Grand Prix Historique 2018 – a view form the pit lane

First held in 1925, the Monaco Grand Prix, contested on the small roads of Monte Carlo, soon established itself as the most charming, incredible and famous car race in the world. With the growth of the classic car movement in recent years, it was inevitable that a historic version of the event would be created. The Grand Prix Monaco Historique is precisely this: a celebration of one of world’s oldest races, involving the very cars that helped to make the Monaco Grand Prix a legendary event. This year, as ever, the intensity of the racing and the endeavors of the drivers, who included both professionals (hired by car owners) and gentleman drivers racing their own cars, made the three days of the GP Historique truly special. This was true racing at 10/10, as Denis Jenkinson would have said.

The entrants, representing 56 years in the evolution of racing cars (the Formula 1s accepted had to have been built in 1980 or before), provided a spectacle second to none, even when compared with the modern GP. The Historique is a wonderful opportunity to go back in time and enjoy half a century of racing in Monaco, in both Sports and Formula cars. And the enjoyment is enhanced by the sound of those engines, working hard, and by the surprises that ACM (Automobile Club of Monaco), organizers of the event, always have in store.

The Lamborghini Marzal at Monaco Grand Prix Historique

Let’s start with the biggest surprise of all: the appearance of the 1967 prototype Lamborghini Marzal, back in Monaco for the first time in 51 years and driven by Prince Albert II no less! This futuristic 4-seater supercar, a one-off designed by Marcello Gandini and built by Bertone, was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1967. Later that year, following the amazing success of the Miura, Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to bring this unique car, his latest creation, to Monte Carlo, to show it during the Monaco Grand Prix. And what a showcase it was given! Once in Monaco, it was taken for a spin on the Monte Carlo racetrack, driven by His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco, accompanied by his wife, Princess Grace. Indeed, on 7th May 1967, just before the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, Prince Ranieri did his traditional lap of honour on the track, and to the surprise of all those present, the car he chose to use for this parade was Ferruccio Lamborghini’s Marzal. That outing was to remain not just the first, but indeed the only time the Marzal appeared in action at a public event.

The most striking features of this car are its windows — these form the cockpit and still look futuristic today — and the gullwing doors that run the length of the cockpit. It has pretty special mechanics, too, being equipped with a unique six-cylinder Lamborghini engine, obtained by taking the 12-cylinder engine of the Lamborghini Miura and “cutting it in two”. This engine remains, to this day, the only six-cylinder unit ever produced by Lamborghini. Last weekend, this car, now perfectly restored, was brought back to Monaco, where Prince Albert II, the son of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, drove it for his parade lap ahead of the Formula 1 1966–1972 race, thereby recreating a piece of history.

A snowplow in Monaco

One of the most amazing cars at the Monaco 2018 event was the 1972 Ferrari 312 raced by Italian collector and racing driver Franco Meiners. Penned by Mario Forghieri in order to “clarify a lot of things”, it is the sole prototype of the model T series that went on to dominate racing in the 1970s, winning World Championships with Niki Lauda and Jody Shekter. This car is characterized by a very short wheelbase, about 10 centimeters less than that of the “normal“ T, and the wide front spoiler that led to it being dubbed the “snowplow”, a nickname it has never lost. This car was never raced in period, and so the Monaco outing was an opportunity, at last, to see it on the track.

A family business

While Franco Meiners was racing his “snowplow” in the “E” class (Formula 1 cars from 1966 to 1972), Marco and Maximilian Meiners were in the paddock warming up their cars, ready for the “F” class race (Formula 1 from 1973 to 1976). They competed in their B3s, one of which was the very car that, driven by Niki Lauda, secured pole position for the 1974 Monaco GP. It was raced by Lauda a total of five times that year, finishing second in the Argentinian, French and Belgian Grand Prix.

The noise

Formula 1 cars are meant to be noisy: their legendary roar is part of what makes them successful. The Tecno PA123-3, raced by Manfredo Rossi di Montelera, was selected, along with the Matra MS 120, as the noisiest car in Monaco. It certainly emitted a sound that is hard to forget. The PA123 was born of the passion and hard work of Pedrazzani brothers, who, after successes in Formula 3 and 2 racing, decided, in 1972, to enter the Formula 1 arena with their own 12-cylinder engine. The scream of this unit is quite unique and so high-pitched and powerful that, at the start of the main strait, when Rossi was accelerating full throttle, those attempting to film it on their iPads were left with shaky images!

Ferrari 1512

One of the most exciting “duels” of the day came in the “D” class race (Formula 1 cars from 1961 to 1965), which saw the 1964 Ferrari 1512 owned by “patron” and collector Larry Auriana, and driven by Joe Colasacco, up against the 1962 Lotus Climax 25 belonging to Classic Team Lotus and driven by Andy Middlehurst. The two cars wrestled with each other for the entire race. The Lotus seemed faster during the early laps, while the Ferrari picked up towards the end, but it couldn’t get the edge over the Lotus, despite a couple of spirited attempts. The 1512’s 12-cylinder, 1.5-liter engine with dual sparks was the most refined engine of its period, and today its tangle of exhaust pipes and plug cables is practically a work of art. The Lotus is the very car in which Jim Clark won seven races between 1962 and 1963, and also took 8th place in the 1963 Monaco GP. The Ferrari was used, in period, by works drivers John Surtess and Lorenzo Bandini. With Bandini at the wheel, it finished 4th in the 1964 Italian GP.

A real GP in parade

The most eagerly awaited moment was the Classic F1 parade, devoted to Formula 1 cars driven by former Formula 1 drivers. Reading the names in the starting list immediately took us right back to the days of 1980s Formula 1 racing: John Watson, Mark Blundell, Thierry Boutsen, Jarno Trulli, Mika Hakkinen, Eddie Irvine and Riccardo Patrese were among the drivers who (quickly) paraded the Monaco circuit. Looking at some of the overtaking, and lap timings, it was clear that more than one of them would have been happy to take part in a more competitive parade too! It was a great show that reminded the onlookers that it is certainly not impossible to race F1 cars without traction control and automatic gearboxes on the twisty roads of Monaco.

All photos courtesy of the author.

For more photos of the Grand Prix Historique 2018 in Monaco, please read on in our posting “Full throttle – Monaco GP Historique 2018“.

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