The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the third oldest purpose-built track in the world, conceived as both a venue for the Italian Grand Prix, and to give Italian automakers a high-velocity track on which to R&D their products.
Since 1922, when the track was built in less than 110 days, it has gone on to haunt generations of drivers with its beauty, speed, and indifference to tragedy.
That original track’s genesis was inspired by the need to bring back a sense of national pride to a nation humiliated at the inaugural Italian Grand Prix, held at the technical and slow-speed Montechiari circuit in Brescia in 1921, when French driver Goux in a distinctly French Ballot beat Italy’s best grand prix cars that were as big on horsepower and noise as they were low on grip and handling.
Italy, already enamored by motor racing, and home to two of the world’s original stylists of the wheel, was left bereft.
That’s when the Milan Automobile Club, already in its 25th year, came up with a plan to steal the grand prix from Brescia with a purpose-built track on the outskirts of Milan, in the Monza Palace Park—a track that would reward the brute power of the dominant FIATs of the day.
Monza, from day one, was about one thing only: maximum speed.
Brescia, of course, would get even by inventing the Mille Miglia race, but the Italian Grand Prix was lost to Monza forever. Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix for almost a century now (only in 1937, 1947, 1948, and 1980 did Monza miss out), and has become the very heartbeat of Italian motorsports: it is, by far, the oldest race track still in use outside of Indianapolis.
Through the years, Monza has seen them all, the great, the good, and the brave who left everything behind those typically golden late-summer days, the traditional spot on the calendar for the Italian Grand Prix.
Italian to the core, Monza continues to serve-up that all-Italian stereotype—drama. Races are seldom boring because those endless straights rarely allow any car to gap the field with the opposition tucked-in to the slipstream. Of the top 10 closest finishes in F1, three have happened at Monza, including the closest battle of all time—the 1967 Italian GP when John Surtees clung on to a win by 0.200 seconds.
That year, 1967, is the configuration coming to Project CARS 2. The Formula One boys ran on the road-course that year, while the endurance and GT boys ran on the combined 10km track. In Project CARS 2, you’ll be able to run all three configurations—the “anello” or oval, the road track, or the combined 10km track.
The original circuit, in 1922, was built with two distinct configurations—the road circuit, pretty much as it stands today without the chicanes (measuring 5.5 kilometres), and the oval (known as the “anello”—the ring) running 4.5 kilometres, with both sections joining for a combined course of just under 10 kilometres of almost constant terminal velocity, with a series of cones set on the front straight to separate those who were headed into the banking, and those headed into the fearsome Curva Grande.
The autodrome staged its first race on a cool, rainy day, on September 3rd, 1922, and if the idea had been to promote Italian motorsports, the track couldn’t have been better suited to the task—legendary Italian ace Pietro Bordino in a FIAT 501 taking the win in front of a sell-out crowd.
Italy, in the years leading up to World War 2, was the spiritual home of motorsport, the drivers larger than life—heroes in a time when politics and motorsport went hand-in-glove. Tragedy was often combined with heroism, though, and at Monza, tragedy was the impulse that has seen the track changed through the years, beginning with Materassi’s awful roll into the crowd, and then, in 1933, the grim end of Italy’s Golden Generation in a smash at the Curva Sud banking.
With the fatalities rising, mostly Italian aces at a time when Italy’s drivers—schooled in the art of the four wheel drift—were at the forefront of international racing, 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 were pulled down with cars now way faster than the 190kmh top speed oval, and the track subject to a complete overhaul.
That layout remained until 1954; a poor imitation of a once-great track, and one that, like Italy, had been badly damaged by the war.
In 1954, though, Monza, along with the Italian economic miracle of those post-war years, was returned to its former greatness, and it is this epic track that comes to Project CARS 2.
The new layout was roughly laid down as a carbon-copy of the original 1922 track with a few minor differences owing to the changed landscape. This meant a return to the high-speed 10 kilometre combined section of road-track and newly-built twin-banked turns.
New grandstands were built too, and to circumvent them, the main-straight had to be shortened, which meant the last turn would feature a new radius that kept narrowing toward the exit—the turn that became known as the Parabolica, the final, mythical corner that has served as a slingshot for many a passing move into the Curva Grande and final slipstream battles to the line for generations of drivers.
The two large towers that have become synonymous with Monza were also constructed at this time, with luminous numbers that would become icons of endurance races through the night.
The banked turns, meanwhile, were completely redone. With a radius of 320 metres and an 80 percent banking at the rim, speeds of up to 285kmh were projected. The curves were concrete structures, lined with tiny Armco barriers, and were fraught with danger—suspensions had to be greatly strengthened to survive the loads through those turns while the tyres were subjected to both massive loading as well as tearing on the abrasive concrete surface.
Even more difficult was setting up the cars for both the banking and the track which featured an entirely different surface and challenge; tyre pressures were the stuff of nightmare, and during the 1956 Italian Grand Prix, a dozen cars lost their tyres on the banking and caused some major panic for drivers, teams, and officials.
This new configuration, with the two banked turns, would stage the Formula One cars in ’55, ’56—when the tyre-shredding incidents meant the F1 boys only ran on the road track until they returned to the full track in ’60—and ’61, when tragedy, yet again, meant the end of the banking for Formula 1 after Ferrari driver Wolfgang von Trips, on the cusp of becoming the first-ever German World Champion, lost it all at the Parabolica and barreled into the crowd; a dozen spectators lost their lives that day in the worst accident in Formula One history.
Fancy taking your Project CARS 2 Indy Roadster onto the banking at Monza? It’s not as crazy as you may think because in 1957, and ’58, Monza did exactly that—Indy roadsters versus F1 and endurance cars, on the oval course, racing for big prizes, glory, and the Two Worlds Trophy in a 500 mile race.
The Indy boys came to Monza with ten roadsters for the inaugural edition, while in Europe, safety concerns meant the field was only five strong, made up of two F1 cars, and three World Sportscar Jags that had just won at Le Mans.
The roadsters tore the European entries apart, Jimmy Bryan in his Dean Van Lines Special winning in an impressive average speed of 257kmh, his fastest lap a mega 282kmh.
The event was a sell-out, and the prize money on offer a tantalizing carrot; for 1958, ten cars again came from the US (they sailed directly from the Indy 500 and were transported from Genoa in Alfa Romeo’s trucks), but this time the European contingent even included a Works Ferrari, and a specially prepared roadster for reigning world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. The result was the same—this time, though, it was Jim Rathmann in his Watson “Offy” that took the overall win after the three heats.
Despite the enormous crowds, though, the Automobile Club of Milan was unable to break even, and the event was cancelled, leaving behind just the memory of two Monzanapolis events when the best of the US came and beat the best in Europe on an oval in Italy.
The Monza 1000KM
Between 1965 and ’69, the full circuit including the two banked turns was used for the 1000KM of Monza race which featured sports, prototype, and grand touring cars, the ’67 race falling to the Bandini-Amon Project CARS 2-bound Ferrari 330 P4.
In 1969, the banked turns would be used for a final time for the 1000KM race, and then abandoned forever.
They’re still there to this day, the twin banked ovals, decaying in place. In the late ’90s, they were almost pulled down, only saved by the due diligence of passionate race historians. You can walk them still, and you’ll be gob smacked by the wall of concrete stretching up into the sky.
If you listen carefully, you will hear the ghosts of legends past—Nuvolari, who almost ended his career here in a smash before, bandaged head-to-toe, winning the motorcycle race to become an instant legend. Campari and Borzacchini, three months on from the latter having benefited from the biggest motorsport swindle of all time, lost their lives here, too—Campari, trapped in his Alfa Romeo in his final race, plunging over the banking to his death.
And if you want to win a few dollars, you can ask—when was the last time Formula One cars raced through the banking. Most will reply 1961. They’d be wrong, of course, because Hollywood came to Monza in 1966 to film the movie Grand Prix, and they ran the F1 cars on the banking with a Ford GT 40 filming them.
Monza began life as the spiritual home of Italian racing. Almost a century later, is has become the home of motorsport. The current track, also coming to Project CARS 2, hosts dozens of races each year aside from the Italian Grand Prix: the Monza Historic in July, the Ferrari Challenge in June, the European Le Mans Series in May, the World Touring cars in a usually wet April and dozens of other motorsport events including the now unmissable Monza Rally that runs on the section around and on the banked ovals.
This weekend, if the weather remains dry, expectations are high that the grand prix circus will see speeds in excess of 350kmh.
Monza 1967 comes to Project CARS 2 along with the current Monza on September 22nd. Pre-order now.