Event of the month -- Grande Prémio Histórico do Porto

The first historic ‘revival’  meeting on the old Oporto Portuguese Grand Prix circuit was a resounding success. Marcus Pye enjoyed the sport and socialising.  Photography by Jim Houlgrave

The inaugural Grande Prémio Histórico do Porto presented some memorable racing and a wonderful snapshot of the Portuguese Grands Prix of 1958 and ’60.

Sir Jack Brabham was a guest of honour at the July 8-10 event, 45 years after he clinched his second World Championship with victory at the tramlined street track.

The old Boavista circuit, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, was recreated as far as practicable with an investment of around £2.5 million by the community, whose mayor Dr Rui Rio’s idea it was. Promoter Talento, which is spearheaded by ex-national rally champion-turned Formula One journalist Francisco Santos, espoused his crusade.

Given the bustling port’s expansion, a 2.7-mile evolution of the old track (4.6 miles in its GP form) was not only recognisable but also imbued with the spirit of a place which first hosted racing in 1931.

Delineated by concrete blocks and guardrail, it was daunting at first, likened to a cross between Pau and colonial Macau. “Trepidacious,” was one vastly experienced pilot’s splendid description, implying that it demanded enormous respect.

Some drivers crashed in free practice, damaging their cars too badly to continue. Others admitted to being “terrified” but persevered. By the end of the weekend, the most capable were gagging to return. Only Carlos Monteverde was hospitalised, with a broken leg, after crashing his Ferrari 250LM.

Predictably, the competition proper was peppered with drama through the invited international classes to local events, which boasted a delicious ‘old-world’ charm. 

Brakes and transmissions were always in for a caning, nowhere more evidently than in the Motor Racing Legends Pre-War sportscar  feature. Calum Lockie overcame gearbox problems to storm Roger Saul’s Alfa Romeo Tipo B to victory after David Franklin’s Frazer Nash BMW 328’s anchors caught fire!

Gentlemen Drivers were also in for the long haul. After a needlessly unruly opening lap, on which Matt Grist crumpled Monteverde’s Ferrari 250SWB and Jürg Tobler dropped his Lola Mk1 in sympathy, Irvine Laidlaw and James Diffey growled their Porsche 904/6 through to win.

The Sports Racing Challenge threw up a surprise. After runaway leader Simon Hadfield’s Elva-BMW Mk8 died, and Plinio Haas walloped his Lotus 23, Howard Redhouse and Stuart Wright won first time out in the former’s Lotus 30.

Already the UK Formula Junior victor, Michael Schryver doubled up in the HGPCA Pre-66 race. Following ‘queerbox’ dramas he completed a cycle for the Lotus 18 in which John Surtees led the 1960 GP from pole before crashing.

Barry Cannell’s Cooper T53 — which a local sage insisted is Brabham’s ’60 winner — was a strong second after Rod Jolley biffed his T51 at the Castelo do Queijo (Castle of Cheese!) corner. Adrian van der Kroft’s ex-Trintignant T51 was third, but he won the Drum-Braked Sportscars in his T39 Bobtail after Laidlaw’s Maserati wilted.

The Pre-61 HGPCA race was all about Maseratis. Stefan Schollwoeck triumphed in his 6CM, but challenger Allan Miles stopped his 250F, overcome by searing heat. The exemplary medics were at his side in an instant.

Boundless enthusiasm, the organisers’ willingness to react to competitors’ needs and a fine social programme set this first GP Histórico do Porto aside from so many events. In one running it has become a credible contender for the Historic Racing Event of the Year title.