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Spectacles of speed

Anushree Basu-Bhalla        Print Edition: March 4, 2012

What makes any sporting event, which tackles matters of the moment with generous amounts of torque, great? Is it the legacy or the location, the drivers or the prize purse, fanfollowing, glamour, adrenaline, or the arduous nature of the course? It is the union of all this and more. So whether it's endurance, rally, tour, Formula 1, or even drag, the thrill of watching a race can awaken the inner Aryton Senna in the tamest of petrolheads. In our auto special, we bring you the five car and motorbike racing events that together form the heritage of high-octane.

Dakar Rally
Category: Endurance
January
Sometime in the 1970s, French motorcyclist Thierry Sabine took a wrong turn in the Sahara desert. Instead of panicking he came up with the idea for a race from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal. His idea bore fruit in 1978 with the inaugural Paris-Dakar rally, a 7000-mile course of mayhem and unpredictability. The event was cancelled in 2008 due to rising security concerns in North Africa. Since then, it has moved to an 8,000 mile course across South America. However, it's still called The Dakar.

Isle of Man TT
Isle of Man TT
Isle of Man TT
Category: Road Race
May 30 - June 10
Each summer, a 32-mile-long island is the Irish Sea turns into a mecca for motorcycling. Riders zoom between houses and past grazing sheep. It's downright crazy. The Isle of Man TT dates back to May 1907 when the first race comprising 10 laps of a 15-mile course was held. Chartie Collier won that event on his single-cylinder Matchless at an average speed of 38.21 mph. The current record is held by John McGuinness who completed the course at an average speed of 131.5 mph.

24 Heures de Mans
24 Heures de Mans
24 Heures de Mans

Category: Endurance
16-17 June
The 1971 Steve McQueen film Le Mans best captures the spirit of this legendary 24-hours in the French city Le Mans. Races start at 4pm on Saturday afternoon and end on Sunday evening. Established in 1923, Le Mans presented a different test. Instead of focusing on speed, Le Mans forced car makers to focus on reliability. Companies began to innovate in areas that didn't matter in a shorter race such as fuel-efficiency, engine life and even driver comfort to some extent. After all, victory at Le Mans depended on how long you were out on the track rather than back in the pits.

Baja 1000
Baja 1000
Baja 1000

Category: Off-road
November 18
To participate in the Baja 1000, a racer must possess two things: any vehicle (a lawnmower will do!) and a backbone made of titanium. This event defines off-road racing. It's held each fall on Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Back in 1962, Dave Ekins, brother of the famous stuntman Bud Ekins, rode a Honda 950 miles from Tijuana to La Paz to win some attention. He made the journey in just under 40 hours. Five years later Bruce Meyers finished in under 35 hours. This opened the floodgates to further attempts that eventually led to what the Baja 1000 is today.

Monaco Grand Prix
Monaco Grand Prix
Monaco Grand Prix

Category: Formula 1
24-27 May
What distinguishes the Monaco GP from other F1 circuits is its location. It may seem like a crackpot street race with its dangerously tight bends and tunnels but the beautiful backdrop of coastal Monte Carlo trumps such concerns. The race owes its existence to Anthony Noghes, former president of Monegasque Car Club and friend of the ruling Grimaldi family, who came up with the idea for the circuit. Since the inaugural race in 1929, Monaco remains one of the most awaited races on the F1 calendar. The narrow streets make overtaking rare, but that makes every attempt all that more thrilling.

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