage to find it with a degree of regularity before sweeping to the outside of the bend on the other side. Get tagged by another car and you could end up spearing into the sand trap and binning the car, dip a wheel too far to the inside and you'll be ejected to the sand trap on the other side and you'll bin the car, and if you miss your braking points you'll not be able to turn in and thus find the sand traps and bin the car.
Get it right though and the car will happily waggle its way through and you can feed in more power as your doing it. Master this and even a four cylinder car will sing the song of its people with more joy than jubilee day.
Admittedly the only car which I got to drive around Brands Hatch was a pretty old Ford Fiesta and even then I only got to go on the shorter "Indy" course but it was still grossly enjoyable to pull off a four wheel drift through the corner.

The thing I found interesting about all four that were wildly far ahead on the list was that they all involve a change in elevation. Over the years circuits like Silverstone, the old Hockenheim and Monza have all turned on some brilliant races but they're mostly flat. Even the circuit at Le Mans which arguably hosts the single most impressive test of machinery in motor racing, is still mainly about cars driving as fast as they can in a straight line for as long as they can.

The greatest corners in the world have several dynamic forces passing through the cars all at once and often the rewards for getting them right are only a few hundredths of a second of benefit. The penalties for getting them wrong, are usually a DNF.

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