Oily rags to riches

Motor racing’s past is recreated with great authenticity at the Monaco Historique, which this year boasted a 40-strong F3 grid alongside the usual array of Grand Prix classics
By Ian Titchmarsh

No historic race meeting has the tradition and authenticity of the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco. This was the seventh iteration of an event which was launched in 1997 and, after a three-year pause, has been repeated every other year since 2000. The Automobile Club de Monaco goes to great lengths to secure cars as close to original specification as possible and lets them loose on what is in many respects a circuit identical in layout to that which was established for the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. The meticulous and much-missed Jean Sage was sadly no longer present to oversee originality but the ethos he created remains in good hands.

This year for the first time there were eight races, with the introduction of two Formula 3 categories at the expense of Formula Junior.

To cram everything into two days, Saturday qualifying began early and carried on for the best part of 12 hours – with only a brief lunch break, much to the chagrin of the locals! Each race has a connection with Monaco’s racing history, representing every era of Grand Prix racing from 1929-78 plus the one-off sports car GP of 1952 and F3 from 1964-84.

The setting is, of course, unique. Most of the cars are allocated stalls on the harbourside, downwind of Rascasse, where the F1 palaces would be parked two weeks later. Spanners and socket sets rather than laptops and telemetry are the order of the day as competitors and their fettlers literally rub shoulders under temporary awnings in a manner redolent of what it was like when their cars were current. Such was the size of the 1971-84 F3 entry of over 40 cars that they were given the luxury of a cavernous car park up the hill, while the 1975-78 F1 cars had the use of pits already labelled for today’s Grand Prix teams.

From these pits emerged Bobby Verdon-Roe with his ex-Hunt/Tambay McLaren M26, resolved to tame the track which had claimed him as an early victim in qualifying in 2008. Verdon-Roe was superb, taking pole by over a second from 20-year-old Monegasque Stéphane Richelmi, winner of an Italian F3 Championship round at Misano a week earlier, at the wheel of his father’s Ensign N175.

In the race the McLaren driver scorched into a lead over Richelmi which he extended until lap nine when the Ensign slowed to a halt at St Devote with a loss of gears. Power-sliding the McLaren spectacularly wherever he could, Verdon-Roe went on to win by over half a minute in 15 laps from a quality field of whom the best of the rest was Jean-Michel Martin (Ensign N177). Verdon-Roe’s fastest lap of 1min 32.989sec was quicker than that achieved by young American Paul Edwards in ’08 and is the fastest ever at a Monaco Historique.

Third should have been quick Japanese driver Katsu Kubota in the ex-Peterson Italian GP-winning March 761, but he was rudely given a “Kimi kick up the rear” by Michael Fitzgerald (March 761B) at the chicane. With only two laps remaining, Kubota came storming back, just failing to retrieve the place that was rightfully his.

American Duncan Dayton, owner of ALMS team Highcroft Racing, has never missed a Monaco Historique and only once (2002) has he failed to win at least one race. This year he secured his ninth and 10th victories, reaching double figures with a storming drive in his Brabham BT33 in the 3-litre F1 race for cars up to 1974. Initially Monaco resident Frank Sytner led from a remarkable pole with his Hesketh 308, but a fluffed gear change out of Portier on lap two let Dayton through. In typical fashion Sytner never gave up, but he was unable to deprive Dayton of his 10th win, which he celebrated on the slowing-down lap by waving the appropriate number of digits in the air.

This most attractive era of F1 car, with all the different shapes and colours, always produces one of the most charismatic grids. Dayton’s principal protagonist from 2008, Joaquin Folch, brought his ex-Fittipaldi McLaren M23 home third without ever seriously challenging the top two. A little further back Ron Maydon was making his Amon AF101 do things it never did when new, until he was put into the barriers by the wayward but very wealthy Monaco rookie Peter Wallenberg Jr (March 731). The March escaped lightly but it might be a while before the Amon is racing again.

This race should also have seen the return to Monaco of Richard Attwood at the wheel of Adrian Hamilton’s ex-Jacky (race director) Ickx’s Brabham BT26A in which the former Monaco podium finisher (second for BRM in 1968) had impressed everyone in qualifying with his classically smooth and precise style and pace. Sadly the car’s transmission failed at the start of the formation lap. A former F1 driver who did start the race was ‘Nanni’ Galli, who must be the only former Tecno F1 driver to have good thoughts of the car which he raced occasionally in 1972. Maybe it is the memory of his third place in that year’s Italian GP at Vallelunga, a race graced by seven starters and five finishers! This time the car lasted nine not 79 laps.

The other ex-F1 driver racing was five-times Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro, who was back in the beautifully-restored Ombra Racing Martini-Toyota MK34 with which, according to one contemporary report, he had “performed unspectacularly” at Monaco in 1981. Many years and successes later the Roman returned, his race suit showing strong allegiance to Audi and the car carefully concealing the Japanese origins of its engine. Forty cars started the 1.6 and 2-litre F3 race, many in their original livery. In period only half this number was permitted to start, the rest sent home after qualifying.

No one could touch Pirro who was running away with the race until a safety car interlude near the finish compressed the pack to leave him with an unrepresentatively small margin over Monegasque Marc Faggionato’s Ralt-VW RT3. Best of the rest should have been Valerio Leone in his ex-Fabi March-Toyota 783, but he was bundled out of second at Massenet while lapping Tom Powell’s 1.6 Chevron-Toyota B20, bringing out the safety car. The March came to rest on a pedestrian crossing, Leone leaping from it for a James Hunt vs Dave Morgan moment. In the two racing laps remaining, Vincent Savoye’s Ralt-VW RT3 and Richard Trott’s Chevron-Toyota B43 were jumped by the controversial Dallara-Alfa Romeo 384 of Joe Colasacco for the final podium position.

Gathering together over 30 1-litre F3 cars of high quality was no mean feat by the ACM. Among those spectating were the winners of the first and last period races for the category – Sir Jackie Stewart (1964) and Tony Trimmer (1970). Tommaso Gelmini’s delicious Matra MS5 qualified third but suffered engine failure on the formation lap, while poleman Richard Hein’s Brabham BT28 failed even to leave the pitlane. As if in a time warp a classic battle ensued throughout the nine laps between Christian Traber’s Brabham BT21 and François Derossi’s Chevron B17, with the verdict going to Traber by less than 0.5sec. Wonderful stuff!

Six ERAs graced the grid for the pre-1947 GP car race. One car which did not was the CTA Arsenal, the finishing touches to which Josef Otto Rettenmaier and his helpers were applying as qualifying commenced. This futile post-World War II French attempt to take on the Alfettas then failed to start the race. Julian Bronson, entrusted again by Mac Hulbert with R4D, did the car full justice by winning comfortably from Ian Landy (R6B) and Michael Gans (R1B), the three black ERAs making a fine sight at the finish. Former BMW historic touring car racer Roland Portmann, on his first visit to Monaco, was never far behind Bronson in the early laps with his ex-Wakefield/Parnell Maserati 4CL but fell back and retired at St Devote with two laps left.

Duncan Dayton’s first win of the day came in the pre-61 front-engined GP car race with his Lotus 16, his fourth with this car at Monaco, in a race which saw the return of the 1959 Dutch GP-winning BRM P25 of Gary Pearson, now rebuilt after Spencer Flack’s fatal accident in 2002. Pearson brought the car home in second and reckons he is only scratching the surface of its potential.

For the pre-66 rear-engined GP car race, Pearson was entrusted with the ex-McLaren Cooper-Climax T60, winner of the 1962 Monaco GP, which has reposed in the Donington Collection since the late ’60s. One of the best-looking cars of its era, the Cooper was blamed for the oily circuit, which had in fact been caused by Sytner’s Lotus-Climax 24. All the drivers in a large field trod with great circumspection in a race which was led throughout by James King in his ex-Gurney Brabham-Climax BT7 with Andy Middlehurst taking second place, following Pearson’s enforced retirement, in the ex-Clark Lotus-Climax 25.

The drum-braked sports cars are beginning to be dominated by Jaguar C-types and Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas. An inspired drive by Carlos Monteverde in his newly-acquired C-type enabled him to see off Pat Blakeney-Edwards in Gavin Henderson’s Le Mans Rep, with previous winner John Ure in Peter Mann’s similar car having to settle for third, suffering from ‘iffy’ brakes.