Monaco welcomes back real racing
The Historic Grand Prix at Monaco was spectacular for all of the right reasons. Christopher Tate reports on a memorable weekend
‘Motion is tranquility’ is one of Stirling Moss’s favourite maxims about life – and about motor racing. Certainly, Moss, his fellow competitors and tens of thousands of spectators enjoyed plenty of both motion and tranquillity, over a weekend of contrasting fortunes for Moss and the other 209 drivers who braved the rigours of the Principality in their irreplaceable machinery.
It was a weekend of indelible images and noises: the Saturday night Scottish Ball, for instance, when Moss dined and reminisced with the now 82-year-old Maurice Trintignant, both revelling in the past glories of their combined five victories at Monaco. Juxtaposed with this were less rosy views. Moss’s former entrant Rob Walker was frank: “To be honest, all this stirs no memories for me whatsoever – it all looks completely wrong on this circuit layout now.”
But unhappy purists or no, even the businessmen-drivers of the modem Grand Prix era felt moved to come out and look. The likes of Gerhard Berger, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, rally great Ari Vatanen and even Bernie Ecclestone himself strolled across the avenues to wonder at the antics of the historic racers. (Those FOCA passless fans no longer able to see Grand Prix drivers up close might have enjoyed one sight: keen Monegasque officials gave Mr E a very hard time about walking around the grid without proper accreditation.) However, Ecclestone conceded that it was all “a great show. Reminds me of the good old days”.
Drivers and spectators alike enjoyed watching the usual Monaco selection of the internationally tanned and rich, as well as those members of the Lucky Gene Club, whose accidents of birth, inheritance or beauty regularly allow them such Monaco pleasures as the £7.50 glass of white wine.
The Monaco Historic concept was always going to be a gamble: fields of largely amateur racers; grids full of wonderful, but oily, machinery in various stages of race-preparedness; narrow track and solid Armco; the unpredictable weather of early May; and the somewhat eccentric management style of the AC de Monaco. There had been many a gloomy forecast of track mayhem, badly damaged cars even damaged drivers. Yet the whole weekend of the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique succeeded beyond the most fevered dreams of Valentine Lindsay, Peter Hannen and Max Poggi, the trio responsible for the event’s creation. Held as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations of the ruling Grimaldi family, the weekend was full of great racing cars, surprising incidents, a happy camaraderie, tall stories and seven closely fought races. Back in 1982, Valentine’s father, the late Hon Patrick Lindsay, had managed to persuade the FLA that a Historic Cars GP support race would entertain the May crowds. The experiment was repeated in 1983, but changing commercial ties in Formula One brought that to an end. Recently, the idea of reviving a purely Historic event became intertwined with ‘Monaco 700’. Sadly, ‘their event’ was not a weekend of uninterrupted joy for the Lindsays. Valentine’s two brothers were both in the wars early on, James clattering the Armco in second practice in his well-known Alfa Monza and taking no further part. Then Ludovic more seriously shunted the Monteverdi-owned 1950 Ferrari 375 in practice for the pre-1952 GP race, needing hospital treatment for wrist and rib injuries. (But he,was still dancing at midnight.) “A classic case of centre throttle trouble,” said Ludovic. “Somebody moved over on me leaving Loews, and I went for the brake pedal where it is on my 250F.”
Further disappointment came for Valentine when Moss, having qualified a near-miraculous 10th for the pre-1960 GP race aboard the 2-litre 1957 Cooper that Valentine had co-entered, had the cylinder head go and was forced to non-start. To cap it all for the organising trio, Peter Hannen thought he had damaged his 750 Monza’s steering on the warm-up lap for the morning’s all-Ferrari race, and had to start from the pit lane. Hannen began setting matters straight for all the Monaco masterminds by giving a strong display in pursuit of Frank Sytner and Emanuele Pirro, of which more later.
The paddock on Saturday morning had hummed with the feel of an old class reunion, as the whole world of Historic racing gathered for the most exciting and prestigious event of recent years. Many drivers had come ‘fresh’ from the end of the Tour de France, from the Corse Retro or even having retired early from the Mille Miglia. All were apprehensive about the Monaco circuit
Willie Green, in the gorgeous 1948 Alfa 159 Alfetta claimed “I’m only going to potter around”. Don Orosco’s Scarab, the ex-Reventlow car which made its GP debut here in 1960, had come direct from testing at Sears Point. Bruce McCaw, noted US collector and owner of the PacWest Indycar team, was due to drive his two BRMs, and was enjoying what he called a “weekend off from racing”.
By nearly every car in the neatly aligned and tented paddock on the Quai Antoine, a familiar face was to be found. Bruce Halford, Roy Salvadori, Henry Taylor and John Coombs were gathered in expansive conversation, Halford pointing out that it was he who won that first Lindsay-organised retro race in 1982 driving his Lotus 16 Climax.
Prince Rainier, having unveiled a very fine bronze of the great Louis Chiron situated on the outside of the swimming pool turn joined his son, Prince Albert, for a tour of inspection of the paddock. Peter Agg, looking almost equally distinguished, recalled past Monaco visits as a Grand Prix team owner when Tim Schenken drove Agg’s Trojan in the early ’70s.
Apart from inevitable exploratory spins, and those Lindsay brothers incidents, the practice sessions passed safely, even though the list of mechanically troubled non-starters for the morrow did grow as the afternoon wore on. Jeffrey Pattinson found the ERA a handful before it blew its motor. Martin Stretton discounted those alarmists spreading gloom about driver-skill differences, despite gaps of 30 seconds a lap in the pre-I960 GP event, and more than a minute on the pre-1968 GP timesheets. Stretton believes that Historic driving standards are much maligned: “There are a lot of very quick people out there; many more who are very competent; and the rest know how to use their mirrors. That’s all you can ask for”.
The circuit impressed everyone. Jeremy Agace, a Monaco resident, appeared stunned by the way the track appeared to reshape those streets he uses every day “It’s awesome!”
Nigel Corner in the family 250F – Fangio’s 1957 Monaco winner was astonished by the gradients: “I’d no idea it was so steep have you seen these hills?” As Nick Mason said: “The quicker you go, the narrower it gets. Here you have to be really committed to pass anyone, and I’m not sure I’m ready to be that committed!” Even Lindsay Owen-Jones, freshly returned to a full Historic programme after his arduous two years’ sabbatical as a McLaren GT driver, was quite overcome: “Just 20 minutes of practice was enough for me. Can you imagine Fangio, aged 45, in a 250F for three hours?” Green summed it up for many: “My car feels completely unsuitable; the track is almost too dangerous; I’m too old and yet we all love it!”
Race day itself was cloudier than forecast, and the prospect of rain added a new tremble to many late-rising, party-weary legs. Ironically, following his earlier remarks, it was only during Stretton’s victory in the pre-1952 GP race that there were too many unforced errors and close encounters with the Armco. Jost Wildbolz had an unpleasant accident, thrown from the ERA, and Merrick, von Schenk, Duret, and Schrnit-Koep all left Monaco with cars in various states of expensive disrepair.
Perhaps surprisingly, any award for the ‘best behaved’ race should have gone to the Formula Juniors, traditionally a race of complete mayhem in its heyday. Duncan Dayton put in an excellent drive in the 1963 Cooper 167, just scraping home in front of Tony Thomson in his Lotus 27.
In the all-Ferrari race, Hannen’s chase from the pit lane right up to the tail of the dice between Sytner’s 250 Testa Rossa and a very impressive ex-Fl driver Emanuele Pirro in a PanAmericana-liveried 375MM, was finally thwarted by a very wide Sytner, but drew one of the day’s loudest cheers. The pre-1934 two-seater 10-lapper was rightly described by Terry Cohn, a notable seventh in his Alfa Monza, as “a goulash of Bugattis”, with some wild driving and a four-car Ste Devote Molsheim elimination dance, but finally provided a win for jean Louis Durct in his Type 35B.
Rod Jolley took the pre-1960 GP honours in his Cooper T51, from John Harper, after Richard Attwood (also Cooper-mounted) had proved he has lost none of his old Monaco flair. Corner, Beasley, Owen-Jones and Ludovic Lindsay gave the cosmopolitan crowd real entertainment, rushing out of Casino Square in magnificent power slides, while the Scarab got away from Orosco at Ste Devote.
In the pre-1960 sportscar race, Owen-Jones emerged a deserving and emotional winner. He controlled the race throughout in the Birdcage Maserati, holding off Sprier in the yellow ex-Ecurie Nationale Belge D-type, watched by owner John Coombs. That race also saw Stretton spend several laps wondering whether it was socially acceptable to pass Moss’s Birdcage for third, but when he did the crowd seemed to forgive him, and cheered both he and Moss home anyway.
The penultimate race was the pre-1952 GP clash, with the evocative sight and sound of Green’s Alfa hounding Stretton and Hannen home. Matt Grist heroically wrestled the brutish 8C Alfa to fifth while, alas, poor Merrick smacked the barriers at Ste Devote in the lovely 166 Ferrari. In the pre-1968 GP event, Spaniard Joaquin Folch’s Gold Leaf Lotus 49 was untroubled by a mixed field of mostly much earlier cars, led by the ex-Hulme 1967 Brabham-Repco of Abraham Kogan. Another really rare car in this event, Franco Meiners’ 1967 cx-Scarfiotti Ferrari 312, could sadly manage only one lap.
Was the Grand Prix Historique a success? Was there enough of both ‘motion and tranquillity’ to satisfy the most ardent enthusiast? Did the owners and drivers think it was worthwhile? Were the women prettier and better dressed than at any other race meeting? Will it ever happen again? Yes; yes; yes; yes, and ‘on verra’, as they shrug ‘maybe’ in Monaco.