What a weekend we have in store. The Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco. I do like the month of May.
So much is good about both Indy and Monaco. So much of these two events is what motor racing is all about. And yet they could hardly be more different. A high-speed oval and the narrow streets of the Principality. Both a feast for the eyes and ears.
I first went to Monte Carlo in 1974 and was instantly hooked. This race is pretty good on TV but, boy, it is absolutely intoxicating in real life. If you can describe Monte Carlo as real life. My Monaco baptism involved making a short film for ITN about the Hesketh team for whom one J Hunt was driving. Both he and the team were big news back then. Teddy bears, champagne, yachts, glamorous people and a large aristocrat paying the bills. Some of the events of that weekend are not for a family website. Let us just say that both JH and His Lordship knew how to enjoy their Grand Prix racing. Those were the days.
1975 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Holland. James Hunt with Lord Alexander Hesketh, Anthony (Bubbles) Horsley and Harvey Postlethwaite.
I travelled to the race in the Hesketh transporter. I mention this because we got involved in a race with the Lotus truck on the final leg from Lyon to the coast. In those days the main paddock was across the harbour from the pits and it was important for the truckies to get the best possible parking slot. So there we were, two abreast on the motorway, the trucks on the limit of their limiters. Now the truckies fly to the races because of something to do with the European ‘working time directive’.
The thing about the Grand Prix of Monaco is that it IS spectacular, it IS theatrical, and it IS an unforgettable assault on the senses. The noise, as the cars rush between the buildings, is spine-chilling. The rush of colours, as the cars hurtle between the barriers, is simply breathtaking. And the judgement, the skill of the top drivers, has to be seen at close quarters to be believed. Back then you could walk the circuit, stand against the barriers, hear the squeak of tyres kissing the armco. And the tunnel was dark, very dark, the scream of the engines like monsters trapped in a cave.
If you haven’t been to this race, you have to go. Despite the changes to the circuit, and all the new buildings, it is still one of the greatest moments in sport.
And I believe the same can be said for the Indianapolis 500.
My introduction to the Brickyard came in 1993 following an invitation to study Mr Nigel Mansell and the Newman-Haas team as they went about their business. Not an invitation to be refused. You will recall that Mansell went to Indy as the reigning F1 World Champion and some of the good old boys were out to show him what was what when it came to motoring in close company at over 200mph. Indy is not for the faint-hearted.
But Mansell damn nearly won it. He was leading when out came the yellows and, listening in on a team headset, I got the impression that he wasn’t at all sure what to do at the restart. Desperate banter ensued between car and pitwall. At the green, he hesitated, and was swallowed up by the more experienced Fittipaldi and Luyendyk. They shot past him, one each side, and the huge crowd went wild.
There was some swearing on the radio. Then, six laps later and within sight of the chequer, he brushed the outside wall. Surely it was all over. No, this was Mansell on heat. There was anger and frustration in the cockpit and afterwards, having come home in third place, he claimed that Fittipaldi and Luyendyk had jumped the restart. ‘Our Nige’ had led 34 of the 200 laps on his first visit to this mighty arena. High drama.
And that’s what both Monaco and Indy are all about. Drama and spectacle. In spades.
Enjoy this month of May in the flatlands of Indiana and on the absurdly glitzy Cote d’Azur. Wonder what the weather has in store…