When many people think of race tracks, they picture a specialized and enclosed road surface that’s only used for competition. Many courses are exactly that, but not all. In fact, some of the most famous racing circuits in the world still make use of normal roads. Here are some of the big-name tracks that pull double duty and serve the public interest on non-race days.
Circuit de Monaco is a Formula 1 tradition
Formula 1 enthusiasts know this one already, but the Monaco Grand Prix takes place every year on the streets of Monte Carlo. During this epic race, F1 machines shriek past opulent homes and restaurants, and glide around incredibly tight corners. They even blast through a tunnel underneath the Fairmont Hotel. Because of the narrow city streets, it’s considered one of the toughest and riskiest tracks in F1.
Visitors to Monaco can walk the course any time of year, except for the weeks surrounding the Grand Prix from late May to early June. If you’re a fan of Formula 1, the experience is positively surreal and second only to watching the Grand Prix in person. As you round the last corner at La Rascasse, be on the lookout for a statue of legendary driver Juan Manuel Fangio. It’s a nice photo opportunity, to say the least.
Circuit de la Sarthe: Home to the 24 Hours of Le Mans
The legendary Circuit de la Sarthe is one of the longest tracks in the world and home to the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Parts of the track are reserved exclusively for competition, like the Dunlop Curve and interior Bugatti Circuit used for MotoGP. However, the famous Mulsanne Straight is actually a public road most of the year. Incredibly, racers of the past could drive nearly flat-out for 3.7 miles down this stretch of highway.
With prototype-class cars eventually reaching 200+ mph, then braking hard for the Mulsanne corner, accidents were inevitable. After crashes in the 1980s that killed both drivers and crew, officials added chicanes in an effort to slow things down. Combined with modern safety measures, the continuous improvements have largely succeeded in making Le Mans a safer place to compete.
You can drive on Mount Panorama
Mount Panorama is home to the Bathurst 1000 and Bathurst 12 Hour endurance races in southwest Australia. When not hosting Repco Supercars or other competitors, the entire track is open to the public at no cost. Speeding or trying to imitate the race cars is not advised, however.
Police actively patrol the circuit to enforce a speed limit of 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). That may seem like a major buzzkill, but Mount Panorama has massive elevation changes and some legitimately dangerous corners. An overly exuberant and/or underskilled driver could easily end up crashing, so the level of caution is understandable.
Nürburgring Nordschleife is the ultimate thrill ride
The Nordschleife, or “North Loop” of the Nürburgring hardly needs an introduction, being one of the most famous race tracks in the world. It’s also one of the most unique, since literally anyone with a license can pay the toll and drive their street car around it.
For those of you looking to visit, most rental car companies in Germany strictly prohibit the use of their cars at the Nürburgring. That said, companies like RSR Nürburg will gladly provide a vehicle, and even instruction, to help you lap the ‘Ring to your heart’s content. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of some camouflaged prototype of the future on a testing lap.
In short, you can easily drive on some of the world’s greatest race tracks, if you make the trip and the right arrangements. Just make sure to follow the local regulations, so that you stay on the right side of the law.