The Historic: Monaco’s 2-week Gift to Motor Racing Nirvana
By Nicholas Frankl
1997 saw the beginning of a very special tradition - The Historic Grand Prix of Monaco. Run on the very same streets as the annual F1 race, the Historic sought to recapture the magic of a bygone age, when racing cars traveled with an on-board mechanic, gentlemen raced and racers were gentlemen.
Since that first original magic weekend, one which I shall always remember for two principal reasons, the first being a woman, as I was with my very beautiful Argentine girlfriend at the time and, second, on the Saturday we enjoyed a fabulous lunch for four at the Automobile Club (ACM) with Mika and Erja Hakkinen. Mika was still a year away from his first of two World Championships and we agreed the weekend was one of the most enjoyable automotive experiences the world had seen; even Bernie Ecclestone was running about in blue jeans and a denim shirt.
Now a bi-annual event, The Historic has grown and flourished into a pilgrimage for those with insanely amazing vintage cars and equally large bank balances not to mind too much if the pride and joy ends up in the Armco, as can occasionally and painfully happen. Split into different racing years, all the makes are there; Maserati, Ferrari, BRM, Bugatti, ISO, Lotus, Cooper, McLaren. Many of the drivers compete actively in the Historic racing series around Europe and the States. You’ll find many familiar cars and faces if you regularly frequent the Rolex Cup at Sears Point or the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Of course the racing on the Sunday was absolutely thrilling; listening to and smelling these magnificent machines, Castrol R running through their veins, many in absolute or near absolute original condition, is just too glorious. The organization is excellent with the races lined up and ready to go consecutively, and in between the ACM allowing pass holders to get rides in assorted racing Renaults and the like around the actual circuit. I suggested to my driver that maybe he needed a break – and I could assist with the driving - he smiled and muttered a firm NON!
The best performances came from the final race featuring F1 cars (1967 – 1977) and the Vintage Ferrari F1 ‘display’. Those guys weren’t hanging about, with the famous six-wheeled Tyrrell (running on specially hand-made Avon tires) dicing it up with the Chevron of Frank Sytner. The F1 Ferrari parade consisted of cars from each of the decades. It made for interesting driving as Lauda’s 312-T’s and Gilles Villeneuve’s 196 B ran with the 2000 Schumacher and ’90 Prost cars. Of course the turbo cars roared, but the V-12’s just made you ache for a return (fat chance) of that famous high pitch scream. Surely one of the greatest noises ever created by man and machine.
By Sunday evening, the new pits and circuit extension had been opened, initiated and given a royal seal of approval. The Laurel wreaths and trophies awarded and the cars packed up to make way for the F1 circus. As Phil Hill, a man who needs no introduction, and certainly one with a sense of historical perspective noted, “If I can keep coming back here and racing for as long as possible, then life is still pretty good, right?’ I couldn’t agree more Mr. Hill.