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Monaco vs. Indy

The Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 take place on the same day this month. Which race should you attend?

Author Rob Edelstein Illustration Kagan McLeod

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The Indianapolis 500. The Monaco Grand Prix. For most auto racing fans, these two names carry more fast-car cachet than any others on the globe. Sadly, though, there’s only one vehicle that will allow you to experience both these events in person in 2015: Doc Brown’s DeLorean.

This year, the two races run just a couple of hours apart, on May 24. So, assuming you aren’t in possession of a plutonium-fueled time machine, attending one of them means choosing what kind of fan you are. Do you want Indy’s apple-pie Americana or the Riviera’s glitz and glamour? The Brickyard’s oval, which produces speeds reaching 235 mph, or Monaco’s street course, with its 180-degree hairpin turn that forces drivers to brake to 30 mph? The heartland wholesomeness of the 500’s winner sipping ice-cold milk, or the extravagance of the GP’s winner spraying Mumm champagne?

“Monaco is like nowhere else—it’s got glamour, the casino, lots of over-the-top things,” says Juan Pablo Montoya, the only racer alive who’s won both events (Indy in 2000 and Monaco in 2003). “You go to parties for sponsors, and you’re there on a $40 million boat in the harbor that’s gorgeous and amazing—and the one next to it is twice as big. But Indy is really special. The [Hall of Fame] museum is there, and you see cars that ran 80 years ago. When you’re a fan, you want to touch it, you want to feel it, and Indy is really good at that. Monaco has none of that.”

The tracks themselves couldn’t be more different. Indy’s relatively flat 2.5-mile grand speedway, constructed in 1909 in downtown Indianapolis, is a long oval, and there’s a mind-numbing roar coming from stands accommodating more than a quarter of a million fans, plus many more in the infield. Its surface is all asphalt but for the legendary three-foot-wide brickyard at the finish line, which has been kissed by victors including four-timers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, along with current Indy Racing League star Helio Castroneves, who’s one win away from joining that list.

Meanwhile, the Circuit de Monaco, site of Formula 1’s premier event, is a set of regular roadways most of the year, with course construction starting about six weeks before race day, as a long series of barriers, route-making chicanes and safety walls are built on 2.075 miles of roads—and, famously, one tunnel—in and around Monte Carlo’s harbor area. When the racing isn’t on, anyone can drive the course and pretend to be James Garner in Grand Prix. It’s a place where such legendary names as Ayrton Senna (who won six times), Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher echo in the engine roar, with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (winner the last two years) looking to catch up. And the crowd? In Monaco, it’s everywhere: in grandstands, on hotel terraces overlooking the road, on yachts in the harbor and on the side of a mountain near the finish line. “People are scattered all over the place,” Montoya says. “You’d better know somebody with a terrace or a boat.”

If you do work your way onto a Monaco balcony with a view, you may end up rubbing elbows with the cream of the celebrity crop: Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence have been seen at the GP. At Indy, you’re more likely to see stars of country (Martina McBride), commerce (Mark Cuban) or, um, miscellaneous (Kim Kardashian West).

Whether you decide to take in the scene on the Mediterranean or in the Midwest this month, the real focus is the action on the track. After all, Indy and Monaco make up two-thirds of international racing’s annual triple crown (with June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans), meaning the competition is fierce. For the drivers, the key to either event is not getting lost in the hoopla leading up to the race. You have to maintain the right line through the course. “That way, you’ll get really close to the wall,” Montoya says, “without bouncing off of it.”

Freelance writer Rob Edelstein has written three books on motorsports; after his next one, he’ll have as many books as he’s had speeding tickets.

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