The perfect cocktail party

Mix classic cars with the return of Ferrari to Jarama, and you have the right ingredients for the second Martini Legends event
By Damien Smith

Jarama will always be Gilles Villeneuve’s circuit. A total of nine World Championship Grands Prix were held at the tortuous track on the outskirts of Madrid between 1968 and ’81, not including the 1980 race. That was the one stripped of its points status following the outbreak of the FISA/FOCA war, much to the chagrin of winner Alan Jones. Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti and Patrick Depailler were others to win here. So was Jim Clark, in a 1967 non-championship race.

But still, think ‘Jarama’ and invariably ‘Villeneuve’ springs to mind – along with that powerful yet canine Ferrari 126CK. How he fended off a string of cars for 66 sweltering laps is the stuff of legend.

Jarama hasn’t held a Grand Prix since, and endearingly it appears frozen in time. It’s slightly tatty around the edges, and falls way short of Formula 1’s sanitised modern safety standards. It’s as if the 1990s had never happened. Which makes the sight and sound of a modern Ferrari Grand Prix car wound up around its confines all the more satisfying.

Marc Gené’s laps in the championship-winning F2007 were the highlight of a wonderful Martini Legends weekend in late October.

The Italian drinks brand, which enjoys great popularity in Spain, has this year celebrated its 40th anniversary as a sponsor of great racing and rally cars, and is adding to its rich heritage as an official partner of Ferrari in F1.

Huge crowds turned out to witness Ferrari’s Jarama return, as test driver and Spanish racing star Gené had fun reacclimatising to a circuit he last raced on in the Nissan World Series in 2003. But in a modern F1 car, this demo was more of a challenge than it might have appeared.

“There are three fast corners in total, and on the first lap I braked too early into the first corner because it is easy to go off,” Gené said with a grin after his run. “The rest of the circuit is very nice – perhaps a bit dangerous going up the hill behind the paddock. It should be flat, but I didn’t try… If something goes wrong you look so bad on a day like today! You want to do a good lap time but always with a margin.”

Gené did three flying laps, split by a Grand Prix-style pitstop, then ended his show with crowd-pleasing burnouts and ‘doughnuts’.

“My fastest lap was a 1min 17.1sec. You could do 1min 15sec easily, but you’d have to work on the set-up to find more. I wasn’t expecting to go as fast as I did. I was expecting a 1min 19sec.”

For the record, Jacques Laffite’s Ligier JS17 set pole position in 1981 at 1min 13.754sec – but two corners have been re-profiled and the the circuit length increased by half a kilometre since that time.

Martini held its first Legends event at Barcelona’s Montjuich Park last year, and it was a raging success. Madrid’s majestic Parque del Retiro may not enjoy a motor racing heritage, but it certainly provided a beautiful and popular backdrop for Martini’s celebrations away from Jarama.

Families enjoying the warm autumn sun milled about the Martini Legends paddock, which featured a classic line-up of cars. The Martini-liveried machines alone would have been a draw: Gordon Murray’s era-defining Brabham BT44, the Safari Rally-spec Porsche 911, Markku Alén’s stunning Lancia 037, Mario Andretti’s Lotus 80 wing car, Jacky Ickx’s 1977 Le Mans-winning Porsche 936 – all strong reasons to vote Martini’s blue-and-red stripes the most evocative livery in motor sporting history.

Within the VIP area, Ferrari unveiled its new California road car (road tested by Andrew Frankel on page 68), while Shell added a nice retro touch with its 1950s-style filling station. This was the work of, the British company that manufacturers Shell heritage merchandise and built the popular AFN garage at the Goodwood Revival last September. “The AFN garage took eight weeks to build, this took two days!” said company boss Mick Pacey. The big project for 2009 is the completion of a fully-working Shell garage at Woad Corner in Newport Pagnell.

Back at Jarama, a support bill of historic races kept the enthusiastic Spanish fans cheering. Where Gené spanned the decades with the incongruity of the new and the old, the final round of the FIA Historic F1 Championship was a pure time warp. Roland Kinch’s victory over Joaquin Folch even had echoes of Villeneuve. Lap after lap Folch’s Williams FW08 crawled all over the back of the Arrows A4 around the twisty bits, but Kinch’s DFV gave him the edge down the start-finish straight every time.

The Orwell SuperSports Cup and the European F2 Trophy entertained with a pair of races each, but sadly neither enjoyed bumper entries. The racing bill was propped up by a pair of EuroBOSS races in which Klaas Zwart fired at an open goal in his first drive in Cars International’s 2005 V10 Jaguar F1, taking on four ageing Renault World Series cars, a G-Force IRL racer and a 1988 Coloni.

The mix of the past and the present kept the locals happy, and for us northern Europeans there’s a lot to be said for a bit of Spanish autumn sun to finish off the historic racing season. Martini Legends has been a draw for two years now – let’s hope they go for the hat-trick in 2009.