Which is the true “greatest spectacle” in four-wheeled motorsport?

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When Liberty Media were promoting the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix last year as the “the greatest racing spectacle on the planet”, it rubbed IndyCar up the wrong way.

Not only because the series has long held a trademark in the United States over the phrase “greatest spectacle in racing” regarding the Indy 500, but because they are firmly of the belief that their marquee race is the best in the world.

But there are many other major racing events that could be held up as being among the biggest and best in the world, from the Le Mans 24 Hours to the Daytona 500. So which of these internationally renowned races is truly the best of them all?

As an outlet that focuses on four-wheeled motorsport, we will keep the options limited to races that involve cars. That means, sadly, the Isle of Man TT is not eligible for this list.

Monaco Grand Prix – Formula 1

The ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Formula 1 and perhaps the most famous of all grands prix on the calendar, Monaco is treated as one of the most special races in the world championship.

However, the tight, twisty street circuit feels entirely unsuited to modern Formula 1 and its big, bulky cars – as last weekend’s race showed when all ten starters finished in those same positions. Qualifying for the event is notoriously more critical to determining the winner than the race itself.

Be that as it may, there is genuine thrill in watching drivers push their cars to their limits around such an unforgiving track on Saturday and the event does boast a history spanning back over nearly 100 years – which does make it one of the most heritage-rich events on this list.

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Indianapolis 500 – IndyCar

The single biggest motorsports event of the year in terms of spectators, the Indy 500 is one of the most prestigious and celebrated sporting occasions in the world, full stop.

There is more honour in winning this single event than there is in capturing the IndyCar title. The fastest race on the planet, the Indy 500 sees drivers pulling breathtaking speeds and making overtaking moves that are so frightening they make you want to watch from behind your sofa.

With 108 editions stretching back to 1911, it is also a race that spans almost the entirety of motorsport history itself. IndyCar markets the race as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, but do you agree?

Le Mans 24 Hours – World Endurance Championship

The third and final race in the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport and the most famous endurance race in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hours is another one of those sporting events that even people who aren’t racing fans will be aware of – like the Super Bowl, Wimbledon or the Masters.

The fastest endurance race on the planet, Le Mans winners regularly cover over 5,000km in the twice-around-the-clock event, reaching speeds above 200mph virtually every lap. As a multi-class event, hypercar prototypes race alongside LMP2 cars as well as GT3 class machines, meaning navigating traffic effectively is critical for victory.

Although the overall battle for victory has been dominated by Toyota in recent years, this year’s event is looking like one of the most competitive editions in the over 100-year history of Le Mans.

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Daytona 500 – NASCAR Cup

While many sports end their seasons with their most important and prestigious events, NASCAR starts their annual championship with their biggest race.

As a restrictor plate race, drivers run flat out virtually the entire time throughout the 200 laps of the high-banked Daytona speedway. Navigating the draft and avoiding wrecks is the key to victory at Daytona with close finishes virtually guaranteed.

While Talladega offers the same kind of racing as Daytona as the only other superspeedway in the series, Daytona’s history makes it the most prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar – and the biggest cash prize for the winners.

Nurburgring 24 Hours

Perhaps the most famous and notorious road course circuit in the world, the Nurburgring Nordschleife plays host to an annual sportscar race that is perhaps the ultimate test of a driver’s skill and endurance.

Spanning countless classes of cars from GT3 down to Mini Coopers or even an Opel Manta with a fox tail attached to the back, the event sees over 100 entries racing around the 25km course.

As the race that should have still been ongoing right now shows, weather is a serious headache for all drivers as several sections of the track can be completely bone-dry while whole stretches can be soaking wet – or even foggy. That only adds to the intense challenge of the event and makes it one of the most remarkable races to watch.

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Bathurst 1000 – Australian Supercars

Although perhaps not as internationally renowned as Spa-Francorchamps, Monaco or the Nordschleife, Mount Panorama is still one of the most beloved and respected racing circuits in world motorsport.

The annual Bathurst 1000 is the most important round of the Australian Supercars calendar, having attracted drivers from all over the world to participate over the years. As a touring car race, Bathurst produces close, aggressive racing that makes it a thrilling watch.

Although the annual 12 hour race is a longer event at Bathurst, the 1000 is the race that holds the most prestige of any other in Australia as well as being one of the biggest sporting events of the year in a county that adores sport like no other.

Macau Grand Prix

Not every major race involves the top level of drivers. The Macau Grand Prix has long been the highlight of the junior formula calendar.

From Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Takuma Sato, many future big names in motorsport have announced themselves as stars of the future at one of the most unforgiving street circuits there is.

Traditionally run with Formula 3 cars, this year will see the event run to Formula Regional specifications for the first time.

Dakar Rally – World Rally Raid Championship

A slightly leftfield suggestion, but one that was prompted by Fernando Alonso – who has experienced three of the biggest races on this list – describing the multi-week Dakar Rally as the “biggest challenge in my sporting career”.

As a Rally-Raid event, the Dakar sees competitors crossing extreme terrain over several daily stages that are often longer than a grand prix distance. There’s often no one route over the stage, like with typical point-to-point rallies, where navigation between waypoints is critical to success.

The nature of the event makes it one of the most dangerous in the world, with regular fatalities, especially with the two-wheeled classes. Carlos Sainz Snr is the current reigning champion of the event, having claimed his fourth victory in the car class in 2024.

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You say

Which race do you hold above all others as the ‘greatest spectacle’ in motorsport? Have your say in this week’s poll.

What race do you feel is the 'greatest spectacle' in motorsport?

  • Nurburgring 24 Hours (4%)
  • Monaco Grand Prix (5%)
  • Macau Grand Prix (3%)
  • Le Mans 24 Hours (46%)
  • Indianapolis 500 (32%)
  • Daytona 500 (1%)
  • Dakar Rally (5%)
  • Bathurst 1000 (4%)

Total Voters: 164

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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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51 comments on “Which is the true “greatest spectacle” in four-wheeled motorsport?”

  1. In making my personal choice for “spectacle” I ruled out 24-hour races, and anything based on a ring. Given a free choice it might have been “F1 in the rain”. David.

    1. I’d have voted for Monaco in the rain.

    2. That’s a very disappointing statement. You’re not much of a motorsport fan, are you…

    3. Any Spacific track?

      1. Perhaps Silverstone, or Abu Dhabi?

    4. List vote for races, not spectacles
      1: Le Mans
      2: Indy 500
      3: Nurburgring 24 Hours
      4: F1 SPA
      5: Dakar (could be higher but coverage is weak in my area)
      6: Bathurst 1000

      -99: Monaco GP, Absolute last place and shouldn’t be on the list; it’s only a spectacle, not a race

      1. Anuj Chopra
        3rd June 2024, 1:50

        Monaco seems like all cars are driving behind safety car. It is really useless.

      2. 1: Le Mans
        2: Indy 500
        3: Nurburgring 24 Hours
        4: F1 SPA
        5: Dakar (could be higher but coverage is weak in my area)
        6: Bathurst 1000

        I almost agree with you but i would take Indy 500 to nr.6 and move everyone 1 spot up.
        I love endyrance racing and saw a lot of F1 Spa races and those are always exciting (even with these cars) Ovals aren’t my things i know it’s exciting but race wise rather dull I like Indycars on the COTA circuit much more.

  2. It’s no-question Le Mans for me. It’s a whole week of great racing fun and a celebration of that atmosphere. Dozens and dozens of cars, all cool in some way, great sounds with all the different engines, and the track is a great mix of old school and modern. And there’s just nothing quite like a no-commentary onboard lap at sunrise through the French countryside at 350km/h.

    That’s not to claim the others aren’t cool. They’re on this list for a good reason.

    1. Davethechicken
      2nd June 2024, 20:20

      +1 definitely the highlight of my Motorsport year.

    2. +1

      But for me, it’s all about the no-commentary onboard laps the three hours before sunrise to sunrise. There’s nothing else like it, and by far my all time most favorite racing moments ever to watch with the volume cranked up : )

    3. Agree. If Indy car had again the diversity of design and technology it once had, and the interest of global manufacturers and drivers, it might be the on top.

    4. I voted for the Indy500 as it specifically mentioned “spectacle” since we all know how much of a spectacle is made of it that it’s hard to compete.

      But for me the greatest race would indeed be LeMans24h, I would put it on top of a quarted including Le Mans, the Indy500, Monaco (yeah, please especially in the rain) and the Rallye Dakar as the ultimate in car racing.

      There are off course many other great races, like Bathurst, Spa, 24h at the Nürburgring, the Daytona race, Macau that are clearly a notch above your average race. And i think we can all agree that NO, Vegas is certainly NOT on that list

  3. Neil (@neilosjames)
    2nd June 2024, 12:58

    I think of the Indy 500 as being the biggest and most significant single event. It’s got massive significance on its series’ calendar, far more so than eg. Monaco does for F1, great history, coverage, build-up and accessibility. An everyday motorsport fan can watch and enjoy the 500 even if they have no real idea about Indycar/oval racing/etc. While very much an ‘American’ race it has plenty of international appeal, too.

    Monaco is huge too, but it has little overall relevance when compared to the championship it forms a part of, which reduces its stand-out appeal. That, and it’s usually incredibly dull.

    Le Mans is a curious one to me… though I always read about the result/watch some highlights, I just can’t bring myself to care too much about it. It’s a massive and significant event but I think you need to be a committed, dedicated fan to fully or even partially appreciate the whole race (rather than just appreciate the result), which drops it behind Indy for me.

  4. In terms of outright spectacle – Daytona and Indy can’t be beaten, followed very closely by Bathurst.

    A 24 hour race is too long to consume as a singular ‘spectacle’ – besides, most of it is typically not that spectacular.
    Dakar is a massive event for a competitor, but not so much for a viewer – it’s a series of daily spectacles over a fortnight.

    Macau and Monaco share the bottom of this list – mildly ‘spectacular’ due being unique and (in Monaco’s case especially) parade-like, rather than actually being good or exciting. I like street circuits generally, but these two run on their long-term history rather than their quality.

  5. I would have gone for the Dakar if it were not for the ‘spectacle’ stipulation. Whilst one can still enjoy the spectacle on the TV, I think the winner needs to be something you can reasonably witness in person.

    So for me Le Mans is the clear winner. Contrary to the previous poster (quoted below), the fact that it is 24 hours and one can watch night racing at multiple vantage points is what for me helps elevate the event.

    @gm8arv

    In making my personal choice for “spectacle” I ruled out 24-hour races

    Perhaps I am biased though as I have, a long time ago now, attended a dozen or more of these races. To this day the high revving whine of the Mazda rotary’s and the low burble of the Bentley’s are still reverberating in my head (though fortunately this is ‘on call’ and not a permenant affliction). I must admit though, that even back then the increased fencing and reduced access to the areas behind the pits did take a little away from the experience, though I am sure this has been the case – to varying degrees – at other events.

    Given the aforemention bias, it is perhaps unfair to rule out the other contenders. But if someone said I could attend one more race in my time, it would be hard to turn down a last trip to the Circuit de la Sarthe, as tempting as some of the others may be.

  6. cantcatchthis
    2nd June 2024, 14:48

    Monaco….boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooring!

  7. I feel that it’s changed over time.
    Le Mans 24hr would have been by answer a few years back, but balance of power and limits on stint length have reduced the spectacle.

    If the Nurburgring 24hr included top class sports cars (LMH), then it would definitely be this, but without those, it lacks that extra spark.

    Monaco in the 60s would have definitely been it, and on a good wet weekend, could still be, but rarely is.

    Daytona 24hrs interests me far more than the Daytona 500. NASCAR just isn’t interesting enough compared to multi class sports car racing.

    Dakar is probably the biggest test of Man and Machine, but has never been a “spectacle” as such, as you can’t watch it all.

    Indy 500 wins it for me. So much history, and it still rarely fails to thrill. Drama all through the week leading up to the race, that impacts the race itself in some ways (backup cars, driver confidence). One off attempts from other serie’s drivers adds to the excitement too.

    1. RandomMallard
      2nd June 2024, 22:38

      @eurobrun Daytona 24 is a great shout tbf. I still wouldn’t put it above Indy or Le Mans for myself, but the Rolex 24 is the true “start” of the (circuit) motorsport year in my eyes, and it’s an event I look forward to every year without fail.

  8. It’s been the Indy 500 for me since i was 8 years old watching my first in 1992.

    I remember in 1993 my teacher went around the class asking everyone what our goal for the future was & I actually said ‘Win the Indy 500’.

    For me the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world but the Nordschleife is the greatest circuit. I remember watching the DTM races around there in the early 90s & just becoming obsessed with the place, I’ve done thousands of laps around it in the sim world & will watch any real life onboard lap i come across. I just love that place.

    I love Monaco/Macau for the unique challenge those circuits present.

    Le Mans I like as an event but i’ve never really been that interested with the track.

    I appreciate what the Dakar rally is but i’ve never really been into that genre of racing.

    With Daytona I like the history of the place & but I just don’t like the pack racing & dislike NASCAR even more so I don’t pay much attention to it anymore.

    The Bathurst 1000 is a great event though & Mount Panorama is a great circuit. I do think it kinda feels a bit less of a special event in the modern era compared to watching the pre-93 races when it wasn’t just part of the Australian championship & had more cars with different classes & was part of the world championship but it’s still a great event.

  9. someone or something
    2nd June 2024, 15:05

    IndyCar is terribly easy to rub the wrong way. But to be honest, by praising Las Vegas of all places, Liberty have lowered the bar to the point where IndyCar may be in the right for once.
    But me, I’m here for the “sport” aspect of motorsports. I’m gonna let the fight over who offers the best (worst?) ratio of spectacle to substance, and I kind of hope they both lose.

    1. is the governing word. Indy is oh so full of nationalistic gingoism BS … BUT it IS “Indy”! I voted for Les Mans …

      1. OOPS. SPECTACLE is the “word”

  10. 1 tyre:
    Indianapolis 500 wins easily – the fastest, most thrilling race in motorsport, pulls many great drivers.
    LeMans24 – best racing track, the biggest race event as such, pulls many great drivers, battle ground for big manufacturers

    2 tyre:
    Dakar Rally – greatest rallye in the world, pulls the greatest drivers from all kinds of motorsports
    Macau – amazing track, best young drivers from all over the world and different categories.

    3 tyre:
    Bathurst 1000 – spectacular race, very underpromoted in the world
    Daytona 500 – great for Nascar, but has a very limited appeal
    Nurburgring 24h – mostly for enthusiasts

    Shouldn’t be on the list:
    Monaco F1 GP – a race so bad that it produces yearly debates if it should be cancelled, no-one from outside of F1 can compete in it, and most who are in F1 can’t even compete either, because of how uncompetetive the field is.

  11. I think either Indy or the 24 of Le Mans. Both are the crown jewels of each championship: you can win the title, but winning those races have special meaning, they are an echelon above the rest. A GP win in Monaco is great but it’s “another race” after all.

    As an spectacle, I’d go for the 500 because it’s more “watchable” than an endurance race. Love the 24 (I’m going for the first time ever this year!) but it’s near impossible to follow it all.

  12. Le Mans 24 for me as a complete and entertaining major racing event. F1 need to try something at Monaco: artificially wet track, a secondary optionally route somewhere so cars 5 seconds slower can be passed, let the drivers do Qualy with cars but the race with carts (this could be so much fun to see the pure drivers skills) or bikes; anything else than now.

  13. Ian Henderson
    2nd June 2024, 16:51

    No real contest. Le Mans has it all. I don’t deny the glamour of the other events but glamour isn’t tough motor racing.

  14. Secto Rally Finland (previously known as Neste Rally Finland/Rally of 1000 lakes)

    They who have been there know why. Rally Monte Carlo/San Remo/Safary Rally also.

    But for those on the list it depends which sport are you into. 24h is still the crown for me.

    1. ^ rally racing is so hard, I rarely have the chance to watch it, but when I do it stuns me every time, deserves more attention for sure

  15. 1. Le Mans 24 Hours
    2. Nurburgring 24 Hours
    3. Indy 500
    4. Monaco GP

  16. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, maybe Miami or Vegas… Perhaps Madrid too, in advance.

  17. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    2nd June 2024, 18:47

    After watching the Daytona 500 for 3 plus hours and eating great food and guzzling beers with friends there is nothing quite like the last 30 laps of that race. I’ve watched them all since 2004 and the best way to describe my feelings for that race is like a kid going to bed the night before Christmas. Cheers guys!

  18. spalternate
    2nd June 2024, 18:48

    it is without a doubt, the spa 24h, best and most beautiful track in the world, 70 cars, has every top level gt driver in the world.

    This list of “spectacles” doesn’t even come close to Spa 24h. I bet verstappen would agree.

  19. For me Monza because it has still a old flavour despite car changes.

  20. Coventry Climax
    2nd June 2024, 20:26

    Goodwood FoS

    1. Yes! The Goodwood Shootout!!!

  21. Personally, the Monaco Grand Prix is the most interesting and important of all of these races. Whilst I like all of the other categories, I only really love F1. The Monaco Grand Prix however is not a good example of motor racing and I wouldn’t introduce someone to motorsport using last week’s race as an example. For the broader population, the Indy 500 is probably the most exciting and consumable format that anyone can enjoy. The image of the packed grandstands and the absurd speed of the race is pretty hard to beat so the Indy 500 gets my vote. The Le Mans 24 hour is pretty niche these days, certainly in Australia. Unless something crazy happens, you won’t even know it was on.

  22. Not completely convinced by the self-proclaimed hypercars, but seeing them battling in the early stages around Le Mans last year stirred something. It’s a fabulous, dangerous, historic venue, and the Las Vegas Grand Prix can eff off for another 90 years.
    Nürburgring is spectacular – it was a gripping battle for the lead through the mist and traffic late on Saturday just before the red flag came out – but as with Bathurst those cars aren’t even the second class at Le Mans.
    Getting everyone out of Indy and back into the Speedway again last weekend would have been more of a spectacle than the race itself. And forget about SUV-racing in Dakar or current F1.

  23. spectacle is an interesting word to describe a motorsport race. I am a fan of the technology and the driver/car dynamic within the sport. As such, Formula 1 is by and far the most appealing to me in that respect, and with recent changes, WEC is back on my radar for this year. But what I want isn’t a spectacle and if you want a spectacle then I would think an event that has the following criteria would be up your alley:
    * Glitz & Glamour
    * Hype
    * Top drivers
    * Off track entertainment

    So for me, that would 100% be the monaco gp, as while Indy 500 is popular, it doesn’t draw the glitz & glamour of the celebrity world, nor does it match the off track entertainment of all the dance music, parties, and atmosphere. But back to my original point, I find monaco a bore and I am one of those fans who couldn’t care less which celeb is at the track and hate it when they cut away from the racing to show celeb reactions.

    1. greasemonkey
      3rd June 2024, 1:39

      Spectators go to spectacles. By definition. :)

      I have myself been a spectator of 4 of the candidate choices. It is very hard to argue against Indy, having been there, and seeing it, in comparison. It is the one I’d pay again to see live, in person. The only one. Because, TBH, live racing tends to be hard to really dig in person, compared to TV. Except ovals and WRX.

  24. some racing fan
    3rd June 2024, 4:50

    I’m gonna throw one in that no one has mentioned- the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Super historic (going on since 1916) and amazingly challenging. Some prefer it when it was dirt but I personally like it when it was tarmac.

    1. some racing fan
      3rd June 2024, 4:52

      *I personally like it more as a tarmac course.

  25. some racing fan
    3rd June 2024, 4:52

    *I personally like it more as a tarmac course.

  26. Carlos Furtado das Neves
    3rd June 2024, 10:34

    F1 Monaco ?
    Don’t agree !
    F1 in Monza, Spa, Silverstone.
    That’s proper F1 racing, not a “procession”, or “glamour”.
    That’s my point of view.
    Sorry

  27. Royal Albert
    3rd June 2024, 20:38

    Monaco qualifying.

    Nothing beats watching an F1 car slice through the swimming pool section if you ask me.

  28. Not an Indycar fan, but in my opinion Indycar rightfully claims the moniker of Greatest Spectacle. The race itself is mostly good, with all kinds of good but also bad things happening on track and in the pits. Together with the lead up to it, the build up speed practice sessions, the qualifying format in particular the years that there are more then 33 contestants, as spectacle it has no peers. Most spectacle in one package.
    I do like the before mentioned Daytona 24h, while not the Daytona 500. NASCAR racing is not my thing anymore. Las Vegas should never have been allowed to use “greatest” in anything.

    There are several better venues and even better races, but as spectacle the Indy500 is top.

  29. I’m amazed Indy has held such a higher percentage than Daytona, I wonder if that’s recency bias or just speaking to this sites audience. I’d be choosing Daytona if I could only go to one for sure.

    For me it has to be Bathurst, but that’s 100% a regional thing. Can’t beat the spectacle of a car getting loose across the top of the mountain followed by roaring down conrod.

  30. Answering the actual question posed of greatest “Spectacle”, Indy without question. In the US Daytona is somewhat rivaled by other Nascar races (arguably by the World 600 on the same day as the 500) and doesn’t pull in anything like as many people, 150K vs 250K. Indycar just doesn’t have anything equivalent on the schedule with that pulling power.

    Some of the pageantry around Indy is very American and far too patriotic for my liking but a significant amount of that is just par for the course of any US based sports event, just amped up to another level.

    That and it has an entire city named after the track with its own government (Speedway, IN) and the whole city is just all-in on the race and the sport as a whole. The nearest supermarket to the track has Indycar themed paintings and chequered flag motifs everywhere around the store that’s year-round. Factor in the locals being just as enthusiastic for the race and I don’t think it’s bettered by anything else on the list.

    Expect some bias for this UK citizen who calls the US midwest home, has half the Indycar schedule within an 8 hour drive and has actually been to the 500 in 2017 (unlike any other race on the list) but it stands out over the other options listed in terms of spectacle. Some are arguably better races but the tactics involved, qualy being it’s own weekend event and the tactics of the race itself (take Pato intentionally waiting until the last lap before taking the lead in the final few laps rather than swapping position every lap) make it a pretty good race as well.

  31. The best spectacle in motor racing is a wet Japanese Grand Prix, perhaps an Interlagos title deciding finale, or a home team win at Monza. It’s not fair to put the Monte Carlo GP on this list to represent F1 because it’s the most dreadfully boring race of the year. Might as well have offered Yas Marina to represent F1 on this list.

  32. Stoo (@stewart51)
    6th June 2024, 12:59

    I voted for LeMans, but the BOP thing is ruining it for almost everyone lately, it seems the rules are becoming more like FOM are the loudest voices for WEC lately
    I do love to watch the Saloons and the GT’s at Bathurst for the sheer thrill of watching the concrete wall section up on the hill.
    I’m surprised by the omission of some Rallying Circuit of Stages such as the RAC Rally of GB, or even an Alpine rally on mountain pass stages, even if they are run against the clock.
    Somehow the Nurburgring seems to bypass british TV, but I’d love to have gone to see it live when I was younger.

    I have never liked The Ovals, something about them just doesn’t gel for me, no matter how much other fans love it.

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