The deafening roar of engines, the unmistakable smell of petrol and the palpable tension that electrifies the air are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the adrenaline-fuelled world of racing.
In the realm of this high-octane sport, there are several events that have ascended to legendary status, capturing the imagination of millions around the globe. The most popular car races in the world aren’t just events – they’re spectacles, synonymous with sensational speed, epic endurance, perfect precision, and the unyielding pursuit of victory.
Each race carries its unique allure, historical lineage, and a list of legends who have carved their names into the annals of motorsport history. Yet the prestige and fame of these famous car races extend far beyond their locations and feverish fans. They are globally recognised institutions, each playing a distinct role in defining the legacy of motorsport.
These renowned races are more than simply a test of speed, they’re a platform for technological innovation and a stage where the reputations and legacies of the world’s best drivers are dramatically forged.
It’s time to put the pedal to the metal on a thrilling ride around the most popular car races in the world.
A Short History of Motor Racing
It seems that since the very birth of self-powered vehicles, the competitive spirit has been alive and well. It’s often cited that the very first race over a defined route took place between Ashton-under-Lyne and Old Trafford in Manchester in August 1867. Two steam carriages owned by Isaac Watt Boulton and Daniel Adamson went head-to-head, with the former running out as the winner.
Other point-to-point races took place in the 1880s but the first organised motorsport event was a reliability test from Paris to Rouen in France in 1894, a distance of around eighty miles.
As the motorcar gained in popularity, manufacturers were keen to showcase their cars’ capabilities – as they are today – and some of the most famous car race tracks in the world were built in the early twentieth century, including Brooklands in Surrey and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the USA.
The first French Grand Prix took place at Le Mans in France in 1906 – predating Formula 1 by over three decades – as did the Targa Florio through the mountains of Sicily, one of the most prestigious car races in the history of motorsport.
Since the 1950s, races have been organised to accommodate every vehicle type, including sports cars, touring cars, Formula 1 cars, stock cars, rally cars, karts, and off-roaders.
These events encompass a broad range of competitive formats, such wheel-to-wheel racing, time trials, hill climbs, and quarter-mile drag races. Each one is an exciting, heart-racing, full-throttle experience.
Here are some of the world’s most famous car races.
Literally 1,000 Miles, the Mille Miglia was one of the most iconic and best-known car races in the world. The Brescia to Rome round trip ran for thirty years between 1927 and 1957 and it put some of the world’s most famous car brands on the map, including Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Porsche and BMW. Winners have included some of the biggest names in pre- and post-war racing such as Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, Alberto Ascari and Stirling Moss.
24 Hours of Le Mans
Le Mans, alongside the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, make up the Triple Crown of Motorsport, the world’s most prestigious car races. It takes place on the Circuit de la Sarthe in northwestern France and is the ultimate test of endurance racing. Combining a dedicated race track and closed public roads, the winner is the team who complete the greatest distance in twenty-four hours. Famous winners include Pierre Veyron, Carroll Shelby, Bruce McLaren and Fernando Alonso.
One of the most famous car races in the world, the Indy 500 is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – nicknamed The Brickyard. It has been billed as ‘the greatest spectacle in racing’ and the 200 lap, open-wheel race covers 500 miles at speeds approaching 230 mph. Traditionally, the winner is presented with a bottle of milk, after three-time winner Louis Meyer requested a glass of milk after winning his second race in 1933.
Monaco Grand Prix
Held at the Circuit de Monaco, the 78-lap, two-mile street circuit is one of the most famous car race tracks in the world and has been a fixture since 1929. It’s often seen as the most challenging course on the F1 calendar – with overtaking almost impossible – and is said to be the ultimate test of pure driving ability. Ayrton Senna won the Monaco Grand Prix six times, followed by Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher with five wins apiece.
The Daytona 500 is a 500-mile race held at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. It’s the most important and exciting race in the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – or NASCAR – calendar and is one of the most popular car races in the world. It’s often referred to as ‘The Great American Race.’ The cars are highly-modified versions of commercially available machines and are limited to 5.9-litre V8s with 750 hp. They’re capable of around 200 mph, and between 1964 and 1981, Richard Petty won the race a record seven times.
Held at the Mount Panorama Circuit in New South Wales, one of the most famous car race tracks in Australia, the Bathurst 1000 is a 1,000 km V8 supercar race. The inaugural 1960 race took place at the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit before relocating to Bathurst three years later. It’s often cited as one of the fastest and most exciting spectacles in the world. The elevation from the highest point to the lowest point spans a staggering 174 metres and the cars average around 100 mph. The Bathurst 1000 has been won a record nine times by legendary Australian driver Peter Brock. In his memory, the Peter Brock Trophy is awarded to the winner.
The Finish Line
As the chequered flag comes down on the world’s most famous car races, we discover that each race is unique, a testament to the variety and depth of motorsport, with rich traditions, storied histories, and enduring appeal. They are quite simply hugely captivating events for millions of fans all across the world.