12. Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy

Cathedral of Buzzy Feelings

Occasionally, during my journey, I will have the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream, and finally see or experience something I’ve been wanting to see or do for a very long time. Today was one of those days, as I fully indulged my passion for motor racing, and visited one of the most iconic and historical motor racing venues in the world – Monza.

Even if you’re not particularly fond of people trying their utmost to guide big lumps of metal around glorified circles as quickly as possible, the magic and history of the circuit here at Monza, just north of Milan, is instantly recognisable, and practically inescapable. Famous corners with poetic names such as Parabolica, Ascari, and Lesmo, scenes of thousands of passionate Italian fans flooding the track to celebrate a Ferrari victory, these are well known images to die-hard and casual fans alike, and now I can say, I was there.

Granted, the day wasn’t all about being all giddy-eyed whilst walking around the track and listening to the mesmerising tone of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In fact, my day started with a highly unwelcome 8am stroll up a steep hill towards the train station in Lugano, Switzerland, where I was staying at the time. What followed included getting lost in Milan station, spending half an hour in a crowded, sweaty car rental office because they’d hideously overbooked, getting lost again walking to the car park where the car was stored, waiting for them to finish washing the car before I could get in it, getting lost again coming out of Milan, going down the wrong Autostrada, and spending what seemed like three weeks queuing to enter the track.

But, once I was inside, all that stress was quickly replaced by a wondrous buzzing feeling, created by millions upon millions of pounds worth of road car, GT car and Formula Renault, sat proudly in the pits, waiting for their turn to roar around the iconic track.

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Having gawped at the cars from up close, it was time to take my seat, which was located, well, anywhere I wanted. My ticket got me into the circuit, and after that, I was free to wander to whichever section of the track I wish, and sit down anywhere that wasn’t already occupied by a fellow petrolhead.

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Having watched the start of the Formula Renault race from the main grandstand, which was quite exciting, I opted to move further down the main straight, just before the first chicane, to watch the start of the main spectacle – the 3-hours of Monza GT Race. The spot I had chosen seemed to be an unpopular one – too far down the straight to see them cross the start/finish line, and not far enough to be on top of the inevitable melee into turn one.

No more than five seconds into the race, however, and I was rewarded for my choice of location by a massive crash that took out ten cars and saw the race red-flagged for half an hour.

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The Bentley (middle) gets a great start and tries to squeeze between the front two cars…

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…but in doing so, runs the Lamborghini onto the grass.

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Facing the wrong way with 44 other cars heading towards it at ever increasing speeds, the Lambo tries to recover…

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…but not everyone in the packed field can get out of the way in time, and chaos ensues…

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(please forgive the low lighting in most of those shots, I got all excited and forgot to adjust my shutter speed)

Needless to say, my empty grandstand wasn’t very empty for much longer.

After everything had settled down and the race had restarted I opted to take some pretty pictures of the pretty cars going round other parts of the pretty track, and then I was done, heading home before the similarly inevitable melee getting out of the circuit after the conclusion of the race.

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To witness race cars driving round a track as famous and as steeped in history as Monza is a memory I will never forget as long as I live, and to say “I was there” not just at a race in Monza, but right in front of a huge incident at the start of a pretty important race, gives me The Pang all over again.

A fantastically enjoyable day, even if I did get lost again trying to drop the car off in the evening.

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