Flatrock Motorsports Park development

America’s 10km monster track of the future – and F1’s lost giants of the past

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One of Formula 1 circuit mega designer Herman Tilke’s newest projects is Flatrock Motorsports Park – a major new facility under construction in Tennessee, just over 70km directly West of the city of Knoxville.

Like the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, this multi-million dollar facility is being built to become a major entertainment destination hosting concerts, exhibitions and the like. But naturally of greater interest are the comprehensive motorsports facilities.

Much like Paul Ricard or COTA itself, Flatrock will boast a series of circuit layouts, including a 4.2km grand prix layout and several shorter configurations. But the most interesting circuit is unquestionably the endurance layout which runs the length of the entire facility. At a total of 10 kilometres in length, the longest Flatrock layout comfortably exceeds even that of Spa-Francorchamps, the longest circuit on the modern F1 calendar.

While Flatrock has not been tipped as a potential new venue for Formula 1, there are reportedly discussions about it hosting Moto GP and even IndyCar races in the future. But even if Formula 1 wanted to hold at race at Flatrock, the endurance layout would not be a viable option.

Flatrock Motorsports Park track layout
Flatrock Motorsports Park track layout
All current circuits that host grands prix must be certified by the FIA to be of Grade One status – meaning that the track layout, safety features and facilities are all of the highest possible standards. The FIA outlines that all Grade One circuits should be no longer than seven kilometres in length – with the modern Spa-Francorchamps circuit the longest Grade One track in the world, just four metres over that limit.

But in the early decades of the world championship, it was not uncommon to have circuits over seven kilometres in length – and sometimes even much longer. Here are all the circuits longer than seven kilometres that have held grands prix in the past – all of which are no longer used in Formula 1.

12 – Bremgarten – Swiss Grand Prix

Street circuit – 7.2km – 1950-54

Before motorsport was banned in Switzerland in reaction to the Le Mans tragedy of 1955, the Swiss Grand Prix featured on the calendar for the first five world championship seasons. Located in Bern, the beautiful circuit was set around public roads in the stunning countryside. Juan Manuel Fangio was the only driver to win the race more than once.

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11 – Porto – Portuguese Grand Prix

Street circuit – 7.5km – 1958, 1960

The first venue for the Portuguese Grand Prix, before F1’s visits to Estoril and Algarve, the Boavista street circuit in Porto featured a pair of long straights running along the harbourside. It held two grands prix with lap times well over two minutes in duration. The circuit was later revived to host World Touring Car Championship rounds using a heavily revised layout.

10 – Ain-Diab – Moroccan Grand Prix

Street circuit – 7.6km – 1958

The Moroccan Grand Prix appeared only once on the Formula 1 calendar back in 1958. The Ain-Diab street circuit in Casablanca wound its way around the north African coastal city with wide sweeping corners and an average lap speed that was slightly above average. Stirling Moss won the sole grand prix in 1958 which crowed Mike Hawthorn as world champion but also saw the crash which ultimately claimed the life of Stuart Lewis-Evans.

9 – Interlagos – Brazilian Grand Prix

Permanent circuit – 7.9km – 1973-77, 1979-80

Before the current, much loved version of Interlagos drastically but the original layout, the Sao Paolo circuit was a near-8km beast hich doubled back on itself. Rather than dipping down through the Senna Esses, the circuit continued on around the perimeter of the course at first. Instead of pulling right at Ferradura up the hill, the circuit instead turned left and ran up the current back straight in the wrong direction. The modern layout is easily one of the most successful revisions of a classic track.

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8 – Clermont-Ferrand – French Grand Prix

Street circuit – 8.0km – 1965, 1969-70, 1972

Much like the Rouen circuit which also hosted the French Grand Prix in the fifties and sixties, Clermont-Ferrand also wound its way around public roads in the French countryside. The circuit, called ‘Charade’, was much twistier than Rouen and the layout appears to have inspired the ‘Alsace’ track on Gran Turismo. In its final race in 1972, driver and future Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko suffered a serious eye injury when he was hit by a stone kicked up by a rival car ahead.

7 – AVUS – German Grand Prix

Street circuit – 8.3km – 1959

A unique circuit in Formula 1 history in every sense. The Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungsstrasse was nothing more than two extremely long straights followed by two hairpins – one of which featured extreme banking of 43 degrees. Unsurprisingly, its sole race in 1959 was the fastest grand prix in history at an average speed of 230kph until Dan Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps at 234kph. Last year, only Max Verstappen’s Italian Grand Prix victory was faster than AVUS’ sole race.

6 – Reims – French Grand Prix

Street circuit – 8.34km – 1950-51, 1953-54, 1956, 1958-61, 1963, 1966

One of many circuits to have hosted the French Grand Prix, Reims was definitely the longest. Hosting the event 11 times over the first 17 world championships, the eight kilometre course featured only a handful of corners – just five turns of note, in fact. Its long straights made it one of the fastest circuits on the calendar with average speeds around or over 200kph.

5 – Sebring – United States Grand Prix

Permanent circuit – 8.36km – 1959

One of most famous and punishing circuits in the United States was the host of the first ever US Grand Prix back in 1959. While the Indianapolis 500 was considered part of the world championship up to 1960, the former airfield was the first track to host a dedicated US Grand Prix. The Floridian track featured largely the same layout as used today, only a longer version. Jack Brabham sealed his first world title at its sole race.

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4 – Monza – Italian Grand Prix

Permanent circuit – 10km – 1955-56, 1960-61

The Monza circuit famous for being the fastest on the Formula 1 calendar is also historic for its famous oval. But the hallowed banked corners also formed part of the grand prix layout on four occasions in the mid fifties and early sixties. Forming a unique figure of eight layout that required drivers to effectively cross the pit straight twice on a single lap, it was the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ at its most daunting. F1 last used the configuration in 1961, when a dreadful crash on the run to Parabolica claimed the lives of Wolfgang von Trips and 15 spectators.

3 – Spa-Francorchamps – Belgian Grand Prix

Street circuit – 14.1km – 1950-56, 1958, 1960-68, 1970

The longest and perhaps most popular circuit on the current world championship calendar was once twice as long and even faster. Spa-Francorchamps used to be a 14km blast through the Ardennes countryside. While the track remained the same from the run down to Eau Rouge and Raidillon, the track continued at what is now Les Combes through public roads as extremely high speeds. With no downforce to speak of, corners like the Masta kink became legendary for the precision and bravery they demanded. The track eventually rejoined the modern layout at Blanchimont before La Source was the final corner.

2 – Nurburgring Nordschleife – German Grand Prix

Permanent circuit – 22.8km – 1951-54, 1956-58, 1961-76

No racing circuit in the world needs less of an introduction than the original Nurburgring – the Green Hell. Loved and feared in equal measure, the Nordschleife snaked through the Eifel mountains with an endless onslaught of challenging corners. It still does, of course – just not for Formula 1. After countless tragedies and the near death of Niki Lauda in 1976, the circuit was dropped from the calendar.

1 – Pescara – Pescara Grand Prix

Street circuit – 25.5km – 1957

The longest circuit ever to have hosted a grand prix, a lap of the Pescara circuit on the Adriatic coast of Italy measured over 25 kilometres. Connecting the three towns of Pescara, Cappelle sul Tavo and Montesilvano in a rough triangle shape, this coastal street circuit was effectively two extremely long straights connected by a snaking tour through the hills. With only the fastest drivers and cars getting their lap times under ten minutes, no grand prix circuit ever got longer than this.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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27 comments on “America’s 10km monster track of the future – and F1’s lost giants of the past”

  1. I feel like significantly longer tracks could be good for racing and for TV spectators, but would make things worse for the fans on the ground.

    Double the length and you see the drivers half as much.

    So some kind of limit is probably a good thing, though I’d rather it were ‘soft’.

    Regardless, Vegas seems to have gone down well: if that becomes a fixture alongside Miami and Austin (plus Montreal over the border in Canada), there’s less space for another US track at this moment.

    1. This is why Bernie butchered Hockenheim. RIP Hockenheim….

      1. If I remember correctly, all the stands were at the Motodrom (the Mercedes one wasn’t even built yet) and no access through the woods where the long straights were. So the cars were not visible for roughly a minute.

        And for those who are interested: the old parts of Monza are accessible through the park, locals use the straights to run and cycle. Banking is still there and quite challenging to climb, even more so to get down from. Old Hockenheim is also accessible, AMuS go there sometimes to take pics of the decay.

      2. If I remember correctly, all the stands were at the Motodrom (the Mercedes one wasn’t even built yet) and no access through the woods where the long straights were. So the cars were not visible for roughly a minute.

        And for those who are interested: the old parts of Monza are accessible through the park, locals use the straights to run and cycle. Banking is still there and quite challenging to climb, even more so to get down from. Old Hockenheim is also accessible, AMuS go there sometimes to take pics of the decay.

        1. There was plenty of access to places beside the long straights at the old Hockenheim – you could buy tickets for them. They were no regular grand stand seats though.

          It was also politically willed that the old Hockenheim vanishes by the political parties at that time. Not only Bernie’s fault.

          1. Bernie was the catalyst. “The cars disappeared out into the forest for too long”.
            Such a beautiful and majestic track. Poetry in motion. Sweepers. Pure unadulterated speed. An engine killer. Schumacher chasing Bergers V12 dinosaur. Prost on Senna. Jim Clark! RIP.
            Not just F1 races, Fogherty, Slight, Corser, Haga and Gobert on the Super Bikes. All just distant memories now.

    2. Apparently the Las Vegas businesses feel like they were screwed, and they’re seeking damages. If that’s successful, an alternate track might be a necessity.

  2. What an absolutely brilliant post!

    OMG, the safety levels!

    Clermont-Ferrand looked amazing – but maybe it only stood out from the others for me because of the filming style.

    1. It was not because of the filming style, the Charade circuit was amazing, at least I was amazed when driving it on a sim.

  3. Looking at the different layouts on the website – https://experienceflatrock.com/ – the Club Course seems to have the nicest flow, while the Grand Print layout is quite typical of modern F1 layouts. I know it’s highly unlikely that F1 will ever race here though. I think the Endurance and Club Course will be great for other formula, and as well in sims.

    1. The “Master Plan” is nicely done, and suggests they’re serious about the surroundings as well, with the various natural viewing areas (presumably hills) and the real estate development. A lot of American tracks seem to default to using the immediate surroundings as parking lots, which makes coverage of races visually rather unappealing.

      If this track turns out well, it might make for a nice stop on the WEC or IMSA calendar; those don’t need Grade 1 certifications, after all.

  4. WoW! what an incredible walk down memory lane…

    Thank you Will Wood… :-)

  5. Personally when I saw the races on Spa and the Nurburgring in the 1960s those were epic in the eyes of a very young me…. I miss those races a bit as the sfeer was wonderfull large. It was a other era (for me still the best) with the 1975-1985s the worst era…

  6. Coventry Climax
    8th January 2024, 13:27

    First song that comes to mind:

    There are places I’ll remember
    All my life, though some have changed
    Some forever, not for better
    Some have gone and some remain

    All these places had their moments
    With lovers and friends, I still can recall
    Some are dead and some are living
    In my life, I’ve loved them all

    Much of this is the period that got me interested in F1, as a kid.
    Man have things changed! Indeed: Some forever not for better.

    Haha, no. 12: If the race didn’t kill you, that german comment(ator) would!
    Strongly disagree with Interlagos being a successful revision.

    For me, the longer and more varied circuits made/make things more interesting, but more than 10 km may be a bit too much. With modern technology, it should be possible to present the events sufficiently interesting to spectators both at the circuit and at home. Although I’m of the opinion they do a rather poor job at it currently, and despite the availability of technology. The high res slomo’s and close ups often take away all sense of speed.

    Very nice post, Thanks!!

    1. But of all these tracks and circuits, which is the one that none compares to?

      1. Coventry Climax
        8th January 2024, 23:34

        ‘all these tracks and circuits’, witty, @f1frog !

        It would depend on the person answering your question. You could still ask one of the originals; Paul. ;-)

        For me, that would be Spa, I suppose. Silverstone a very good second.

  7. Excellent article.

    In case anyone isn’t already aware, the buildings for the Reims pits and grandstands are still there and you can go and visit them for free. The main straight is a public road so you can simply park in the pits and walk around. You can even walk up into the grandstands.

    I was there last summer and they do a fantastic job of maintaining it. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area and interested in motor racing history.

  8. I don’t know if F1 needs a 10km-plus circuit on the calendar, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in terms of circuit lengths. If you consider the purpose-built tracks that have joined the calendar this century (as opposed to old tracks that have rejoined, like Mexico City and the Red Bull Ring), most of them are of similar length with races of 55 to 60 laps. It would be nice to see a race or two on a much shorter layout, like the Bahrain Outer circuit that was used in 2020, as well as a couple of ultra-long “endurance”-style tracks over the course of a season, for the sake of variety.

    1. I agree that shorter tracks would be a nice change (though you’d inevitably have more problems with impeding in qualifying and overtaking backmarkers in races – not fun problems)

      On the longer tracks, though, anything with a 10-minute lap means a lot of time for spectators waiting around not seeing much action. 1.5-minute laps means that by the time the cars spread out, you have something to see most of the time.

      If we were going to get endurance races, I’d rather it happened through more laps rather than longer ones. Even then, you’re limited by fuel tanks: F1 isn’t set up for mid-race refuelling anymore.

      1. True, but 10 min lap is the extreme example, if you take something like the old spa you’d get 4 mins laps or even less, considering from what I read it had a higher average speed than current spa does.

  9. I would like to echo others who have said that this was a great article with lots of nice videos about some of the greatest tracks in history.

    A theme of them all seems to be that they are all street tracks, but on public roads in the countryside rather than car parks. Making the backdrop look absolutely beautiful, although far too dangerous for modern F1. Reims is the best of all for this in my opinion. There were also some thrilling races on this track such as the Mike Hawthorn versus Juan Manuel Fangio battle for supremacy at the 1953 race and Giancarlo Baghetti holding off the Porsches to win on his debut for Ferrari in 1961. Although in 1959, the track melted due to the hot weather. To drive, I suspect it would be the least fun track on this list. Rouen-Les-Essarts and Clermont-Ferrand were probably better tracks overall.

    The Nurburgring Nordschleife really stands out as the best track in the world. There have been many classic races and legendary drives on that track such as Tazio Nuvolari in 1935, Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957, Stirling Moss in 1961, Jim Clark in 1962 and Jackie Stewart in 1968. Jacky Ickx was also a particular specialist on this track. It has every different type of corner with so much variety across the 22 miles, and a lovely backdrop to go with it.

    The old Spa-Francorchamps was even better than the current version which is the best track on the current calendar in my opinion, along with Monaco and Zandvoort. And there is a full 30 minute video of the 1955 race on YouTube Bremgarten is another favourite of mine. And the 1957 Pescara Grand Prix was so interesting as an event that there is a whole book about it, ‘the last road race.’ The gaps between the cars were so large that children would mess about in the road for a few minutes while waiting for the next car to arrive, and as it went through villages, you could watch the race from your own house without having to live in Monaco.

    1. Coventry Climax
      8th January 2024, 23:42

      Nordschleife is too long in my opinion. Ideal length for me would be to just about still be able to go around in some sort of rythm. Nordschleife is just too long for that. But that’s personal, ofcourse.

      Then there’s this: With the current Pirellis, they’d have to change tyres every two laps :-)

      1. Ahah, true about pirelli! I have to say I never got the chance to see a race at the nordschleife, but from what I saw in the video I love it, such a natural environment and from what I recall, 167 corners or something like that.

        1. As i saw once a race at the Nordschleife it depends on where you were (I was at the end of the last part (long straight) the total event was super cool.) But the onboards were trully epic … Later i drove myself the circuit (at normal speeds) shocked how people could drive 200 mph on that circuit.

          I think with the super hard you can get 3-4 laps :) but races were 500km back then.

  10. Nice article. The banked corners of Monza always makes me think of bob sleighing. Are they really in control?

  11. Cool with those old (long) tracks! There were a couple I hadn’t seen before… In my opinion a 10km long track should be possible to have on the calendar. As long as emergency teams can reach all parts in a short enough time.
    On the other hand shorter circuits could also be fun. Imagine quali mayhem on a 1.5km long track… :-)

    1. Well, they will probably get the effect of a reverse grid; some of the fastest will be at the back, some of the slowest at the front. What fun.

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