Speed and endurance
Monza: well-known of course as being the ‘Temple of Speed’. In other words, an arena where solitary oil-smeared and sweat-stained gladiators have done battle with the clock and each other since the iconic track was built in 1922; marking nearly a century now of both triumph and disappointment.
But as well as temple of speed, Monza is also a temple of endurance. And those gladiators behind the steering wheel are not always solitary. Monza traditionally hosts the opening round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, where three drivers share the car over a three-hour marathon. It’s about strategy, tenacity, determination and guts. Amazingly, going into the final hour of the race last year, the top two cars were separated by fewer than 10 seconds – and sometimes a lot less than that, as their reciprocal paint scuffs showed in parc fermé afterwards.
In qualifying, one second covered the top 30 cars. Just because the race is called ‘endurance’ doesn’t mean that the drivers aren’t flat-out.
In total, 11 manufacturers will be represented on the 53-car grid at Monza, forming a dazzling array of the world’s prestigious and prestige manufacturers. Success breeds success of course: that’s precisely why so many of them want to be involved. And why there are so many supercars even in the Monza car park.
Strategy at the forefront
The drivers take a slightly different approach to the Monza three-hour endurance race than they do to the sprint series. They have to think more about preserving the car, but that doesn’t actually mean going any slower. In Monza, it’s predominantly a question of staying off the infamous kerbs for the duration of the three hours (it’s fine to hit them harder during a qualifying lap, although opinions vary about how effective this technique is). The weather of course plays a huge part: some rain was expected last year but it never materialised, whereas this time the weather is forecast to be dry and warm. Which might just mean torrents of water. Predicting the weather at Monza is an inexact science.
Teams tend to decide on the strategy in advance, but a degree of flexibility is built into it, to take advantage of changing circumstances. They obviously need to choose when to stop, but they don't need to worry about which tyres to put on. The Pirelli P Zero DHD comes in just one compound for the Blancpain GT Series, suitable for all cars and all circuits, day or night, hot or cold. The big decisions are often whether or not to double stint, how to take advantage of safety cars or yellow flags tactically, which order to run the three drivers in, and whether or not to try and save fuel. The Monza race should feature a straightforward two-stop strategy. But there’s nothing to stop anyone from doing something different. And that’s the fascinating appeal of GT racing.
Past and present
Monza of course has a huge heritage when it comes to endurance racing. The Monza 1000 kilometres was always right up there as one of the epic races of the past, alongside monuments such as the Nurburgring 1000 kilometres and Spa 24 Hours (which is Pirelli’s biggest single engagement in motorsport today, with something in the region of 13,000 tyres supplied for this one race).
Previous winners of endurance races at Monza read like a true roll call of legends: Gigi Villoresi, Peter Collins, Lorenzo Bandini, Jacky Ickx: we could go on…
As a result, this weekend’s 159 drivers will be following in a noble tradition of GT racing at a track that holds unparalleled fascination for both drivers and spectators. Want to see what it looks like from behind the wheel? Check out this video of the Nissan GT3 GTR at the temple of speed: