Event of the month -- Grand Prix Historique de Pau

American Duncan Dayton cleaned up at Pau with three wins in a meeting chock full of action and accidents. Report by Paul Lawrence — photography by Jim Houlgraye

Duncan Dayton was the undisputed king of Pau 2005. The American plundered three of the major races in his brace of Brabhams as the famous city circuit hosted a fabulous weekend of historic racing.

With the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrénées as a backdrop, Pau is a jewel in the historic racing calendar. The circuit layout has not changed since Tazio Nuvolari won the 1935 race for Alfa Romeo, save for being resurfaced. That is just part of the tremendous appeal of the annual Grand Prix Historique.

The barrier-lined street circuit is, of course, unforgiving of even minor errors and that was ever more apparent this year, with several big shunts. Racer Paul Bason was lucky not to suffer more than a shoulder injury in a nasty looking incident in his March 712.

The frequency of crashes and resulting red flags and safety-car periods served to make the 19-race schedule a real test of endurance, with racing continuing until close to 9pm on Sunday evening.

Grand Prix Masters topped the bill, although Frank Sytner’s Penske was a late withdrawal, 2004 winner Peter Williams (March 761) was out after his front suspension was mashed in a qualifying tangle and John Crowson’s Ensign headed for an early bath after the oil pressure in its DFV took a dive.

Dayton, who was racing with GPM for the first time in his Brabham BT33, enacted a fine contest with Rob Hall in the ex-Beltoise BRM P201. Racing on a street circuit for the first time did little to temper Hall’s natural ability, and his pressure drew a fine drive from the hard-trying American.

Rain before Sunday’s race threw tyre choice into confusion, but Dayton’s last-minute call for slicks proved a shrewd move as the track dried. Hall hung on as long as his wets offered some grip and still fended off Frank Lyons (McLaren M26) for third. “The wets are ruined, but I’m pretty pleased with my weekend,” said Hall.

Dayton’s third win came in the Jochen Rindt F2 Trophy, this time aboard his Brabham BT35. Robert Simac took his March 712 to victory in the opening race, but he spun in the rain on Sunday and it was Martin Stretton (March 712) who held off Fredy Kumschick’s Lotus 69 for second behind Dayton.

Team-mates Michael Schryver in his Lotus 18 and Simon Hadfield (Brabham BT7A) stitched up the rear-engined HGPCA races, taking one each as Dayton — now in his BT11 — could only watch from a distance. Schryver’s Pau prowess was amply demonstrated in Formula Junior as he romped his Lotus 22 to an unopposed double.

The front-engined HGPCA grid had no answer to the pace of Nick Wigley’s very quick Connaught B4, although Tony Smith ran him close on Saturday aboard his gorgeous Ferrari 256.

Carlos Barbot remains the dominant force in World Sports Masters races at Pau, winning for the third year on the trot in his Lola T70. On Saturday Paul Knapfield wailed his beautiful Ligier JS2 through the streets in pursuit, while on Sunday the Portuguese racer had a trio of Chevron B8s snapping at the Lola’s tailpipe. Philip Nelson, Joe Ward and Chris Sanders thrilled the fans as they flashed over the line in the wake of the thundering Lola.

With his typically committed style Jason Minshaw upheld British honours in the Historic Formula Ford races in his faithful Merlyn, but could not get the better of double winner Arnaud Rechede in his considerably newer Lola T540. Meanwhile, Classic F3 spoils fell to Francis Dougnac in his Ralt RT1, under pressure from UK pacesetter Steve Maxted (Argo JM6).