What are motor sport's hardest races?

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    As it’s the Bathurst 1000 this weekend I got thinking: what are the toughest races in motor sport?

    F1 races tend not to last longer than two hours, so how does that compare to eight hours around Mount Panorama? There are other, longer endurances races too – but F1 races in punishing climates like Singapore and Sepang.

    What do you think are the most gruelling races in the world – and what makes them so tough?

    Oli Peacock

    Mentally, NASCARs Daytona and Talladega tracks must be draining having to calculate the speeds and distances of the 42 cars around you for 2 1/2 hours

    Antonio Nartea

    If we’re talking about track racing, the Le Mans 24H and the Nurburgring 24H hold a special place. Perhaps I’d classify the Nurburgring 24H as even harder than Le Mans, given the lenght and nature of the track and the monstrous field of over 150 entries. Trying to deal as efficiently as possible with that kind of traffic for 24 hours straight on a 14 mile track that’s virtually impossible to master is sheer madness.

    But if we’re talking about motor sports in general, well, the Dakar Rally has to be it. THE single toughest race on Earth. Both physically and psychologically.

    The WRC used to include some seriously tough events in its calendar back in the day as well, like the Acropolis or the Safari Rally.


    Bathurst is a really tough race. The cabin temperatures are really high throughout the day time and the track is so brutal, one error can mean race over. The V8 Supercars are also hard to drive, there is tons of power, limited downforce and a small tyre.

    Le Mans is just so difficult because it is so long. You can just see the drivers, crew and the broadcasters physically drained by the end.


    I’d say Bathurst is one of the hardest races, those supercars are such a bitch to drive, and with such differences in the track from the 300km/h conrod straight to the dipper and the tight turns around it.

    New South Wales gets to insanely high temperatures and its even hotter inside the car.


    I feel that in Endurance racing, the 12 hours of Sebring is a more demanding race than the 24 hours of Le Mans. Sebring is far more punishing on the cars, and the flow of the track allows for very little room for mistakes.


    I think there is a point to be made for all of the races mentioned so far. Le Mans has evolved to a 24 Hour Sprint race, while the Nurburgring 24 still has the old style feeling that a victory comes because you’ve managed the car and conditions perfectly to reach the end.

    Bathurst is another that seems to have the Sprint race feel despite the distance involved, and even a shorter race like the Singapore GP has claim to being one of the toughest races purely because of the conditions the drivers perform under.

    Daytona and the Indy 500 all test Endurance but also the mental capacity of the driver and team – can they get to the front and time it perfectly to be at the sharp end for the final lap?

    The Dakar Rally is just old school tough.

    As for the absolute toughest? That’s not for me to say, my vote would change day by day.


    isle of man TT races. i still can’t understand how those guys manage it. it’s a 37 mile lap (6 laps on the superbike race), more than 200 corners, on public roads, the fastest guys do it averaging 130+ mph, they are literally risking their life and they do it for the fun and the “buzz” of it. i’ve never seen anything that impressed me so much in motorsport.


    @paxjes I can’t believe I forgot about the Isle of Man TT! That immediately go towards the top of the list, it’s absolutely incredible what they do on those bikes.


    I’d say that in general motorsport has become less demanding of the drivers, and the cars they drive are far more durable than they used to be. I’m old enough to remember the days of unlimited engines in F1, and how they used to blow up as oft as not. Then when they started to introduce restrictions on usage, restrictions which would seem hilariously lax by today’s standards, teams and engine manufacturers were almost unanimous in saying that one engine would never last a whole GP weekend (!!). But standards of engineering, material sciences, they’ve all gotten to such an advanced level that across pretty much all forms of motor racing, engines can last many many times longer than even a decade ago.

    As a result, cars can now be pushed harder and harder, for longer and longer durations. Events like the LM24 are no longer tests of endurance as such – it’s generally expected that most of the cars which start will finish the race unless they’re involved in incidents, even when the cars are pushed flat out for hour after hour. Even the tyres they use are now able to offer up phenominal levels of consistent grip for three, four, or even five stints before going in the bin.

    Advancements in understanding driver dynamics have also led to far less physical demands on drivers. Just about every high performance motorsport has power steering and brakes which no longer require legs like tree trunks to operate. While it would be a bit of a stretch to say that an F1 or LMP car is now as easy and comfortable to drive as a family hatchback, it does seem that the only physically demanding elements of driving a top performing racing car are the heat and the g-force. With a lower work rate behind the wheel, the heat is less of an issue than it used to be in the days when driving a racing car was like wrestling a bear.

    So what I’m getting at is that the toughest races in the world right now are less tough than they used to be. Cars are stronger, and driving them is easier. The mental demands are much higher however.

    Iestyn Davies

    @mazdachris Interesting.. going with that, I wonder if you could say the first ’24 hour’ race, either the 1905 US attempt, 1907 Brooklands attempt or the 1912 1000km Targa Florio, which took over 24 hours. Going one step further is Dakar (10,000km), the Russian winter version (12,500km) or the 1908 NYC-Paris race (16,000km), which inspired ‘The Great Race’ (1965).

    Which event has the highest speed vs. the longest time on average? I’d probably say that one, at which point you could also add speed vs. safety (deaths, so the risk element), which might give a race somewhere in the middle of both ends, e.g. 1940 TC won by Fangio, 10,000km across South America and back.

    Iestyn Davies

    Googling “toughest motorsport races”, there are two hits above this thread:

    I had the wrong race above – 1953 Carrera Panamericana, won by Fangio, 18 hours (3,000km) at a 105 mph average speed.

    Lower down is this for good measure:


    @mathers @paxjes It’s an incredibly difficult race of course on the mental side of things. As for the physical aspect of it.. (I can’t resist the urge not to post this) Guy Martin would disagree with you :)


    A video to explain how hard bathurst crews train all year for the event. :P


    I think it’s very hard, especially as non-racing drivers, to really understand the challenges of driving pre-WW2 (and even pre WW1) racing cars. It seems to make sense that these would be very physical machines to drive, though of course there won’t be any real G-forces to speak of. I imagine the mental stress of concentration combined with the threat of death at almost any moment would have given those drivers challenges which are completely alien to those driving today. I mean, the physical challenge of walking a tightrope is the same whether it’s 1 foot in the air, or 500 feet in the air, but the mental challenge is clearly worlds apart.

    So I suppose it really depends on what you mean by ‘hardness’ when you’re looking at racing. I’d say that you could break it down into a number of different categories:

    For the driver:

    • Athletic challenge (heartrate, muscle fatigue, G-force, etc)
    • Mental challenge (complexities of driving the car, technical challenge of the track, level of danger)
    • Endurance challenge (length of the race)
    • Skill challenge (how hard the car is to drive, how complex the track)

    For the car:

    • Reliability challenge (amount of physical punishment the car takes, how robust the car is relative to the challenge)
    • Performance level

    But none of these elements exist in isolation, for instance the athletic challenge for the driver may be higher or lower depending on the performance level of the car and the skill challenge. An unreliable car would be driven at a lower performance level than a reliable one. Modern racers have high levels of performance, and they have high levels of reliability, but the level of skill required to drive them is arguably lower than older cars, as is the physical challenge of driving them. But the mental challenge is much high as they are very complex machines. By contrast, older racing cars were far slower and far less reliable, so they couldn’t be driven flat out, and they weren’t mentally challenging to drive. But there was a significant physical challenge. There has also been a general trend towards shorter races, so the endurance levels these days are far lower on the whole than they used to be.

    If you assigned a numeric value to each of these factors and rated races both contemporary and historic, you’d probably find a similar total score for each, but the actual challenges themselves would be very different. Depending on your perspective, you might want to weight certain factors higher than others, and I think generally people would feel that endurance, reliability, and physical challenge are more significant factors. So the tendency is to view racing as becoming less tough over time. But even by that standard, there’s probably a Goldilocks era, where the physical demands, the endurance levels, and so on, were all simultaneously at a high point. I’d say this time is probably around the 60s and 70s. But that’s personal opinion.

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