Monza—Day 1

Taking a look back at my visit to the Italian Grand Prix in Monza over the weekend of September 9th to 11th.  This post describes my experiences during my first day at the track–Thursday afternoon for the fan pit-walk that happens before on track action begins during the weekend.  As you can see, Thursday alone was quite the adventure.  Visit our Facebook page for more photos from the weekend.


I woke up early to move all my things across town to a new hotel.  I managed this without any trouble and went to find the suburban train line that goes to Monza.  I found that, too, without any trouble, and was happily bound for the racetrack in plenty of time to get there even before the walk of pit lane began.  I got off at the Monza station, which is right in the center of the town.  After this point, I really had no idea how to get to the track, but thought it would be obvious enough by following people wearing Formula 1 clothing items.  I thought there might be at least some signs, or a shuttle bus.  I was not so lucky, but I picked up a map of town and saw the large Parco di Monza, where the track is located, a few kilometers to the north.

When I ordered the tickets, I said that I would pick them up at the Biassono Lesmo train station on the northern edge of the circuit.  I didn’t want to pay the extra five euro to print them at home or have them shipped to me because I didn’t want to take the chance of losing them sometime before I arrived here in Milan.  I located the train station on the map and saw that it was on one of the smaller lines out of the Monza station, so I found a train heading that direction.  17 minutes later, I arrived at Biassono Lesmo and got off the train.  There was absolutely no indication that this was the right thing to do.  The station was completely empty and was undergoing remodeling, so there was no one to ask.  I walked around the small building that would become the ticket booth and saw a large row of porto-johns.  Now I knew I was in the right place.

I walked up a small hill and saw people standing at a gap by a wall encompassing the whole park.  I walked up that way, looking for a ticket booth, but there was only one man there with a green “Tickets” jersey; some police were guarding the gap in the wall.  I told him I had ordered online and that I was to pick the tickets up at the Lesmo station.  He said that was fine, and asked me for the receipt for my transaction.  I told him I didn’t have it with me, and that I did the whole thing online.  I told him I had my passport and that he could confirm my identity with that and give me my ticket.  That wasn’t going to work apparently (it had in Hungary last year, and that’s how will-call works literally everywhere I’ve ever been).  “No,” he replied, “someone could alter a passport and then take your tickets.”  I looked at him incredulously.  “Are you joking?” I asked, raising my voice so that the police could hear.  “I have a passport with me as well as a driver’s license, the credit card I used to buy the tickets, and several student identity cards.  Surely that will work.”  “No,” the man replied, “you have to have the receipt.”

I walked back to the station not knowing what to do.  There was no one else official in the nearby area to whom I could appeal, and that man seemed determined to keep me from getting inside.  A train soon arrived, heading back to Monza, and I boarded it, resigned to going back to the hotel and try again tomorrow.  On the way back to town, however, I resolved that I would get into the track today.  It’s very seldom that I get to go to a Grand Prix and it’s an even greater opportunity to do the pit walk, getting close to the cars and drivers you usually only see on TV.  I got off the train and walked to the information center that seemed to be set up for attendees of the race.  I asked if there was a place nearby where I could print something, or if they might be able to help me.  The man apologized and said that this was the first day the office had been in use.  They hadn’t gotten the computer connected up to the printer yet.  He did, however, mark on a map the location of a store further into town that might be able to help.  I thanked him and went out in search of the store.  I walked through most of central Monza to get to the place.  It’s a really nice town and seemed to be getting ready for the big weekend.  Several stages were being put together in piazzas across town, and there were plenty of restaurants and food stands open.

I arrived at the store and explained what I needed.  The two old men who ran the business said they didn’t have the computer know-how to do what I wanted, but let me go behind the counter to access my email and find the confirmation I needed.  They printed the necessary pages, and I was back off to the track.

I finally got back to where I had been an hour-and-a-half earlier, and the same man was there who hadn’t let me enter before.  He recognized me and laughed as I produced the documents he said he needed.  He seemed impressed that an American had actually gone through the trouble of jumping through the hoops he’d set up.  “Give me my tickets,” I commanded, showing him my freshly printed receipt.  He started consulting with another man guarding the gate about where my tickets were.  “I know where they are,” I interrupted, getting angrier with every moment they delayed.  “They are right here, at the Lesmo station, as I asked,” pointing to that information on the sheet they had in their hands.  “No, they had me send them all over to the Vedana entrance for today,” the man replied.  This was at the opposite end of the track, probably two-and-a-half kilometers away.  “You’re kidding me,” I said.  “You told me before that the tickets were here and you had them.”  “Today they are at the Vedana entrance,” he replied.  “I’ll let you go into the park though now, so you can go that way.”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  It had already been a wild goose chase and I wasn’t excited about setting off on another.  “And I need to…” pausing as I angrily searched for a word.  “Walk?” the man suggested. “Obviously,” I replied.  “I need to have my ticket before doing the pit walk today?”  “Yes,” he said.  “You can get it with this information at the Vedana entrance.”

I was so angry with these people.  They had already cost me over an hour of the pit walk and I wasn’t sure how long it was going to last.  Now, I had to walk through the whole park to get to an entrance I should never have had to visit today.  I set off in this new direction, but at least I was now in the park.

On the bright side, this did give me a chance to see some of the park and to walk around most of the track.  I entered near the second Lesmo turn and walked along the straight toward the Ascari curves. Walking around, I found that I already knew all the names of the corners. Maybe it’s only because there are five named turns, but I think part of it has to do with the great history of this race and of this track.  The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was constructed in 1922, making it only the third permanent racing circuit in the world.  It has hosted the Forumla 1 World Championship since its inception and plays an important part in the classic racing film Grand Prix.  Perhaps the thing that lends the track its greatest value is its connection to Ferrari, the sport’s most historic and successful team.  Monza is home to the tifosi, Ferrari’s rabid fans, and the two together serve as a sort of national sporting identity.  It’s like baseball is to the United States, but there’s only one team that everyone in the country is rooting for.  It is something you really have to see to understand.

Whatever the reason that the Monza circuit was already etched into my mind, it was amazing to see it all in person after having observed it before only from afar.  This really hit me when I came in sight of the old banking, a part of the track whose use was discontinued after speeds grew so great that it was deemed too dangerous to race.  Unlike banked tracks in the US which are built on mounds of piled up dirt, the banking at Monza has a concrete structure supporting it.  This is how I approached the banking, from the rear, and I could see the lattice work of supports that held the track in place.  The little road I was walking on crosses underneath the banking, and as you come to the other side you can begin to see the track itself.  There’s a steep hill on the side of the road, leading up to the level of the banking, and I could make out a faint path leading through the brush toward the banking.  I climbed up the hill and braved the thorn-ridden path to get a better look at the old part of the circuit.  I finally got to the end of the path and saw the road stretching out in front of me on either side.  It was a marvelous sight.  Much bigger and steeper than I had expected, and I could tell that the whole track really must have been something to race on.  I have been to Indianapolis, I have been to Daytona, I have been to Charlotte, I have been to Richmond, and I have even driven on the banking at Homestead, but nothing compared to seeing this.  I jumped down at a spot where the fence had been torn down and stood at the foot of this monument.  After hearing about it, reading about it, and watching movies about it, I was finally here and seeing it in person.  I struggled to climb up the steep slope to get a better sense of the thing, and it became more amazing still.  It is so steep and high that it really seems like you’re standing on the ledge outside a tall building.  If you’re not careful, you will fall down the slope— and it’s a long way down, especially from the top where there is nothing but a thin guardrail blocking the outside edge of the turn.  An accident here would be really bad, as you have a long way to fall after exiting the banking on the outside.  SPOILER ALERT! This is exactly what happens to protagonist, Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the movie Grand Prix.  I know it must be hard to understand my wonderment if you haven’t had the same sort of history with it, but imagine going to Lambeau Field in the snow, Yankees Stadium or Fenway Park in October, Grauman’s Chinese Theater for a premier, Fashion Week in New York, or Carnegie Hall for a concert.  That is what this meant to me.  A bit like a pilgrim visiting a shrine.

After my tour of the park, I finally arrived at the Vedana entrance to the track, at the exact opposite end of where I had entered.  It was here that I was supposed to get my tickets—at least according to the people at Lesmo.  I went up to a few people wearing green “TICKETS” jerseys, and they directed me to another booth not too far away.  Here, I showed them my receipt and asked for my tickets.  They examined it more carefully and told me that the tickets were waiting for me at Lesmo.  “No,” I replied.  “I was already at Lesmo and they told me to come here because all the tickets were here today.”  “Well,” said one of the men, “we don’t have them.  Don’t worry though. This should be good enough to get into the pit walk today.  Tomorrow, go to Lesmo and they will have the tickets there.”

Angry that I had been sent on yet another wild goose chase, I turned back around and went to the entrance on the paddock to begin the pit walk.  I should have just gone here in the first place.  The security was so minimal that I could have just walked in without anyone asking anything of me.  There were guards there, sure, but let me put it this way—if the POWs in The Great Escape had been interred in Italy instead of Germany, Steve McQueen would have been happily riding motorcycles in Switzerland before the movie was half over.  I decided to enter the normal way, however, and handed one of the guards my receipt, saying, “I was told that this would work for today…” “Because the ticket booths are closed and you cannot get the tickets,” he interrupted.  Apparently I wasn’t the first person to run into this problem.  They let me in to walk around and look into what would serve as the home of the teams, drivers, and cars for the next weekend.  It had taken me far too long to get there, but I had made it.


~ by pminnig on October 7, 2011.

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