Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Monza: The high speed banked circuit

This is a short blog on the opening of a new track at the Autodromo di Monza in 1955.

Present day north banking

Italy’s new high-speed circuit at Monza was designed not only for future Italian Grand Prix, but for testing, record-breaking and endurance running. With this in mind the circuit was little more than an oval speed bowl, with two equal length straights at either side and two equal radii banked curves at either end. It was intended that the new high-speed track could be combined with the old ‘road course’ to create a circuit with a lap distance of 6.24 miles.

Connection between old and new tracks was to be through a tunnel under the banking adjacent to the Serraglio Curve. The main straight in front of the grandstands was divided down the middle, so that competitors would race parallel to each other and in the same direction, but be on two different tracks.

Exit of 'road course' from tunnel beneath banking

The combination of the banked high-speed track and the corners of the ‘road course’ was a searching test of cars and drivers. Mercedes took the opportunity of experimenting with hydraulically operated air-brakes on their aerodynamic GP cars. The brake was similar to that used on the 300SLR at Le Mans, but it does not blend into the rear of the body as on the sports car. When out of use it rested on top of the rear wings and stream-lined head-rest, offering minimal wind-resistance.

GP Mercedes with 'air-brake' deployed

The plan to run the Italian Grand Prix in September 1955 came under urgent discussion the week before the event, as there had been numerous complaints from drivers over the safety of the proposed track. There were also concerns over the dazzling effect on drivers of the low sunshine reflected off the concrete banked track. 

The leading four Mercedes early in the race

The race however did go ahead, with Mercedes finishing in a safe first and second position. The race was not without controversy, Taruffi getting the ‘naughty-naughty’ sign from team manager Neubauer as he attempted to pass Fangio in front of the pits on the final lap. The retirement of both Vanwalls was a disappointment, as they had earlier posted good practice times. They had suffered from the bumpy concrete surface of the banking, which along with the higher rate springs that had been fitted, caused the De Dion tube to break on both cars. Farina was very lucky indeed when a tyre burst on his Lancia during practice, as the car turned over twice. Following this incident the Lancia’s were withdrawn from the race.

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