Ranked: The 10 most prestigious motorsport races in the world

Sam Cooper
The Dakar Rally, Monaco GP and Le Mans

Le Mans, Dakar and Monaco have all made our list.

While we tend to focus on Formula 1, there is no denying that a lot of the most prestigious races in the world come away from the F1 bubble.

A huge number of disciplines come under the term motorsport and with that in mind, we’ve picked out what we think are the 10 most prestigious races in the world.

Ranked: The most prestigious motorsport events in the world

10.) Macau Grand Prix – Formula 3

This may seem like an odd inclusion given it is a standalone event contested by up and comers rather than superstars but the importance it has on future all-time greats is what makes it so special.

A look down the list of previous winners shows both Schumacher brothers and David Coulthard as winners but it is Ayrton Senna who helped make it one of the most prestigious events on the motorsport calendar.

In 1983, Senna had just won the Formula 3 crown and looked as if he was bound for Formula 1 at some point in the future but the Brazilian was having a tough time nailing down a seat for the following year.

And then he competed in Macau. Senna won by seven seconds ahead of Roberto Guerrero on a grid that included the likes of Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle, the man Senna had just defeated to win the F3 title.

His performance solidified his reputation as the best young talent and helped in part to land him a driver at the Toleman F1 team for the following year…the rest is history.

Senna may have come and gone but the event remains a place for young drivers to cut their teeth in the world of motorsport.

9.) ​​Isle of Man TT – Motorcycle racing

Of the many dangerous races on this list, it is the Isle of Man TT that takes top spot.

On any other day of the year, the Isle of Man off the British mainland is a quiet place, home to those who prefer life away from the big cities. During the Isle of Man TT, it becomes a rip roaring spectacle of riders putting it all on the line down miles and miles of country roads.

It is an event that often defies belief as the riders hurtle themselves down narrow roads with just a few layers of leather protecting them from the tarmac below. It is one of the biggest events in the world.

It may not have the prestige or popularity of other races on this list but there is no denying that winning the Isle of Man TT requires just as much skill.

8.) Belgian Grand Prix – Formula 1

One of two F1-related entries on the list, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps remains one of the drivers’ and fans’ favourites on the calendar.

Eau Rouge may be the most iconic corner in F1 and keeping your foot to the floor is the difference between mere mortals and the very best but the whole circuit is a challenge to overcome.

This region of Belgium also comes with its own microclimate meaning it can be dry and sunny one minute and storm-like conditions the next, so even if you are clear out in front, you can never afford to relax.

It is a circuit that has raised question marks over its safety, especially in recent years, but while those challenges remain, there are very few who want to see it taken off the F1 calendar.

7.) 24 Hours of Nürburgring –  Touring car and GT endurance racing

Our first endurance event on this list comes at perhaps the most feared circuit in the world – the Nürburgring.

A massive 15.5 miles in the hills of Germany, ask any race fan and they will have almost certainly heard of the Nürburgring.

While F1 has used it intermittently throughout its history, it is the endurance event that provides the toughest challenge.

Penned the “Green Hell” by Sir Jackie Stewart, the track features more than 300 metres of elevation change and can be a nightmare to conquer if the weather is not on your side.

The circuit has claimed the lives of many drivers in the past making it one the riskiest events in the world for a driver.

6.) Bathurst 1000 – Supercars Championship

Additional reporting by Henry Valantine

Down Under next, the Bathurst 1000 – or ‘The Great Race’ as it’s also known – takes in 161 laps of the fearsome Mount Panorama Circuit to make up 1,000km of wall-brushing, high-speed action that often takes over six hours to complete.

Having started in 1960 as the Armstrong 500 in Phillip Island, the event moved across to Bathurst three years later and has undergone changes through different classifications of vehicle as touring cars changed, latterly moving into V8 Supercars by 1999, and even an increase in race distance from 500 miles to 1000km (or 621.37 miles for fans of the imperial system) in 1973.

What has remained constant, however, is the huge popularity of the race and the daunting nature of the twists and turns of Mount Panorama, with Monaco-like precision required around the vast majority of its corners – all the way from The Cutting to Forrest’s Elbow – as even going a centimetre off-line could end your race with a hit against one of its many walls.

Drivers compete in two-person teams to complete this gruelling event, but its most successful driver, Peter Brock, now has the winner’s trophy named after him inscribed with the nickname that was given to him for his nine victories in this Great Race: ‘King of The Mountain’.

5.) Dakar Rally – World Rally-Raid Championship

You need only look at a map of the circuit to understand the kind of challenge the Dakar Rally presents.

Starting from Paris, drivers travel close to 5,000 miles to Dakar in Senegal through all kinds of terrain.

The event has a marathon-esque story behind its invention with driver Thierry Sabine getting lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally and being so fascinated by his surroundings that he vowed to make an event of it.

47 years later and it remains the toughest challenge a rally driver can endure, making it all the more impressive that the 62-year-old Carlos Sainz Snr is the reigning champion.

4.) Daytona 500 – NASCAR

The historic nature of the Daytona 500 can be traced back to the first ever race at the venue. Daytona beach was the birthplace of NASCAR but looking on with envy at the Indianapolis circuit, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. vowed to build a track to rival its IndyCar counterpart.

The Daytona International Speedway was born out of that.

In the first edition of the Daytona 500, it took a photo finish to decide the winner which already gave the race a reputation after the first time of asking. Since then, the prestige around it has only grown and has been described as NASCAR’s Superbowl.

It remains the opening race of the NASCAR season and is one every driver wants to win.

More F1 history

👉 Villeneuve Pironi: An unrelenting tragedy through the eyes of their families

👉 Sir Jackie Stewart on life, love and losing friends: ‘In those days we drove through the fire’

3.) Indy 500 –IndyCar

The first part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport on this list comes with the Indy 500.

To fans not used to the American way of racing, the Indy 500 can seem like utter chaos as 33 drivers starting in 11 rows of three do battle on a 2.5-mile oval but anyone indoctrinated in the US motorsport hysteria knows what a win at Indy means.

Like other races, Indy is as much a battle of survival as it is racing. You are never too far away from another competitor and the unique challenge of an oval circuit means you can never really switch off inside the cockpit.

Plenty of F1 stars have tried their hand at the race and even if some still see IndyCar as a step down from F1, there are few who would argue about the Indy 500’s inclusion on this list.

2.) Monaco Grand Prix – Formula 1

It may be the problem child of modern Formula 1 but the Monaco Grand Prix remains one of the hardest tests for an F1 driver.

While fans complain that the current generation of cars are too big for any actual racing to occur, that only makes the job of the driver harder as they navigate through the tight and twisty streets of Monte Carlo.

To many, it is the F1 race and if you asked someone to imagine a typical F1 lifestyle, it would be winning at Monaco and then celebrating in the nearby casino.

1.) 24 Hours of Le Mans – World Endurance Championship

When we talk of the magic of motorsport, it is hard for the mind not to be drawn to Le Mans.

The race has taken on an almost mythical status and you ask any driver in any discipline what event they would most like to win, Le Mans would be right up there.

Starting in 1923, it remains the oldest active endurance event in the world and the nature of the 13.626 km circuit through the French countryside in all conditions makes it one of the toughest.

While other series are about making the fastest race car, Le Mans is a test of reliability as much as it is speed. In 2023, 22 cars failed to reach the finishing line, demonstrating how tough it is just to stay in the race.

For the drivers, teams of three may soften some of the burden but with stints lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours, it remains a gruelling physical exercise. The 23 drivers that have lost their lives during the event’s history is a stark reminder of the danger as well.

But navigate the conditions and the test of human ability and eternal glory is yours.

Read next: Motorsport Triple Crown explained: Its prestigious races, history and only winner