A visit to the Temple of Speed! Monza 6 Hours, July 2023
My trip to Daytona in 2019 had been a great success (if you ignore the weather!), but COVID-19 hit any ideas of travelling to any other overseas races for a while, so I was mainly back to being an armchair enthusiast.
However, the changes in the regulations introduced to both IMSA and the WEC in 2022 made sportscar racing worldwide look more exciting than it had for some time.
With some privateers (like Glickenhaus) and manufacturers (Ferrari, BMW, Porsche and Peugeot joining the likes of Toyota, Accura and Cadillac) swelling the top class fields and an equivalency allowing the IMSA and WEC classes to race together, things looked interesting.
I toyed with the idea of heading to Daytona again in 2023, but in the end decided I'd make a trip to another circuit I'd long wanted to visit, but never had, Monza, in Italy.
A bit of research revealed that it was easy to travel from Milan to Monza and cheap to stay in Milan for a couple of nights, so that's what I booked.
I also bought my race ticket online in advance, which was probably a good idea as Ferrari won the Le Mans 24 hours at their first attempt with their 'Hypercar', swelling the crowd with loyal Tifosi hoping for a home win.
Saturday - Milan
I flew out Saturday morning, arriving in central Milan around 2PM and quickly found my hotel a couple of hundred metres away from the impressive Central station.
Even the railway station is worth seeing!
The Hotel Flora was a 3 star hotel, with my small single room on the top (6th) floor, but it was clean, comfortable and provided a good breakfast for around £115 for two nights.
The area around Milan Centrale station is also far nicer than many station locales in Europe with many decent ristorantes in the area and a buzzing atmosphere on the warm evenings I was there.
Old (and new) trams trundle the streets of Milan
Warmth was to be a big factor in my trip!
Having checked in, I headed out to explore Milan a little.
I had in mind to walk from the hotel to the Sforzesco castle, onto the Duomo (Cathedral) and then to the canals, which I thought would take about an hour each way.
I set off, following a route I'd planned on Google Maps and reached the castle after about 30 minutes.
I found that I could walk around the grounds, inside and out of the castle without payment and that it was actually a lot bigger than I'd imagined.
The main entrance from inside the castle walls.
one of the towers from outside.
A courtyard in the castle
As a result, I spent a lot more time here than I expected and I'd reached the hour mark by the time I left the castle.
It was also, by now, cripplingly hot and I stopped a few times throughout the day to buy ice creams and cold drinks.
After the castle, I moved on, down pedestrianised shopping streets until I could see the Duomo ahead of me.
The impressive Duomo
This white stone building was as impressive as the castle in its own way, but I only had a quick look around the outside, also popping into the world famous (by sight, if not name) Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which most people would recognise from films.
The dome of the Galleria
Talk about God and Mamon alongside each other!
From there I followed Google maps towards the canals with an intention to probably eat dinner there.
Amongst the modern city, there is plenty of history, often related to churches, but impressive nonethless.
Whilst a modern city, history is around every corner.
Milan isn't Rome or Venice, in this respect, but if you're there, it's worth a few hours of your time to explore.
I finally reached the canals, but whilst I find a nice craft beer bar to enjoy a cold beer, I found many of the promised eateries were closed down and many didn't open for a couple of hours, so I decided to head back towards my hotel and the numerous restaurants there, or maybe one along the way.
A lock in the canals - To be honest, this area was a bit disappointing.
Unfortunately, Google Maps didn't seem to register that I'd reached the canals and kept tryin to send me back until I cancelled the route and set one straight back to the station.
It was stifflingly hot and I stopped a few times to buy a bottle of cold water.
I was nearly back at my hotel and feeling quite dizzy by the time I spotted some people eating what looked like an excellent pizza outside a restaurant, so I went in, enjoyed the air conditioning, but found the service equally chilly and the pizza rather average, perhaps I chose poorly.
My hotel room was a welcome sight and I enjoyed showering off the sweat of my long walk and settled down to a good night's sleep.
Sunday - Monza
I slept soundly and was up to enjoy a good buffet breakfast in the hotel, before heading for Monza on the train.
First, though, I had to try and get a charger for my phone as the cable I had bought didn't fit the phone and the travel adaptor didn't work in most Italian sockets!
As my phone contained my e=ticket for the race, my train ticket back to the airport and had proved invaluable for navigating Milan the previous day, I was mightily relieved to find one in a shop in the station and quickly get my phone up to 50% charged before setting off.
Getting to Monza was fairly easy, once I'd found a ticket office to buy a ticket, the machines wouldn't dispense a ticket to Monza!
It was only a short ride, 2 stations, on a very busy train. Most of the other people seemed to be heading for Lake Como on another very hot Sunday!
I'd read it was about 5Kms to the circuit from the station and that I could catch a bus from the road a little way away.
There were already lots of people waiting and it turned out I had a 45 minute wait (I probably could have walked in that time).
Waiting for the bus.
When the bus arrived it was a free for all, but I got on and we set off.
After about 2 miles, though, the bus ground to a complete halt in the traffic heading into the circuit.
A couple of Englishmen (who introduced themselves as Harry and Dan) were seated by where I was standing and I heard them discussing getting off, so I asked if we were near and they replied it wasn't far and walking was going to be quicker than sitting on the oven like bus, so we all got off, with about half the rest of the bus!
I knew Monza's circult was in a royal park (the bus passed the royal palace on the way) and as we walked along Harry told me a bit about it and I mentioned that it sounded not unlike Brands Hatch and he agreed that parts were very similar, especially Brands' GP loop section.
Map of the circuit, courtesy of racingcircuits.info
It took about 30 minutes to walk to the circuit entrance, but a lot of the way was shaded, so it was far more pleasant than staying on the bus.
Harry and Dan were WEC regulars and had been to the circuit the day before, so knew where they wanted to go.
I was familiar with Monza from years of watching motor races from there on TV, but didn't know how to navigate around, so their assistance was hugely helpful - If you ever read this, thanks guys!
We sat at a stand on the inside of the first chicane for the start, partly because it was close, partly because you can guarantee some action there at the start and partly because there was a big screen TV across the circuit to follow the action.
The stand was packed as was the one on the outside of the circuit, but none of them was covered, so we baked in the 38C sunshine.
Being a formula 1 circuit, there is, for an amateur photographer, far too much fencing between the crowd and the cars and it was clear that I was going to struggle to get many opportunities for unimpeded photographs, but it wasn't going to stop me trying as the hypercars were new to me and I wanted some shots of them.
The partisan crowd cheered the Le Mans winning Ferrari throughout, but it was destined to be delayed.
Glickenhaus looked great, but no longer has race leading pace.
I snapped a few shots on the warm up laps and then the race started.
The leaders are just into the chicane and it's about to all kick off on the first lap
Things started relatively calmly, but then the number 8 Toyota missed his braking point and span the Le Mans winning Ferrari.
Fortunately, it got going with no damage, but the Toyota earned a penalty and rightly so. It wasn't to be it's last!
LMP2 of Prema in the early laps.
Second placed Ferrari in the first chicane in the early laps.
After about an hour I wandered down to the end of the stand, where it was possible to get a shot over the fencing of cars turning right in the chicane and then heading off to the second chicane and I took a few photographs here, although some people were unhappy at the photographers blocking their view, so I didn't linger and returned to my seat for a while, until the 3 of us moved onto watch some more action at that second chicane.
Penske Porsche never looked like potential winners, but finished 4th
Weathertech ran their new 963 at Monza, before shipping it to the USA.
Cadillac gets it a bit wrong into the first chicane.
Around this time a safety car was deployed, due to the number 8 Toyota hitting the D-Station Aston Martin GT and putting it, heavily, into the barrier at Ascari.
Tidying that up took some time.
At the restart, the 93 Peugeot took the lead, something that had seemed very unlikely prior to this race and was sportingly and loudly cheered by the crowd, although they had run reasonably well at Le Mans.
Shortly after, the 50 Ferrari also passed the 7 Toyota to take second place, to even louder cheers.
Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 didn't look like potential winners for much of the race, but were there when it mattered.
Corvette didn't make the podium in GT, but 4th was enough to take the championship.
I even found a few minutes to walk on the famous Monza banking.
Podium placed Alpine leads Le Mans winning LMP2
Weathertech Porsche (bound for IMSA) leads Glickenhaus, Aston GT and Cadillac into Ascari.
Through strategy, the no 7 Toyota finally emerged winners.
We continued on through the trees to view at various points on the circuit, much as I used to do at places like Brands Hatch, Spa and Silverstone in the old Group C days.
Another accident, between two LMP2s caused another safety stop.
As the race progressed, the Toyota number 7 managed to regain the lead, mostly through tactical superiority, as the lead changed between many of the hypercars.
Peugeot ran in their more colourful Le Mans livery again and looked better for it.
The second placed Ferrari 499P put up a sterling challenge to Toyota, but just failed to find the ultimate pace.
The 488 Ferrari is soon to be replaced and never looked on class leading pace at Monza.
Peugeot got their first podium, and led for a while on merit, on the anniversary of their first race.
The Vanwall ran at the tail-end of the Hypercar field throughout.
Despite the fencing, you can get very close to the action.
The championship leading Toyota had a torrid race, hitting two cars and then getting a post race penalty
Equally, there was pretty intense fighting in the LMP2 field (the cars are identical, so very evenly matched) and GT field.
While taking photographs at the second Lesmo curve, Harry and Dan said they were going to look for a tap as they'd run out of water and it was incredibly hot, even in the shade.
I thanked them for their help and said I'd catch them up, but I never did as we, presumably, continued around the circuit.
Around the 2 hour to go mark, I spent half an hour queueing to fill my two water bottles from the only tap I saw around the circuit, but luckily that coincided mostly with another safety car period.
In the 6 hours, I just about managed to walk around the whole circuit, getting a photograph of the fireworks and the chequered flag as the No 8 Toyota crossed the line to win.
The Cadillac never really looked on the pace, but sounded great.
The Jota Porsche 963 looks great and ran well, but was delayed.
The 94 Peugeot had a troubled run, but made the finish.
The flag falls and the fireworks flare as you can, just, see the Toyota take the flag.
The no 50 Ferrari was second, with the 93 Peugeot taking a welcome 3rd place (I've always admired Peugeot for trying something different with their hypercar, it has no rear wing, for example).
The no 5 Penske run Porsche took 4th, while the no 8 Toyota initially took 5th at the flag but was demoted to 6th after scrutineering for using too much power during the race (the hypercar rules are a little similar to Group C's fuel consumption regulations, except that the power usage takes into account electric power as well as ICE power), leaving the Le Mans winning Ferrari to take 5th despite a penalty of its own.
Glickenhaus were 8th, behind the second Penske Porsche, but ahead of the Hertz backed Jota 963 Porsche and the Cadillac.
Jota, though, had a victory in LMP2 to celebrate ahead of the 36 Alpine and the 41 WRT car.
Dempsey Proton emerged winners in the GT class, ahead of the Iron Lynx and GP Racing 911s, but Corvette's 4th in class was enough to seal the WEC class championship for them.
The Le Mans winning Ferrari never really looked on the race leading pace after the early clash with the No 8 Toyota.
The Iron Dames, all female team, were competitive, but fell back in the latter stages.
The second Alpine in LMP2 - in 2024 they will be back in the top class.
The Iron Lynx 911 took a podium spot in GT.
The Glickenhaus is a favourite of mine, but lacked really competitive pace.
I had really enjoyed my trip to Monza. Aside from the ever present fencing, the viewing was good for a sportscar race, all the stands were free and the tree-lined circuit, often criticised by F1 people wanting ever wider run-off areas and more distant spectators, provided some respite from the blistering heat of the day.
I definitely benefitted from the assistance of Dan and Harry as 'old hands' at Monza and I'd feel happy returning, but I felt that it was a bit too hot to encourage me to return soon.
Hypercars lived up to the hype with a close race throughout between a number of marques.
The privateers do look a bit outclassed now, especially the Vanwall, which never remained at the tailend of the healthy runners throughout, so the balance of performance either needs a tweak for them or they will probably disappear from the series as more manufacturers and customer cars join, which will be a shame, especially for Glickenhaus who have shown well in the early races of the class.
I see that 2024 will see the Italian round at Imola in April, so that might be an option, although with even more marques joining the Hypercar class next year, I'm thinking a return to Spa is looking appealing.
I made my way out of the circuit and into the streets of Monza, hoping to catch a bus, but in the end walked back to the station, where I caught a train back to Milan and enjoyed an excellent lasagne and beer in one of the ristorantes near my hotel.
After that, I washed away the heat and grime of the day in the shower and slept soundly after a very enjoyable day.
Dinner in Milan after a long day!
Monday - Como
After two very hot days and having seen what I wanted to of Milan, I decided to look into travelling down to Como on my last day.
It cost 20 Euros return and took 30 minutes on a fast train (around 50 on the slower ones), so I decided, with an early start, that I would have plenty of time to visit the lake, have a leisurely lunch and be back in time to catch my flight with ease.
I paid for a first class carriange, but it was full of what we'd call chavs, playing music loudly and generally making life pretty unpleasant for everyone.
I doubt they had tickets, I rarely saw any tickets checked, but after a while I got fed up with the noise and moved to the 2nd class carriage.
On arriving in Como, I could make out towering cliffs, which I assumed must be the lake, so I headed towards them, while other people headed straight on down a street.
I quite quickly came to the lake, took in the view and enjoyed the fresher air for a while, watching a couple of small seaplanes take off and land on the lake.
My first view of Lake Como
I hoped perhaps to spend a couple of hours out on a boat, taking in the views, but when I reached the ferry ticket office, there were long queues and a check of the timetable revealed that the boats weren't that frequent.
So, I gave up on that idea and wandered up into the shaded streets of the old town, which was quite attractive and looked fairly affluent.
I headed further along the lake shore to where I could see another ferry, although without much hope, and then I came to the Brunate Funicular.
This was a far more affordable 6 Euros return and, more importantly, had no queue, so I bought a ticket and took the ride up th Brunate, enjoying the views down to Como and the lake.
The view of Como from the Funicular
Once at the top, I had a cool beer and then set off along the road to take in the views of the lake.
Unfortunately, most of the way along the view is obscured by walls, hedges and fences of the houses which have the great views of the lake, but there are a few places where you can really enjoy the vistas.
I then headed back to the Funicular station, but it was still only about 12, so I decided that I'd take the 3KM walk up to the lighthouse as the shuttle Land Rover was quite expensive.
What I hadn't realised was just how steep a climb I was in for and how hot it was. I don't recall the exact temperature on the day, but once or twice I had to stop and take a rest and once I actually felt quite dizzy, despite drinking copious amounts of water.
Luckily, when I reached the top of the climb, aside from the final steps to the Lighthouse, there was drinking fountain, so I filled my bottles again.
Having climbed all the way up, I decided it would be silly not to pay the 2 Euros and climb the 130 odd remaining steps to take in the view from the top, so I did, grateful that the woman in the ticket kiosk let me leave my rucksack in her kiosk for the climb.
Looking up the stairs inside the lighthouse
The climb was rewarded with some stunning views.
The descent from the lighthouse was steep, but with gravity on my side, far easier and quicker and I took the funicular back down to the lakeside where I enjoyed another beer and a Spaghetti Carbonara before heading off to the station and boarding the waiting train.
Lakeside lunch spot
The information board said the train was delayed and then there was an announcement in Italian. A fellow passenger explained that people heading to Milan Centrale would be better served going to another station, which I'd walked past on the way(!), and then I realised the train I was on was over an hour late.
By the time I got to the other station and the train departed, I was starting to think I wouldn't have time to get into Milan, catch a train back to the airport and get through the security checks.
The Lighthouse is right at the top of the peak in the middle and you can see the Funicular track on the right of the photo, as viewed from the railway station.
I checked my phone, though, and realised I could change trains at Saronno and actually catch the same train to the airport that I'd hoped to catch.
All went well and I arrived at the airport in plenty of time. Of course the flight was delayed a good 45 minutes and it was well after 11PM before I finally got home, but I'd had a highly enjoyable trip, seen some Italian history, scenery and the Monza 6 Hours.
I enjoyed the race and the circuit, but I'm not sure I'd travel to Italy in July or August for a race again, it was so hot as to feel like a feat of endurance and my feet and legs ached for days after!
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