Monte Carlo, Monaco
The most difficult and challenging of all the many twists and turns in the course at Monte Carlo, mainly because it is one of the few that can and must be taken at high speed, is the left-right flick of a corner called the Chicane. It is also the turn that typifies the colorful character of the place and the race, and one that has propelled many of the world's finest drivers into disaster. The immediate approach to the Chicane has a ghostly sort of fascination. The cars hurtle through a long, extremely dark tunnel. On the right as we pop out into the bright sunlight again is a sheer cliff, while below us to the left is the bright blue harbor filled with beautiful yachts. The Chicane itself is shaped by a thick wooden fence that bisects the middle of the road. In the fence is a wide gate through which we must take a quick left-hand turn at a speed of around 110. You get a sudden, brilliant glimpse of the harbor as you come through this gate, but the look best be a fast one for you must immediately take a quick right to stay on course and out of the harbor. I always finish the Chicane with the feeling that next time around I'd better take it just a wee bit slower.
The track at Watkins Glen is a straightforward, rather uninteresting circuit that has a tendency to produce very close lap times, which is rare in Formula I racing. For this reason the first corner at the Glen has become one of the most crucial in road racing. What I refer to is actually three turns, beginning just past the start-finish line, which must be taken almost as one, a long, uphill, right-left-right S that leads into the main straightaway. The toughest section is the left bend that sits just over the crest of a hill. From our low-slung cockpits the bend is not visible from any distance, and we have to set up our cars about 100 yards ahead of time to hit an apex we can't see. We clip the bend on the extreme left, actually getting the wheels up on the curbing, then exit through the final right bend about in the right center of the road. The feeling we try to create coming through such a complicated S series is one of smoothness and good adhesion. It is a graceful swoop and swoop and swoop that takes us through the exit at full power and ready for a wild rush down the long straight.
Every time I drive here I can't help thinking that it is a freak track and that every corner is a freak corner. The Ring is an enclosed tar and macadam circuit 14.17 miles long located in Germany's Eifel Mountains and designed to resemble the roads in that area. It is a twisting, up-hill-and-down-dale course that contains the amazing total of 176 corners, and to win a race there you have to get round at an average speed of over 100 mph.
To me, all of the problems encountered at the Ring are wrapped in the Karussel. This is a left-hand turn that is 150 yards through a bowl-shaped semicircle which tilts at about 30 degrees. They may call it a carrousel, but it is more like a motorcycle wall of death. Golfers speak—usually with annoyance—of blind holes on which they must hit to a green they can't see. Well, the Karussel is a blind corner. You approach up a steep grade at about 140 mph. From the very low driving position in the present Formula I car, you cannot see the corner until you are in it. But standing out by itself in the forest beyond the track is a tall fir tree. You need a lot of faith, but as you come charging up the hill toward the corner you simply aim at the tree. Then suddenly the road seems to fall away under the car. You shift into second and hold on to the steering wheel like mad, as you try to keep the car well down in the turn. As the car drops into the bowl it squashes down under great pressure, hitting the very limit of its suspension. When you exit out the other side the suspension rebounds like a coiled spring. If the car comes out too high you will, at best, skid and lose precious seconds; at worst, you fly off the track and into the woods on the far sides. Race drivers hold few corners in higher esteem. During the few seconds we spend inside the Karussel we experience something like a real high.
The real guts of the Nürburgring course comes in the last three-quarters of a mile of the descent down to the bridge at Adenau. Each time around, when I enter this part of the circuit, I begin to think of all the things I would rather do with my life than drive race cars. It is so terrifying, it takes so much determination, so much dependence on the car, so much plain courage. It is also true that when I'm really having a go with someone in a race on the Nürburgring, I consider this corner the very best place to make up time—even though I am just hanging on and clenching my teeth. The plunge starts with a left-hand turn around a bordering hedge that is taken in fourth gear at about 145 mph. Actually, you don't just go around the hedge, you almost go through it. The best way to take this turn—and set up the three right-hand turns that immediately follow—is to stick the left front-wheel straight into the bottom of the hedge, thus grooving out a portion of it. This is somewhat risky because on the other side of the hedge is a long fall into the valley below. And that is just the beginning, for you clip corners and hedges at top speed the rest of the way down, eventually coming to a left-hand corner over a bump where the car flies a full two feet off the surface of the road. To prepare for this corner you have to line the car up a good 100 yards early and be sure the line is correct. The car leaps across the apex of the corner before touching down on the left side of the track. Two relatively easy lefts follow. These bring driver and car over the Adenau bridge at the bottom, and start them back up the climb toward more nightmares.