The Monaco Grand Prix is no longer the only motorsporting event which restricts public access to the Principality’s streets
Like countless young boys, I always dreamt of racing around the streets of Monaco. I was going to be number one driver for Matra . . . until 1973 when I read, broken-hearted, that the ear-splitting Matra V12s would no longer be heard at Grands Prix, the team having quit F1.
It seemed I would not, after all, be able to dedicate my first GP win to the dreadfully unlucky Chris Amon . . .
Indeed, it would be another 20 years before I got to race in Monaco, and it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for in my boyhood.
It’s late October, and I’m standing by the swimming pool complex. It’s raining, and it’s bitingly cold. The event is the first of its kind in the Principality. Race Pro, a karting specialist run by the irrepressible Robert Pope, has teamed up with Cre-Action (an equivalent in Belgium), and organised the Monaco 12 Hours, an endurance race aimed, literally, at the man in the street. Part of the attraction was that it ran on parts of the F1 circuit.
Events such as these are a logical progression from the populist hobby of indoor karting. They usually run over 24 hours and feature twin-engined Pro-Karts. Races are frequent, and there are annual championships in several European countries. Teams entering the series purchase their karts and nominate drivers from all walks of life, but usually include at least one person ‘who knows what they’re doing’. F1 drivers have been drafted. As no prevous racing experience is necessary, the door is open to anyone who can drive . . . and who isn’t deterred by the fact that there will be 50 other machines out there. Actually, that can act as a stimulus.
Make no mistake, these events are big business. With over 50 teams, and at least 200 drivers, you can imagine the administrative headaches.
For Monaco, all the karts were identically prepared (as far as is possible with machines of varying ages) and transported to the venue by Race Pro. Teams simply turned up and picked their kart out of a hat. There were only four ‘British’ teams, two of which were based in Monaco. Ours competed as Team Mazda (Mazda was unable to compete, so a new team was drawn up under the same name). We thought we had a strong line-up, with experienced Pro-Kart racer Joe Flay, Jersey’s former 125 kart champion Nick Meldrum, one-time F3 racer Steve Hepworth, erstwhile European F3000 racer Mario Hytten and myself (previously a 125 kartist).
However, it takes more than experience to win an endurance meeting.
To the amusement of a large crowd, the ‘Le Mans’ start saw all kinds of havoc. Eventually everyone got away, whether backwards, in the air or upside-down. Race patterns soon developed. Often, inexperienced pilots, thinking ‘This is fun’, drove down the middle of the narrow track, smiling at their pit crew, utterly oblivious to the ferocious race millimetres behind.
The charisma of the venue and the extraordinary volumes of traffic within such a tight venue are adrenaline boosters. It doesn’t matter that you may have raced much quicker machinery before; these karts feel rapid enough in this environment. Driving flat through the swimming pool section and sliding round La Rascasse, your wonderment that F1 cars thread their way through here increases tenfold.
Minor accidents were frequent, and there were numerous laps under yellow flags. It was a tribute to the temperament and staying-power of Race Pro’s mechanics that there were few retirements.
This is probably the safest form of motor racing this side of a Sega computer.
Into the closing hour of the race, however, one driver tried frantically to disprove this theory by driving absolutely flat out through the only kart-sized gap between the barriers on the whole circuit. He cleared safety barriers, straw bales and disbelieving medical staff as he sailed into the harbour. Mercifully, as his kart disappeared, engine a-gurgling, into the murky waters, all he proved was that his racing helmet was sturdier than the hull of the dinghy in which he found himself spreadeagled.
The British had mixed fortunes. Team Softek, who led for some time, finished a close second to Cre-Action who, it appears not only co-organised the event, but had invented some of the regulations at half-distance! Such were Team Mazda’s mechanical troubles that we wound up a miserable 49th out of 55.
What mattered more was that the event was adjudged a success. So much so, indeed, that next year, it will become the Monaco 24 Hours. R R B