Long-haul flights get me down at this time of year, but there was a spring in my step as I boarded my flight to Shanghai this week. It's not that I'm anticipating a thrilling climax to the FIA World Endurance Championship on Sunday, nor that I particularly enjoy visiting China. Rather, it was the prospect of reaching a not insignificant milestone in my motorsport life.
The Shanghai International Circuit is the 90th circuit I've had the good fortune to visit over the years. It's a tally that astounds me now as I scroll down my list of tracks and one that would have sounded implausible to the wide-eyed kid watching racing cars in the flesh for the first time at Brands Hatch 35 years ago.
Yet somehow I really have spectated, reported or raced at 90 different race circuits around the world. I'm not going to reproduce my list here, but I can tell you that I've been to every track in the UK bar Kirkistown, ticked off the majority of international circuits in Europe and visited most of the tracks that have held important sportscar events around the rest of the world over the past 20 years.
I guess the obscurities I can count include Birmingham (I got there for the final Superprix in 1990), the Washington car park circuit (used just once), Sentul (visited when I was on A1GP duty) and Autopolis (ticked off in 1991 when it was on course to host a grand prix). Notable omissions from my list include EuroSpeedway Lausitz and Vallelunga in Europe, and I'd say Virginia International Raceway and Montreal in North America.
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Gary Watkins has, for reasons best known to himself, devoted all his working life to covering sportscar racing. This season is his 25th as a motorsport journalist, during which time he has reported on major long-distance events on four continents and approaching 60 24-hour races. He reckons a degree in political philosophy makes him well qualified for covering the sometimes Machiavellian world of international sportscars.
Gary, who also writes for RACER, Autoweek, Motor Sport, Autocourse and others, lives in Surbiton but spends more time on the road than at home for most of the year.