Return of the Red Mist

Love smelling ink in freshly printed magazines.  Just been to the post office to send a copy of the Paddock Life magazine to the Automobile Club Monaco. I hope they like my story as much as I loved shooting it. Enjoy x

It was very touch and go if the 12th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix Historic would actually go ahead, what with the Pandemic taking another curtain call across Europe, as drivers, car owners and journalists waited for their emails to arrive. Alas the day came when we all received the news, “Red is on”. I took that to mean red mist is back, speed will thrill and my goodness what a weekend was had at the unique circuit.

Only two times previously had the municipality halted its motoring feast due to the Great and Second World Wars, as the history dates to the turn of the 20th Century when on October 31, 1909, Alexandre Noghès became the  SAVM President. This heralded the beginning of a great motoring adventure. No sooner had he been elected, than Noghès tabled the proposal to stage a sporting event in the Principality, which – driven by his son Antony – ultimately materialised two years later with the organisation of the 1st Rallye Automobile Monaco on January 1911.  Buoyed by this success, and to firmly instil in the hearts and minds of the club’s members that their association would be predominantly focused upon motor vehicles rather than bicycles, a directory was published, containing members’ names and addresses and itineraries for car excursions.

Through sheer perseverance after the Great War, President Noghès pressed on and, in March 1921, revealed that the 1st Automobile Week. Boasting an impressive 35,000 Francs in prize money, this event was composed of various challenges for both cars and motorbikes, in addition to a display and a Concours d’Elegance. In time the name changed to Automobile Club de Monaco’, explaining that ‘cycling is becoming less common as a sport.” In becoming the ACM, the association joined a large and growing family of national auto clubs, each member of which embodied automobile adventure at national level.

In order to assure its future however, the ACM needed to be admitted to the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) – International Association of Recognised Automobile Clubs – forerunner of the current Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) As the club’s General Commissioner, Antony Noghès, then 35, was tasked with taking the Automobile Club de Monaco’s application to the AIACR’s headquarters in Paris.

He unfortunately returned empty-handed, since the gentlemen of the AIACR considered that although the club did indeed organise sporting competitions, these did not take place within the territory of Monaco. With wounded pride, but with determination, Antony Noghès decided to undertake the extraordinary challenge of staging a car race around the streets of Monaco. The idea of holding a race in the city was certainly a daunting one – perhaps even unachievable. Firstly, there were the steps between the Quai des Etats-Unis and Quai Albert 1er to overcome, plus more steps alongside the gasometers. There were also the cobblestones and tram tracks between La Condamine and the Casino to consider. Antony Noghès weighed up his options for two years, before finally deciding to entrust his ambitious project to the only men who could be counted upon to offer a fair and dispassionate opinion: on the sporting side, Louis Chiron and in terms of the technical aspect, Jacques Taffe. Next, he needed to convince the Société des Bains de Mer to get on-board with the project and underwrite the financing of the event. Its administrator, René Léon, immediately appreciated the value of Noghès’ vision and released the necessary funds.

Nowhere else in the world will have a circuit like this, the official announcement of the organisation of the Grand Prix rang out triumphantly across Monaco. Indeed, it created such a stir in the Principality that, on October 18, 1928, the Gazette de Monaco newspaper proclaimed: “We are delighted to learn that the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus has admitted the ACM as a national club, which takes the number of countries represented to 34.” Just six months later, in April 1929, Prince Pierre inaugurated the circuit ahead of the 1st Monaco Grand Prix, performing a lap of honour in a Voisin Torpedo driven by Race Director Charles Faroux.

There were 16 cars on the grid (eight Bugattis, three Alfa Romeos, two Maseratis, a Licorne and a Mercedes SSK), with starting positions drawn at random. An Englishman by the name of ‘Williams’ – who had arrived too late to take part in the official practice sessions – got up at dawn on the Saturday and stunned all onlookers with an unofficial practice run. ‘Williams’ went on to win the Grand Prix in a green 35B Bugatti in a time of 3 hours, 56 minutes and 11 seconds, at an average speed over the 100 laps of 80.194kph.

Life after the second World War had returned to normal and two years later in 1950, the Formula 1 World Championship was created. In May, Argentina’s Juan-Manuel Fangio prevailed in the Principality, winning the 11th Monaco Grand Prix. Today, events run by the Automobile Club de Monaco continue to be organised with the utmost respect for tradition and innovation, whilst retaining the same bold vision that characterised the association’s founders and pioneers so many years ago.

Whilst history at the very forefront of this weekend, I landed into Monaco armed with a whole tree of pandemic paperwork, arriving finally by helicopter into the port and a chauffeur to take me straight to the press signing on. My 7th Monaco Grand Prix Historic weekend had begun with a pretty amazing entrance.

Straight on to practice in the paddock equipped with my camera and notebook, I check out the Hall of Fame this year despite being on a smaller scale still proved joyous with Jean Alesi driving the  Niki Lauda 1974 Ferrari 312B3 (car no. 28) and Rene Arnoux driving the Niki Lauda 1974 Ferrari 312B3 (car no. 27). Another name to recon with is Marco Werner driving the 1976 LOTUS 77, though famed for his 24hour endurance wins, the group F race with 18 Grand Prix cars of 3Litres from 1973 to 1976 would be an exciting race, not to mention the new – well not so new actually, but the newer kid on the block Michael Lyons, in the James Hunt 1976 McLaren M26.

Looking at the pre war cars next I see my friends Lucas Slipjpen in the 1931 Amilcar, originally raced by Benoit Falchetto and Louis Trintignant. Along the padlock line is Julia Baldanza, a regular here at the Grand prix Historic, in fact I think she has attended all 12,  Julia has 2 cars this year with the 1929 Bugatti 35B, originally raced by William Grover and Rene Dreyfus. This unique car was a factory horse until 1938 when it moved to the United Kingdom. Julia also races the 1952 Maserati A6GCM,  a car originally of Brazilian fame. However back to the pre war cars, one main driver to keep an eye on is Patrick Blakeney Edwards – of whom whichever car he will race, he will be sure to come in pole position at some point during the weekend. This weekend Patrick brought his Adrian Thorpe 1935 factory Fraser Nash.

Moving along the sweet shop I bump into the 1955 brigade – Katarina Kyvalova with her Cooper Jaguar T33 originally raced in Goodwood in 1955 who, along with Wolfgang Freidrichs in the Aston Martin DB3S originally raced by Graham Whitehead and his half brother Peter in the 1955 12 Hours of Hyeres.

For me the practice day is all about pottering amongst the paddock and bumping into friends – people and cars alike – and after a year of absence from all of this beauty, I can tell you, it was a real treat thank you.

So what of those cars and the people racing them. Let’ s begin with Michael, who I have been watching for a good few years and to be honest, I knew would create a whirlwind here at Monaco – despite the big names of Alesi and Arnoux.

I caught up with Michael Lyons after his three races of the weekend.

He won his first race of the weekend in the no.20, 1971 Surtees TS9, also a first for Monaco, coming 6th and 7th in period, Michael and his team were really pleased that this car brought it home on the top step.  His second race of the weekend was filleted with the good, the bad and the ugly, with the full aplomb of the hall of fame creating a blockbuster for  the weekend, with Alesi in the no. 27 Lauda Ferrari and Werner in the no.6 Ronnie Peterson Lotus, (Arnoux in the no.12 Lauda Ferrari had previously crashed out in qualifying).

Lyons this time in the no.7 Jochen Mass and James Hunt McLaren. (It was really lovely to see Jochen Mass and Frank Lyons, Michaels father –an experienced historic F1 racing driver, in the paddock discussing the car). With Alesi taking pole in qualifying, despite having gear shifting issues, Werner in second place on the chase right from the start, Lyons took the decision to take a step back and let these two fight it out and indeed they did, for after another gear shift issue with the Ferrari, the Lotus right on the tail nipped the Ferrari with his front bumper and off it went into the wall 15 laps into the 18 lap race. A 25 second penalty given to Werner created a new podium line up of which Michael now as the winner and Werner in 3rd place, with Julian Andlauer in the no.35 1976 March 761 originally raced by Arturo Merzario in 2nd position.

Now with the car’s 2nd win with Michael at Monaco (along with 3 wins in the hands of James Hunt), Michael avoiding his usual jumping down onto the top step, stepped calmly, held the trophy to his chest without raising it and upon returning to the track, placed the first place trophy beside the now 3rd position Werner Lotus and walked away.  Werner looked on behind his face mask with such distaste for the official decisions, but I think was humbled by Lyon’s gesture – as I think was everyone surrounding him.

Martin Stretton who, although not racing this weekend, was looking after another car said “You win some races you shouldn’t and lose some you should have won – it could have been worse” Indeed, Alesi got up and walked out of the car and Lyons got straight back into his third race of the weekend, in the  Rupert Keegon 1977 Hesketh 308E – originally finishing 12th in Monaco and 10th in the French GP then being seriously damaged in the Canadian Grand Prix. Michael won the race (now having seen the top step 3 times with this car), the weekend for Lyons was quite a success.

I asked Michael his thoughts on the weekend,

“After landing back from Monaco my phone has been ringing quite a bit and so now I’m off this weekend to race a Group C car for a good friend in Germany!

For me, the best moment in Monaco this year was the closing laps of race G when I had seen off the pressure from behind and I could just relax and cruise the car to line in order to achieve something we always hopped for but never expected, podium on all 3 races!

I think getting the win in the Surtees was a big step as we were a little ways off with that car off last time in 2018 so it shows the progress we’ve been able to make engineering the car.”

What is next Michael for you?

“For me it’s been a couple of years since I’ve had a full season program, I’m focused on working with customers and coaching. It’s really satisfying to see them progress, achieve better results and increase the enjoyment in the sport. Next to that I’ve been lucky to keep active in both contemporary sportscar racing and the historic scene, getting the call to compete in some high profile races all over. The Covid situation has made it difficult but you just have to be more fluid with your plans.

With the way of the world right now it’s really hard to pin my hopes on one event, Monaco was a huge target for our little family team so it was the main focus but now we have to see what else we’re able to do with this ever changing world event wise, Silverstone Classic is always a nice one for us but hopefully we’ll be able to do more stuff in Europe as well later in the year fingers crossed!”

What about the pre war race then, with Julia, Lucas and Patrick?

Julia told me that her car is always invited to race, with the pedigree I am not surprised. Usually with a string of pearls round her neck this weekend a string of Amber – but don’t let the race control know.  The Amil car holding its ground obviously not the fastest on the grid, but had a good significant presence.

I managed to chat to Patrick before his race as he was prepping late into the night. It turns out that when Patrick was about 8 years old he had gone with his father to the Donington Museum and seen this very car, the 1935 Fraser Nash and despite all the other delights of the museum, he spent his whole visit in front of this car. The owner of the museum let him sit in it and as they say, that was that, he was transfixed and always kept an eye out for it. He saw it for sale a few years ago and bought it. To Patrick this car is everything. And his philosophy of racing it – go full out or not at all. I asked about if he would want to preserve it whilst he races and his response was,

“I’ll either win or it will blow”

Sadly the car blew and he didn’t win. That’s motor racing I suppose.

With so much more to tell you I realise that I can only share with you my highlights of this properly exquisite weekend. With a few absent friends mainly from the pandemic, there was one familiar face I missed however, that of the late Sir Stirling Moss who, when racing in 1956, a Maserati 250F – (which he won the race although Fangio took the fastest lap) had said to me at a breakfast a few years ago, “I was practicing round the circuit late into the night and passing the many cafes and bars open, remember we didn’t have all the barriers as we have now, a woman got out of her house and waved me down and asked what I was doing, “practicing” I said to which she replied, “well go and practice somewhere else”.

All that leaves me to say is I cannot wait for 2022 when, I assume we will be back to full attendance again and begin another weekend of something really rather special. Thank you ACM for a well organised and Covid-safe event in these strange times.