The world of racing is a wonderful thing. Hero drivers, legendary cars that have put manufacturers like Porsche, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo on the map; all the glitz and glamour of events like the Monaco or Italian Grand Prix; and the blood, sweat, and tears of stuff like NASCAR and Le Mans.
Of course, while we all remember the cars and drivers, it’s the circuits on which all of this happens that have really borne witness. Drivers will come and go, regulations will change, and so will the cars. Not the circuits, though. Many have been here since the beginning and while most have gone through some pretty significant changes, the ghosts of races past still live on, leaving their mark in the tarmac, the guardrails, and the grandstands.
Thing is, most of us will only get to experience these from afar through cell phone and TV screen or, if we’re lucky, from trackside, or through the wonderful art of the video game.
Or will we? We did a little bit of digging, and assuming the geography is right, you can get much closer to the greatness that is motorsport than you might think. And we’re not talking by visiting the tracks, oh no. We’re talking about driving them.
As it turns out, a huge number of these world-famous venues will open their gates to the public on specific days – indeed, they have to find some way to make money when there’s no professional racing going on – as well as offer private rentals. As you’ll soon see, there’s some pretty major stuff here, and you don’t even need a specialized car fitted with roll bars or fire extinguishers to experience these venues in all their glory; often, the only real requirement is a car that’s road-worthy and doesn’t exceed noise limitations.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – Stavelot, Belgium
If you’ve never heard of this Uzi-shaped circuit and its famous turns such as the “Eau Rouge” chicane, the “Blanchimont” sweeper, and the “La Source” hairpin, then you may as well stop reading this list because its contents probably aren’t for you. If you are familiar with this legendary circuit, however, then careening over it with your hair on fire probably isn’t too far down your bucket list. And all it will cost you is a car (could be a rental) and 100 euros for one lap and 290 euros for four.
Nürburgring Nordschleife – Nürburg, Germany
100 km East of Spa is “The Green Hell”, so coined by Sir Jackie Stewart in 1968 thanks to its being completely surrounded by dense forest (often under the cover of rain and fog). This 154-turn, 20.8 km stretch of gnarly tarmac in Germany’s Eiffel region may be the most famous track in the world.
Full of blind corners, ups and downs, crazy cambers and turns named “Fuchsröhre (Fox Hole)” and “Bergwerk (Mine)”, and a whole lot of graffiti, it’s not for the faint of heart – which is why we suggest that if you’ve never been here before, take something low-powered. Like a Ford Mondeo rental car, for example. The best part? A single lap costs just 25 euros Tuesday to Thursday, and a whole five euros more on the weekend. Or just book a ride in the Ring Taxi, piloted by professional ’Ring masters. Los!
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Silverstone Circuit – Silverstone, England
Like so many forms of entertainment in England, driving the current home of the British Grand Prix isn’t cheap: There’s only one way to do it if you plan on bringing your own car, and that’s by reserving a whole day at the track for a whopping 459 pounds, or about 800 Canadian dollars at current rates. For many, though, the Becketts, Brooklands, and Luffield corners and corner complexes are well worth it.
Brands Hatch Circuit – West Kingsdown, England
While perhaps not as recognizable as Silverstone, Brands Hatch remains a world-class facility that hosts all manner of top-tier championships including the British Touring Car Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, and the British Superbike Championship. Past championships include Formula 1 and the precursor to today’s FIA GT Championship, the BPR Global GT Series.
If you want to take a crack at the famous Paddock Hill left just past the start/finish line, you can do so for 239 quid, which gets you a full day at the track. You won’t have access to the full Grand Prix layout – open track days happen on the Indy layout, which most closely resembles the track as it looked when it was first tarmacked in the late ’20s.
Autodromo Nazionale Monza – Monza, Italy
Yep, we couldn’t believe it, either: The track used for one of the most famous (and glamorous) races on the F1 calendar can be run by regular joes like you and me, with no racing training whatsoever. The legendary banking may be long gone, but for between 55 and 85 euros depending on the day or time of year, you’ll still be able to experience the fast Curve di Lesmo and run a tire over the tricolore curbs. Heck, play your cards right, and you may even be able to barter an extra few minutes for yourself for just a few euros.
Road America – Elkhart Lake, WI, USA
No pace cars here; just the wide-open straights of one of the faster road tracks the USA has to offer. The long straights and heavy braking zones will surely test your car, so much so that the track’s website recommends high-performance cars only. That’s a bit of a subjective term, of course, but you get the idea. Watch those brakes, and enjoy passing below the “Speedville” bridge, on to the Carousel corner that comes immediately after and try your hand at mastering the Kink at turn 11.
Road Atlanta – Braselton, GA, USA
I don’t know about you, but from what I’ve seen on various race broadcasts and during much videogame work, turns 2 through 5 on this track look to combine to be one of the most daunting sections this side of Spa’s Eau Rouge. Which, of course, makes me want to try it all that much more. Luckily, it’s doable, if a little more complicated than the rest of the entries on this list.
Unlike most of them, you can’t just show up one day, pay your access fee, and hit the track. Track days at Road Atlanta all run through various third-party organizers that require an annual fee in addition to the fee you’re paying for your day at the track. That hovers around the $50 range, so it’s no big deal but it does require a little more planning.
Yas Marina Circuit – Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Well, why not? You’ve already spent time at the ginormous Ferrari World events centre, may as well hop in and drive, right? Luckily, this most state-of-the-art of F1 circuits has a “run what ya brung” option, for the surprisingly reasonable price of about C$210. Of course, there’s the small matter of getting there, so if a car’s going to be a problem, know that the track offers all manner of drive experiences behind the wheel of the likes of the Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Mercedes-AMG GTS, and even race-prepped Ferrari 458 GTs.
The Open Road: Circuit de La Sarthe – Le Mans, France; Mount Panorama Circuit – Bathurst, Australia
While neither of these have specific day reserved for tracking, the fact that they’re mostly made up of public roads means they can be driven all the time, by pretty much anyone. You may not be able to carry race-car-like speeds, but just being able to say you took the Indianapolis curves at Le Mans or Frog Hollow section on Mount Panorama is still worth it. Plus, it’s always free.
Closer to Home: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Bowmanville, ON, Canada
If you want to keep things closer to home, then Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – “Mosport” to many – is just the ticket. Like Road Atlanta, track days here have to be planned through a third-party provider, typically costing $450 to $700 for a full day’s use of the track. And what a track: elevation changes aplenty, fast sweepers, and the fabulous Andretti Straight are all open for you to master.