SEPTEMBER 2, 1996
Where are we going this week?
ITALY's Autodromo Nazionale is situated at Monza, a small town to the north of the Italian city of Milan. It was built in 1922 in a park which once belonged to the royal palace of Monza.
When it was built it was only the third permanent racing circuit in the world, after England's Brooklands and Indianapolis. The construction of the 6.26-miles of tarmac - a high-speed banked oval linked to a road course - was completed by 3500 workers in just 100 days and the official opening took place on September 3. A week later 150,000 spectators watched Pietro Bordino win the Italian GP. The circuit immediately became a popular venue with great high-speed racing. It was dangerous, but in those motor racing was allowed to be.
The track has lived through various incarnations. The original banking was demolished in 1938 when new grandstands - still standing today - were built. During the Second World War Monza was a military dump, but in 1945 it witnessed an allied tank parade on the main straight.
Racing began again in 1948 and in 1955 the steep banking which can still be seen today was constructed - following the route of the original oval. In 1957 and 1958 Monza hosted the Races of Two Worlds - with American roadsters taking on European Grand Prix cars - but by 1960 the oval was considered to be too dangerous. The British F1 teams boycotted the Italian GP. Gradually the fast sweeps of Monza were broken up by chicanes but not before Peter Gethin won the fastest ever Grand Prix in 1971 with an average speed of 150.754mph. He finished just 0.010sec ahead of Ronnie Peterson.
Later Peterson would die at Monza in a crash at the first corner - joining a long list of those who had perished at the track. Although there were great victories, there were also dreadful accidents. In 1928 Emilio Materassi's Talbot cartwheeled into the crowd opposite the pits. Twenty-two spectators were killed in the worst racing disaster before Le Mans 1955. In 1933 three drivers were killed on the same day in the great South Curve - including the legendary Giuseppe Campari. In 1955 Alberto Ascari died in an unexplained testing accident, and then in 1961 World Championship challenger Wolfgang VonĘTrips killed himself and 10 others as he tried to beat his team mate Phil Hill to the title. And in 1970 World Champion-elect Jochen Rindt died when his Lotus suffered suspension failure at the Parabolica.
People who visit Monza often talk of feeling the ghosts out in the park and those who witnessed the 1988 Italian Grand Prix - just a few weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari - will tell you that there was something supernatural going on when Ayrton Senna spun out of the lead with a couple of laps to go and left Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto to finish 1-2 forĘFerrari.
The Ferrari fans still come in the tens of thousands, and in the woodland around the track you will see many trees with stout nails hammered into them. These allows the fans to climb to vantage points high above the track.
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