November 17, 2020
Lost Legends Come to Life in Project CARS 3
The original circuit in Monza was built in 1922 with one purpose in mind, a purpose that ultimately defined the layout of the circuit: to give an advantage to Italian teams that were down on handling and up on power against their French and German adversaries.
The two configurations built were therefore all about pure speed—a road circuit with endless straights (and without chicanes) and an oval (known as the “anello”—the ring), both of which could be joined-up for a combined course of just under 10 kilometres of almost constant terminal velocity.
The autodrome staged its first race on a cool, rainy day on September 3rd, 1922, and the track couldn’t have been better suited to the task of giving the big-power Italian teams an advantage—legendary Italian ace Pietro Bordino taking the hometown win in his FIAT 501 in front of a sell-out crowd.
The temple of speed, though, was dangerous—getting it wrong would often result in injury and worse for both drivers and spectators. Like when a driver named Materassi went into the crowd in the late-’20s, and when, in 1933, Italy’s Golden Generation of drivers vanished in a few seconds of madness around the Curva Sud banking.
With the fatalities rising, chicanes were introduced in the mid-1930s (even then that was met with criticism by drivers such as Hans Stuck), and finally, in 1938, the original banked turns had to be pulled down when cars exceeded the 190kmh maximum oval speed.
This new layout that took shape just before the war was a poor imitation of a once-great track, but it remained standing, mostly forgotten, all the way until 1954 when—powered by Italy’s post-war economic boom—“la Pista Magica” was rebuilt and returned to its former greatness.
It’s that epic track that you can enjoy in Project CARS 3.
The new layout was laid down as a carbon-copy of the original 1922 track, except for one significant change, right at the end of the lap. Because of the new grandstands being built, the main-straight had to be shortened and that in turn meant the last turn had to be reprofiled into a new radius, one that narrowed dramatically at the exit—the turn that would become known as the Parabolica.
That final, mythical corner has served as a slingshot for many a passing a passing move and final slipstream battle to the line for generations of drivers. It’s also seen tragedy and massive shunts as drivers pitch into the right-hander and hope everything sticks.
The old Monza, without chicanes, is fast and dangerous and special. And it’s all about the slipstream. In the top 5 closest GP finishes, it’s no surprise to find two occurring on this classic Monza layout (including the closest finish of all time)—1969 and 1971, the last year Monza featured no chicanes.
That 1971 race saw eight drivers lead the race, but it was Gethin who crossed the line 0.1s ahead of Petersen, with the next three drivers just half-a-second behind. It’s the kind of finish and race that only classic Monza can provide.
Get some non-aero F1 cars from the 1960s in Project CARS 3 and get out there for some slipstreaming fun. The few turns and many straights here can almost guarantee you of close, wheel-to-wheel racing. And pulling a move on the exit of the Parabolica on the last lap? The stuff of legends!
The Ruins at Rouen
There were two places in the world of motorsports back in the glory days of the 1960s that separated the great from the good: the Masta Chicane at Spa, and the downhill slalom to the cobbled Nouveau Monde hairpin at Rouen-les-Essarts.
There’s nothing much left of either place these days, and the closest you’ll ever come to experiencing these fabled stretches of racetrack is in Project CARS 3.
Rouen was where heroes once came to dice with death, and everyone else came to watch the very best of the day do battle against one of the most notorious tracks in history. It’s no coincidence that, of the five grands prix held there, each saw a world champion on pole.
The downhill section from the pits—more a slalom run than anything else—down to the cobbled hairpin at Nouveau Monde was where the heroes were separated from the exceptionally brave. Down that hill, with no lift, that was the true test of a driver.
In the days before downforce, drivers would just throw their cars into four-wheel drifts and ski them downhill. It took more than skill. World champ’ Denny Hulme recalled that drivers would listen for the tell-tale whisper of a trembling foot, an uncertain hesitation as the cars edged through Six Frères. Clark, Gurney, Fangio—none of those guys ever lifted. Or so they said … back then, of course, there was no telemetry to make a liar of a driver.
There are two layouts in Project CARS 3, a short version and the long version based around the legendary design built in ’55 when the circuit climbed from the cobbled hairpin at Nouveau Monde (at 56m) and stretched all the way to Gresil, sitting high-up and pretty at 150m.
The circuit’s glory years were in the late-’50s and early-’60s, but when the Formula One circus returned in 1968, they had sprung downforce, horsepower, and too much speed for the layout. Ironic, because this grand prix should have sealed Rouen as the home of the French Grand Prix after the debacle at the much-maligned ‘Mickey Mouse’ Bugatti circuit in ’67. Instead, it was the race that sealed Rouen’s fate forever when Jo Schlesser lost control and his life down the run to the hairpin just after Six Frères.
Rouen had become too dangerous for Formula One, and the circus never came back.
Instead, Rouen kept hosting Formula 2 and 3 throughout the ’60s and ’70s—kids with nothing much to lose and everything to prove. In 1970, two drivers died at the F3 race. The organizers, in response, installed Armco barriers around the track and even resurfaced much of the tarmac which had always been viciously bumpy and notoriously hard on shocks and steering. It did little to make things safer; the track was a killer. In ’73 Scotsman Gerry Birrell lost his life at the dreaded Six Frères. He’d all but signed a contract to replace retiring World Champion Jackie Stewart for ’74, and was the main test driver for the Ford Escort RS1300 (you can drive its big brother, the RS1600, in Project CARS 3).
Six Frères, it was decided, had to be tamed; a permanent chicane was installed down the hill, and a new name given to that section—Virage des Roches: one of the world’s most challenging and demanding runs was forever gone, to join the Masta Chicane in the forgotten ledger of legends. But it did little to make the place safer and finally, in 1993, a sombre gentleman on a misty spring morning locked the padlock on the gate for the last time and left the place to the ghosts, the vandals, and the rot.
The idea had been to build a new track using only non-public roads—the road that you run on in the Project CARS 3 ‘short’ version with the chicanes from Courbe de l’étoile to Paradis—but funding never materialized. The elements quickly destroyed what the vandals left behind and by 1999 the whole thing had become a hazard. That’s when the bulldozer came.
They did a good job. They got rid of it all—the grandstands, the pits, even the tree on which Birrell’s mechanics had carved his memorial—all was destroyed. They even went after the cobbles at Nouveau Monde, ripping them up and replacing them with tarmac. The chicane into Six Frères became a layby.
Nothing left, but it remains alive in Project CARS 3. And if you take one of that era’s cars in-game and do the run down to the chicane without a lift, you’ll understand why this place remains so special in the heart and minds of motorsport fanatics around the world. That run down to the hairpin is a permanent part of motorsport lore.