Circuit Configuration

Delegates sit around a table looking at a circuit map

Circuits can have multiple configurations, such as at the DEKRA Lausitzring in Germany. Photo: DEKRA Lausitzring

Racing circuits come in a variety of different formats, from the classic closed road courses with only basic facilities which the sport began on, right through to purpose-built, multi-million pound entertainment complexes.

Oval courses are most popular in the United States, where stock car racing is the most popular form of the sport, while road courses tend to be the staple form of circuit elsewhere in the world.

Some circuits may combine several different types of layout or have altered their category over time. For example, many circuits in the United Kingdom were created on former World War Two airfields, with layouts usually combining parts of the runways and the surrounding perimeter taxiways. Through time, they have become permanent road courses which owe little to their origins.

Circuits are categorised on by their current or most recent configurations. As an example, Spa-Francorchamps began as a closed road course but is now a permanent road course which is separated from the local road network.

Scroll the sections below to find more detailed explanations and listings of the circuits by each category.

Road Courses

These are permanent circuits which have been purpose-built for road racing or have been converted from other circuit types, such as airfields and parklands, to become motorsport-only venues.

They will typically include a combination of left and right-hand corners and a main straight where the start/finish and pit area are located. Track directions vary; while many are raced clockwise, there are still many which race in an anti-clockwise direction. A small number of circuits are licensed to operate in either direction.

Modern road courses are usually subject to detailed planning and design, following safety rules laid down by the governing bodies of the sport, while older circuits tended to be more organic in form, following the topography of the land and based on a racer’s feel of what was best for racing.

Often road courses will feature a variety of layout configurations, some of which may be operated simultaneously to boost track revenue, particularly for open testing and track day events. Some layouts are tailored for different categories of racing; for example, Silverstone has alternative Grand Prix layouts for Formula One, MotoGP and historic races.

Oval Courses

These are purpose-built circuits on which oval racing takes place; typically either stock cars such as NASCAR or single-seater cars such as Indycars. While synonymous with racing in the USA, there have been notable oval courses built in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Australia and Spain, coinciding with different booms in popularity with oval racing over the years.

An oval course generally has turns in only one direction and are almost all run in an anti-clockwise direction. They often feature banked turns and, despite the name, not all oval courses are in fact oval-shaped.

Combined Road and Oval Courses

A "combined road course" (colloquially called a "roval") is an oval track racing facility that features a road course in the infield (or sometimes the outfield), that is usually linked to the oval circuit. This allows for a multi-purpose track which can be used for both oval and road racing. Combined road courses have been popular for use in sportscar racing for many years but latterly have become more prominent with NASCAR’s decision to schedule ‘roval’ events at both Charlotte and Daytona.

‘Rovals’ typically make use of the oval start/finish area, frontstretch and pits before heading to an infield section which cut out one or more of the banked turns, before rejoining the oval circuit, either ahead of or after the final banked corner. Some, such as Daytona International Speedway’s road course, make use of additional chicanes on the back straight or ahead of the frontstretch to slow speeds.

Some combined road courses feature a portion of the circuit which heads outside of the main oval course, allowing for a more traditional road circuit feel. Michigan International Speedway’s original road course was a notable example of this, as was sister track Texas World Speedway, for whom the combined road course was the more frequently used. New Hampshire International Raceway has continued the concept in recent years, recently adapting the outfield portion so that it can be run independently of the infield section.

Street Circuits

These are temporary facilities created from city and town centre streets which are closed-off to general traffic for the duration of racing events. Most street circuits are comparatively short at less than two miles in length, though the recent additions to the Formula One calendar have bucked this trend, with the Jeddah Circuit set to be the second-longest circuit on the calendar.

Once the most common form of circuit type, the costs of setting up and the difficulty of gaining permission to host racing due to concerns over noise and traffic disruption has meant that street circuits are less common than was once the case. However, there has been a recent resurgence as governments have identified city centre events as an ideal way to promote tourism. Formula One and, in particular Formula E, have targeted street circuits in recent years as a good way of bringing racing to the fans.

Traditionally, street circuits have featured temporary structures for the pits, paddock and grandstands which are taken down shortly after races are complete. However, in recent years it has been popular to create permanent facilities for the pits, race control and main grandstands, which may see use for other purposes during the rest of the year. The Hanoi, Baku and Singapore Street circuits are prominent examples of this type.

Street circuits are often bumpy and lacking in grip compared to their purpose-built counterparts, as the road surface is not built for racing but must stand up to the wear-and-tear of general traffic. The constrained nature of city streets generally means that run-off areas are lacking and the circuits are lined with concrete or steel barriers, which mean driver errors are often punished severely.

The most prestigious street races are at Monte Carlo, Pau and Macau and can trace their origins back many decades to some of the earliest days of motorsport.

Closed Road Courses

These circuits, while having many similar characteristics to street circuits, tend to cover a longer distance and head from town to town or feature long open sections of countryside road. Free from the confines of city centre roads, they tend to be faster and more free-flowing layouts.

They were once very commonplace as permanent racing circuits were relatively scarce and it was comparatively easy to organise races on public roads. Among the most famous road races venues are the Circuit Madonie (used for the Targa Florio races) in Italy and the Isle of Man TT course, though most countries have featured closed road races at some point in their motorsport history.

Today they are comparatively rare, due to the relative lack of safety features that can be incorporated. Car racing has largely abandoned them altogether, save for some national level events in countries which do not have an established network of permanent circuits.

Motorcycle road racing continues to be popular, however, perhaps influenced by the enduring success of the Isle of Man TT. In Northern Ireland in particular it is perhaps the most popular form of motorsport, with several events taking place around the country each year.

Airfield Circuits

These are circuits which are laid out on airfields, often incorporating sections of runway and taxiways to create the circuit layout. Temporary pit, paddock and spectator facilities are provided for the duration of events.

Both civilian and military airfields have been used to create racing circuits, in the latter case often making use of facilities that were otherwise rendered surplus by the end of wartime hostilities. In the United Kingdom many former World War Two airfields have been converted for racing, to the point that they are now permanent motorsports facilities. Silverstone, Thruxton, Snetterton and Goodwood are all prominent examples. In the USA, Sebring has similarly become a permanent venue, though the vast nature of the original Hendricks Army Airfield means that it still retains a busy regional airport alongside.

The use of airfield circuits was particularly popular in Germany during the 1970s and 1980s, when the country had an active and expanding motorsport fanbase but only two permanent circuits. Active US military airfields at Diepholz and Mainz-Finthen were among those pressed into service.

Airfield circuits were also popular in the USA and Canada, with prominent IndyCar venues including Burke Lakefront in Cleveland and Edmonton in Alberta. Over time these fell out of favour as more permanent circuits were constructed, such that only one in regular use today on the IndyCar circuit is at St Petersburg, Florida, using the runway of the Albert Whitted Airport and the surrounding city streets to create a unique hybrid layout.

Parkland Circuits

These are circuits laid out either partially or entirely on the road networks of a public park. Often similar in nature to a street circuit, the wider expanses of the parkland setting can sometimes allow for a more natural road course feel.

Usually using temporary facilities, some parkland circuits do feature pit and paddock facilities which are multi-use, allowing community use throughout the year when not used for racing. Melbourne’s Albert Park Formula One circuit is a good example of this, as is Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which employs the roads around the Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Notre-Dame.

Some parkland circuits have been set within the lush surrounds of a county manor estate, with two prominent examples at Donington Park and Oulton Park in England going on to be developed as permanent circuits in later years.

Car Park Circuits

Most prominent in the United States, these circuits are laid out partially or entirely within parking areas. Often these surround sports stadia or other prominent public buildings and may combine with city centre streets to form a temporary racing layout.

They tend not to find particular favour with drivers, as they are often entirely flat in nature, feature numerous changes in surface and have compromised layouts. Perhaps the most famous such circuit was the unloved Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix Circuit, laid out in the parking lot of the Las Vegas casino and hotel. More obscure was the even more short-lived Ciney Circuit, which wound its way around the parking area of a Belgian cattle market!

Stadium Circuits

While many temporary circuits wind their way around sports stadia and exhibition centres, a few actually cram themselves inside!

These temporary facilities tend to be road courses, such as at Solvalla in Sweden, which twists and turns inside a harness racing track, while on a more global scale, Formula E is set to turn London’s ExCel Centre into a part indoor, part outdoor circuit for the electric racing series.

One variant in of a stadium circuit was the Chicago Motor Speedway, which was built as a permanent oval on the site of a horse racing track but continued to host equine events, with dirt brought in to cover the asphalt surface.