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The fastest Cathedral in the world
A holy site is a place of significant meaning to those who adhere to a particular religion.
They are, more often than not, places that people from all over the world travel to to feel closer to their beliefs, pay respects, or to follow in the footsteps of important figures. The Autodromo Nazionale Monza ticks all of those boxes if your religion is based around speed.
Few circuits can claim to have been around since the very early days of motor racing, but as the third oldest circuit in the world, Monza can do just that. From its origins in the early 1920s to the very latest Italian Grand Prix and everything in between, Monza has more than a few stories to tell, even one involving me.
I had actually arrived in Monza running on fumes, and searching high and low for a petrol station, and for reasons unknown to me, my sat-nav had actually taken me down a road near a park that ended right in front a large green gate. After scratching my head and wondering what was going on, a man pulled up alongside me and with the touch of a button on some sort of mysterious device, he had opened the gate. In Italian, he said something like “follow me”.
As it turned out, I’d parked myself in front of one of the service entrances to the Autodromo, but this lovely chap let me in to use the circuit fuel station. Imagine accidentally finding yourself at the back door of Silverstone, and somebody just coming along to let you in. These sorts of things just don’t really happen.
I drove behind the friendly Italian through a small, narrow road that wound its way through trees and grass until eventually we arrived at the heart of the circuit. The fuel station that my sat-nav had decided was best for me was more or less directly on the back of the main stand on the start-finish straight. Blimey.
You feel something in the air at Monza. It’s an important place, a place that gently vibrates with the energy of motor racing even when the circuit is empty in late autumn. I don’t think you really need to be a motor racing fan to get a sense of just how proud the locals are of their circuit or what it means to the worshippers who come here to the fastest Cathedral in the world. You can sense something, there’s more to it than just being a racing circuit. The energy of the place gets inside you, it excites you, it makes you nervous.
The refuelling was put on hold. I had noticed the sculpture of Juan Manuel Fangio and his Mercedes by the reception and had to go and take a closer look, and then I was sucked in to reception and getting myself on a guided tour. It took in the main stand, VIP areas, conference rooms, and even the famous podium. Yes, I’ve been on the top step at Monza – if only there had been a crowd there to cheer me on.
After wandering around the main stand and more modern areas of the circuit, we stepped outside and took in the older sections. The old pit garages still stand, but are now offices, providing a different sort of service to what they were originally used for. We then travelled down to the first chicane at the end of the start/finish straight. If you walk through the trees and grass and past the stand with modern seating, you can walk straight onto the old high-speed banking, part of the original circuit from 1922 and now disused for many years. For the pilgrim, this is perhaps the most thrilling part of the tour – standing on the old banking – ancient in motor racing terms – thinking of the legends and pioneers of motor racing. These were brave people who risked and often lost their lives in pursuit of speed, glory, and a chance to be in the history books. Rindt, Peterson, von Trips, and Ascari all lost their lives here at Monza. Racing is dangerous, but ever so romantic. The still air and silence of the old banking, is the perfect place to take a moment to reflect, and while it may never again be filled with the roar of the engines, it is still always going to be a powerful site.
Monza is not really a museum. It’s a fully functioning, modern, constantly evolving motor racing venue that is trying very hard to turn a profit in an age where circuits find it harder and harder to do so. In the modern era of motorsport, many fans feel jaded.
A trip to Monza might just cure you of that particular ailment – so follow in the footsteps of the legends and take time to cherish this truly holy site.
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