The Bookworm Critique
"World Motor Racing Circuits:
A Spectator's Guide"
By Peter Higham and
Bruce Jones;
Published by Andre Deutsch.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this book

Along with drivers and vehicles, circuits are among the great variables in motor racing. As with all of the cars and most of the drivers, each track has its own individual personality; the end product of any number of wildly disparate factors. Some of them are physical, such as corner combinations, track width, camber, and the length of the straights and pitlane. Others are a little less obscure, and can include anything from the local climate (e.g. Silverstone), to heritage and mythology (e.g. Monza and Monaco).

The peculiarities of each track naturally have a great influence on the nature of the races that it hosts; often, it makes a significant contribution in determining the outcome of an event. It's no coincidence that tracks with vibrant personalities, such as Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka, usually provide great racing. Similarly, there's a reason that references to circuits such as Magny-Cours are usually found in close proximity to words and phrases such as 'processional', 'tedious', and 'I'd almost have preferred to watch golf'. (That last one alone should be reason enough to relocate the French Grand Prix to Paul Ricard).

The last couple of years have seen the release of a few books that deal with motor racing circuits, and 'World Motor Racing Circuits: A Spectator's Guide' is probably the best of them. That being said, it is certainly neither definitive nor flawless. This book features all of the current Formula One circuits, including Indianapolis - not a bad effort, considering that it was published last year - as well as CART, NASCAR, and some of the more significant Touring Car, Sports Car and F3 circuits. By the time you reach the end of the book, you'll have taken an armchair tour of 69 current tracks around the world.

Generally, it's difficult to complain about the range of information that the authors have managed to accumulate. Each track is allocated anything from two to four pages, which allows sufficient space for all kinds of useful stuff. The circuit diagrams are clear and easy to read, and include everything you'd expect to find in a book such as this - names of the corners, gear changes, average speeds, and pit locations. I do have a small gripe regarding the speed and gear change data though. Some of the circuits regularly host world-class events for more than one racing formula; yet it's not immediately obvious what type of cars the authors have drawn upon for their data. I eventually found a list that cleared this up, but it was hidden all the way up the back on the copyright page. Not exactly the most conspicuous place for what I'd consider to be vitally important information.

What I did like was the inclusion of a series of smaller maps that charted any modifications that had been made to the track over the years. You'd think that these kinds of details would be fairly standard in circuit books, yet for some reason it seems to be frequently overlooked. Also nice is the chart that runs along the bottom of each page that shows the gradient of each part of the circuit. While anybody who takes these kinds of details really seriously will probably be tearing out their hair over the lack of any indication of scale, it gives the rest of us a good impression of an important physical aspect of the circuits that is impossible to gauge by simply watching the races on television.

As the title suggests, this book is intended as a guide for spectators. With that in mind, the author have included a huge array of information designed to make life as easy as possible for anyone planning to visit one of these circuits. Contact information for each track is provided, along with details on how to get there, locations of the closest airports, train stations, tourist offices and hospitals, as well as various telephone dialing codes and ticketing information. While this is all tremendously useful, you have to question the wisdom of writing a book specifically for people who are traveling to a race, and then publishing it in a not-very-travel-friendly twelve-by-twelve inch hardback format, but maybe that only occurred to me because I tend to travel with a backpack...

It's a really handy book to keep nearby when you're sitting around the lounge room waiting for a Grand Prix to start though. The sections for most Formula One circuits include background information on the tracks, and descriptions of what the authors consider to be the greatest race ever held on that particular patch of tarmac. There are also a number of personal profiles for drivers that have some particular connection to the track in question. There is also a table that lists the results of every major race ever held at the track in question, which should keep statistic junkies happy.

A nice bonus is the inclusion of three classic circuits - Reims, Pescara, and the original Nurburgring. These are all circuits that motor racing fans of my generation have heard about time and time again, yet it was not until I read this book that I began to develop any real impression of what these places were really about. These tracks are dealt with in a similar manner to the current circuits, and feature the same kinds of diagrams, details of modifications, and other points of interest. There is also contact and visitor information for these tracks, just in case anybody happens to be in the area and decides to take a bit of a pilgrimage to one of motor racing's great cathedrals from years gone by.

The effort that the authors have put into researching this book is obvious. While that's obviously a good thing, it's a shame that they didn't take a little more time to digest the information that they had collected. It looks like the relevant data has simple been pulled from the original sources and plonked onto the page; as a result, a few errors and inaccuracies have crept in. The simple factual errors that can be found in the section dealing with Bathurst provide a good example. For starters, the web address for the circuit's homepage is incorrect. Also, according to the little world map that shows the exact location of each track, Bathurst would appear to have slid 1000km south. Instead of being located in its rightful spot a couple of hundred kilometers west of Sydney, the map shows it sitting halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide.

While annoying, these kinds of little errors shouldn't detract too much from the overall quality of the book. It's an interesting read, and a valuable resource to add to your motor racing library. I'd have liked to see a little more information on the history of the circuits themselves, such as how the location was chosen and who designed the tracks, but most of the other information is there. There are still lots of areas where this book could be improved, but at the end of the day it is probably the best of it's genre and should prove more than adequate for anybody with an interest in racing circuits.

Mark Glendenning© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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