An exhilarating experience
Public road for 51 weeks of the year, the Circuit de Monte Carlo on the streets of Monaco is one of the most famous and instantly recognisable racing tracks in the world. The Monaco Grand Prix is steeped in tradition and its rich history is celebrated every two years. Popular with drivers and spectators alike, the Historic Grand Prix attracts cars of a type that originally raced in Monaco from the late 1920s all the way to the early 1980s. With the Armco barriers at most places literally at arms-length, racing on the Circuit de Monte Carlo is an exhilarating experience regardless of being in a Bugatti Type 35, in a modern Formula 1 racer or on one of the grandstands. This is one of the reasons the Historic Grand Prix always attracts a very strong entry, which often includes cars that are not raced anywhere else. As with most other major historic events these days, classic auctions are also part of the weekend's activities.
The 2012 Monaco Historic Grand was the 8th edition and we were trackside for all three days, braving both the hot sun and the very wet rain at the end. This has resulted in an action-packed and at times scorching 220-shot gallery
of the races, a 80-shot gallery
of the auctions and the following concise report of two of the auctions and of each of the race groups in alphabetical order (the actual race order differed).
Building on the success of their inaugural Monaco sale back in 2010, RM Auctions were back at the Grimaldi Forum with an even more impressive group of cars and bikes this year. The auction kicked off on Friday with a 96-lot, all Ducati sale, which included the complete Saltarelli Collection as well as two recent MotoGP bikes, ridden by Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi, and offered directly from the factory. Our focus was however on the second day when around 90 collector cars crossed the block. Ferrari was particularly strongly represented with a range of different models, and also the V12-engined 'Arno XI' Hydroplane, which sold for a staggering EUR 868,000. Topping the EUR 33.5 million auction was another Ferrari; one of just two 625 TRCs produced. Other highlights included two Alfa Romeo Tipo 33s, both selling for around EUR 1 million, a EUR 2.2 million Mercedes-Benz 540 K and a Peugeot 908 HDI Fap, sold for EUR 1.7 million. Also included was a GT3 specification Lamborghini Gallardo offered by Blancpain with 100% of the EUR 173.600 proceeds going to the Monaco Association against Muscular Dystrophy.
Bonhams annual sale at the principality's automotive museum was modest by comparison. The top seller was a Ferrari 330 GT based 250 GTO replica, which found a new owner for EUR 281,750. Other highlights included a lovely Facel Vega II and a V8-engined AC Aceca, fetching EUR 253,000 and EUR 138,000 respectively.
Serie A - Pre 1952 Voiturettes & Grand Prix Cars
These were the earliest machines out on track, consisting mostly of Grand Prix and Voiturette racers of the 1930s. Among them was a complete armada of ERAs as well as several Bugattis, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos. One of the rarest was the Type 59/50B III Bugatti, raced here with great verve by Tom Dark. This was one of the final Grand Prix cars built by the famous French marque, using a Type 59 chassis and a unique composite Type 50B three-litre engine. Never particularly successful in period, it did win the very first race held after the War in France. One of the 1970s most flamboyant racing drivers, Arturo Merzario, was entered with an Alfa Romeo 8C 35 but unfortunately mechanical problems prevented 'Little Art' from taking to track in at least one of the sessions. Having no such problems was Julian Bronson in the ex-Raymond Mays ERA R4D. He had won during the previous two editions and once again placed the most developed of all original ERAs on pole. Only Roland Portman in Georg Kaufmann's Maserati 4CL managed to mix it with the English machines but he unfortunately was not able to start the race. In this 10-lap race Bronson was raced hard by Paddins Downling in a B-Type ERA. He managed to hold on to the lead and scored his third Monaco victory in a row.
Serie B - Pre 1961 Grand Prix and Formula 2 Cars
Due to a slight reshuffle in the groups, 'Serie B' this year featured both the front- and mid-engined Grand Prix cars that were raced during Formula 1's 2.5 litre era, complemented by Formula 2 cars of the same era. This presented Duncan Dayton, the most successful Monaco Historic Grand Prix participant with 10 victories, with a new challenge. Last time he dominated with his front-engined Lotus 16 but with the addition of the mid-engined Coopers like Roger Wills' T51, victory would certainly not be straightforward. Not surprisingly these two lined up side-by-side on the front row of the first race of the weekend. Wills made no mistake and lead the pack up the hill to the casino square on the opening lap. Dayton was right on his tail throughout the race and almost grabbed the lead going into 'Rascasse' with a move that was reminiscent of Mike Hakkinen's pass on Michael Schumacher during the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix. Wills kept a cool head and dove back down the inside to regain the lead. A few hundreds metres later, Dayton spun out of the race, settling the race in favour of an elated Wills. He was followed at a considerable distance by Gary Pearson and Barrie Baxter in P25 and P48 type BRMs respectively.
Serie C - Pre 1953 Sports and Sports Prototype Cars
When the sport's governing body announced that the 1952 World Championship would be run for Formula 2 cars, the Automobile Club de Monaco decided to run that year's Grand Prix for sports cars. Celebrating this unique edition has become a set fixture during the Historic Grand Prix with the only sports car race of the weekend. The colourful grid this year consisted of past winners like Carlos Monteverde with his Jaguar C-Type and John Ure in Peter Mann's Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica Mk2. New to the grid was Najeeb Khan in his recently acquired Ferrari 225 S, which was originally raced to fourth back in 1952 behind three other Ferraris. Also worth a mention is Alan Patterson, who brought the Allard J2X he bought new in 1952. At the impressive age of 82, he still managed to wrestle the big Cadillac engined machine through the Principality's tight streets. One man stood head and shoulders above the rest though; Alex Buncombe driving the Jaguar Heritage Racing C-Type. In qualifying he set a time that left even the most experienced in awe and during the race he was never challenged. Previous winners Ure and Monteverde finished a distant second and third.
Serie D - Pre 1966 Rear Engined Grand Prix Cars
Now exclusively the domain of the 1.5 litre Formula 1 racers, Serie D was dominated by the various Lotus models. Among them was the Type 18 liveried in Rob Walker's colours, which was driven to back-to-back Monaco victories by Stirling Moss, and was until very recently part of the Donnington Grand Prix Collection. Our eye and also ear was particularly caught by Lawrence Auriana's Ferrari 1512 F1, which featured the Italian manufacturer's first flat-12 engine. The restoration was literally completed on the eve of the event and sadly this meant the car was not at all sorted. As a result, it completed only a handful of laps. We understand that the flat 12's original designer Mauro Forghieri is involved in the project, so the lovely Ferrari 1512 should come on full sung in the near future. Fastest of all in this group was Andy Middlehurst in the Classic Team Lotus run Type 25. Member of the British House of Lords, Paul Drayson was second fastest in a Climax engined Lotus 24, while Sid Hoole was third in the ex-Rob Walker Cooper T66. During the race these two were involved in a very close battle and eventually finished in reverse order just under 10 seconds behind the victorious Middlehurst.
Serie E - Pre 1973 3-Litre Grand Prix Cars
Beforehand, this 18-lap race looked like it could also be disputed between Roger Wills and Duncan Dayton but both looked out of contention after qualifying. Wills had set the fastest time but was sent off into the wall after colliding with a slower competitor and was unable to take the start. Mechanical issues and the red flag caused by Wills' crash prevented Dayton from completing a flying lap in either of the sessions but at least he was able to start the race but from what appeared to be a lost position. Taking Wills' place at the sharp end of the grid was Andrew Smith in a similar March 701. This particular car was originally owned by Ken Tyrrell and used by Jackie Stewart to score the type's only victory. After several drivers jumped the start, the first metres of the race were chaotic. The big victim was Frank Sytner, whose rear wheel was clipped by a false-starting Joaquin Folch-Rossinol. This resulted in suspension damage for both Sytner's March and Folch-Rossinol's McLaren, forcing the two former Monaco winners to retire. Starting in 22nd, Dayton made a mockery of Monaco's poor reputation for overtaking as he completed the opening lap in 8th. Following a brief safety car period, he worked his way up till second until a spin at 'Mirabeau' dropped him back down the order. Early leader Smith had problems of his own and also fell back. This made life a little easier for Dayton and after a spirited fight with Michael Fitzgerald in a March 711, he managed to claim his 11th victory with his now dented Brabham BT33.
Serie F - 3-Litre Grand Prix Cars (1973 - 1978)
One of the biggest fields was for the most modern Grand Prix cars entered this weekend, which were originally raced in the 1970s. As in the previous group, the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 proved the engine of choice. The only three exceptions were Ferraris that used an evolution of Forghieri's flat-12 engine first seen in the 1512 F1. At the head of the field, however, the Cosworth-engined machines dominated. In qualifying Michael Lyons placed his father's Hesketh 308E on pole position ahead of 2010 winner Bobby Verdon-Roe, who saw his last attempt in the ex-James Hunt McLaren M26 thwarted by a failed pass of a slower car around the outside in the tight hairpin. Scheduled as the last race of the Historic Grand Prix, Serie F was the only one seriously affected by a heavy rain shower that had loomed ominous over Monaco for most of Sunday afternoon. Despite a thoroughly soaked track, a remarkably large number of participants decided to give it a go. After two abandoned starts, the race finally got under way from behind the safety car. Pole-man Lyons impressed, taking the checkered flag after the shortened race a full fifty seconds ahead of Verdon-Roe. Mauro Pane was third in the ex-Graham Hill Lola T370.
Serie G - Pre 1985 Formula 3 Cars
Part of the roster for the first time in 2010, the relatively modern Formula 3 cars were back this year. There were so many entries this time round that the organisation was forced to spread the field in two groups and run qualifying races on Saturday for Sunday's feature race. The even-numbered F3s were out first for a race that was dominated by Ben Barker in the ex-Arie Luyendijk Lola T670. The qualifying race for the odd-numbered machines was a lot more interesting. Taking pole in his first ever motor race was Matteo Marzotto; the nephew of Vittorio Marzotto, who won the aforementioned 1952 Monaco Grand Prix run for sports cars in a Ferrari 225 S. He started well but eventually was passed by his friend and 1985 Le Mans winner Paolo Barilla. Barker started the feature race on pole and the 2010 Australian Formula 3 Champion quickly pulled away from Marzotto and Barilla. After two cars had stopped on the hill after 'St. Devote' the safety car was brought out. It proved a blessing in disguise as soon after the heavens opened, flooding the track in minutes. The race was understandably red-flagged and Barker declared the winner.
Compared to the earlier editions, the 2012 Monaco Historic Grand Prix featured some subtle changes. The most obvious were made to the schedule with practice sessions held on Friday afternoon for the first time. There also was one group less, which meant that a nearby parking garage no longer needed to serve as the paddock for one of the groups. These small tweaks did manage to make this year's edition even more enjoyable for spectators, drivers and the mechanics. We will certainly be back in 2014 to see what the 9th Monaco Historic Grand Prix will have in store for us.