Comparing the Monaco Grand Prix with the Indy 500

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2014

Comparing the Monaco Grand Prix with the Indy 500

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    F1 cars at the home of the Indy 500.
    F1 cars at the home of the Indy 500.MICHAEL CONROY/Associated Press

    This year, two of the world's greatest motor races take place on the same day.

    On Sunday 25 May, the 2014 Formula One Monaco Grand Prix starts at 12 p.m. UTC (1 p.m. BST, 8 a.m. EDT). A few hours later, it's the turn of the Indy 500, scheduled to start at 4:12 p.m. UTC (5:12 p.m. BST, 12:12 p.m. EDT).

    The races form two of the three parts of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, the other being the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But that's the only thing they have in commonMonaco and the Indy 500 are like chalk and cheese.

    One is run on the tight, twisty streets of the world's second-smallest country. The 2013 race's fastest lap was done at an average speed of just 97 miles an hour (157 kilometres an hour).

    The other takes place on a vast, sprawling superspeedway in the United States' 13th-largest city, with 2013's fastest lap set at an average speed of 227 miles an hour (365 kilometres an hour).

    One has tiny straights, the other has two giants. One has 19 corners, the other four.

    So how do they compare? Is one a greater event, or do they deserve equal billing?

    Looking at history, spectacle, excitement and more, here's a side-by-side comparison.


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    The first Indy 500, 1911.
    The first Indy 500, 1911.HENRY FORD/Associated Press

    The first 500-mile race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was held in 1911. Ray Harroun won driving a Marmon Wasp in a race with 40 starters. Starting position was determined by entry number.

    Harroun's race time was six hours, 42 minutes and 8.039 seconds.

    The 500-mile race has been held at Indianapolis nearly every year since. The 1916 event was only 120 miles long, and in 1917-1918 and 1942-1945, the 500 was cancelled due to American involvement in the world wars.

    The inaugural Monaco Grand Prix was held in 1929, around a circuit not too dissimilar to the one on which the cars race today. The 16-car field had their starting positions determined by the drawing of lots.

    William Grover-Williams won the race in a Bugatti Type 35, with a total race time of three hours, 56 minutes and 11 seconds.

    It was held a further 10 times before the world championship era began in 1950, and since 1955 has been an ever-present on the calendar.

    But Indy goes back much further.

    Indy 1, Monaco 0.


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    Monaco, including swimming pool, pit lane and pit straight.
    Monaco, including swimming pool, pit lane and pit straight.Angelo Cavalli/Robert Harding/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The Indy 500 is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a few miles from the centre of Indianapolis. A lot of landscaping has been done to make the grounds attractive, and there's even a golf course therewith a few holes inside the speedway boundaries.

    But it suffers from the same thing so many flat, relatively featureless race tracks do. It isn't beautiful (unless you're a huge racing fan), and watching cars go around it isn't too different to watching cars go round any number of ovals anywhere in the world.

    There's not much "wow-factor."

    Monaco is the opposite. The circuit threads around streets lined with magnificent architecture, up and down some beautiful elevation changes and along the shore of the Mediterranean.

    There's the tunnel, track-side curiosities like bus stop signs and a general feeling that the cars took a wrong turn and ended up driving around the wrong track.

    As far as spectacle goes, Monaco is peerless.

    Indy 1, Monaco 1.


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    Monaco's famous Loews hairpin.
    Monaco's famous Loews hairpin.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a two-and-a-half mile rectangular oval featuring two long straights and four similar, low-banked corners.

    The track configuration is unique among circuits used on the current IndyCar calendar, but not overly dissimilar to other long ovals.

    Monaco is like nothing else on the F1 calendar. It doesn't have the plethora of 90-degree corners usually found on street circuits, it has less run-off than any other venue and average speeds are the lowest of the year.

    And even if we took the barriers away, corners like the Loews hairpin and Mirabeau have no equals anywhere in the F1 world.

    Monaco stands alone.

    Indy 1, Monaco 2.


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    The finish of the 1992 Indy 500.
    The finish of the 1992 Indy 500.David Boe/Associated Press

    Every Indy 500 is exciting to watch. The track encourages close racing and slipstreaming, and overtaking happens all the time.

    Whole-course cautions (equivalent to a safety car period in F1) are frequent, and they cause the field to bunch up. Drivers can easily be put out of position by ill-timed pit stops and forced to fight their way back through the field.

    The 2012 race saw 34 lead changes; 2013 saw 68. It's unlikely Monaco has seen that many in the last 20 years.

    The Circuit de Monaco and overtaking go together like Michael Bay and deep, meaningful film-making. It's far too narrow for modern F1, speeds are too low and the straights are not long enough.

    They're not really straight, either.

    It can be fascinating to flick on and watch the insanely powerful cars speed around inches from the barriers.

    But after 15 minutes of watching them trundle around in a never-changing train, three seconds off their true pace because they're saving their tyres and no one can overtake, it can get a little dull.

    Monaco's single ace is that it can be the most exciting sight in the world when it rains. But the last time that happened was 2008, and before that 1997.

    The most exciting part of a race weekend shouldn't be qualifying, but in Monaco it frequently is.

    Not so at Indy.

    Indy 2, Monaco 2.


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    The Indianapolis pit straight grandstand.
    The Indianapolis pit straight grandstand.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    There are 257,325 permanent grandstand seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and room in the infield for more. That makes it the highest-capacity sporting venue in the world.

    The Indy 500's organisers don't release attendance figures, but race day crowds are in the region of 300,000, with fans paying between $40 and $186 (£24 and £110), per

    It's a vast number, eight times Monaco's permanent population.

    The Monte Carlo circuit only has 37,000 grandstand seats, which are erected for the race and taken down afterwards. They sell out, with fans paying between $51 and $728 (£30 and £431), per one BBC article, and up to $2,364 (£1,400) according to a different one.

    However, the circuit is surrounded by tall buildings and hotels with wide balconies, hills offering decent vantage points and a harbour packed full of yachts. Non-ticketed attendance is far higher than ticketed, with the BBC estimating crowds of 200,000.

    Good, but not quite on a par with Indy.

    Indy 3, Monaco 2.

Series the Race Is Part of

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    A Ferrari at Monaco.
    A Ferrari at Monaco.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    The Indy 500 is the showpiece event of the IndyCar Series, which is struggling a little. A split in the 1990s created two top-level open-wheel racing series in the United States (CART and IRL), and NASCAR crept in to take the crown as the country's most popular racing series.

    IRL and ChampCar (CART's successor) reunited in 2008, but this new incarnation of the series has been unable to recover back to the heights it once enjoyed.

    Monaco is part of the F1 world championshipthe pinnacle of world motorsport. The cars are the most technologically advanced racing machines on the planet and each team builds their own.

    Many team budgets run into the hundreds of millions, and the top drivers are global superstars. F1 visits 19 countries, and it also has a substantial, solid worldwide fanbase.

    There are problems. For example, the owners cream off billions while many teams struggle to survive, and the circuits are becoming increasingly similar, ultra-modern facilities designed by the same man.

    But it's still top of the league.

    Indy 3, Monaco 3.


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    More F1 at Indy. Can't find any IndyCars at Monaco.
    More F1 at Indy. Can't find any IndyCars at Monaco.Associated Press

    A three-all draw, which seems around right. Fans of F1 will probably say Monaco is better, fans of IndyCar will most likely pick the Indy 500.

    But both are incredibly prestigious, world-famous races which even non motorsport fans have heard ofand will maybe even watch.

    And both deserve a spot on top of this particular podium.

    In closing, here's an interesting little fact that didn't seem to fit anywhere else. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway's grounds cover 2.3 square kilometres.

    That's 300 square metres more than surface area of the entire country of Monaco.

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