Monaco Historique relives days when men, not cars, won races

A true street race, Philippe Etancelin (4) and eventual winner William Grover-Williams (12) race their Bugattis in the first Monaco GP, in 1929

Strapped into stripped-down skeletons of wood and metal, with no helmets, no flame-proof overalls and no seatbelts... the racers who first raced the Monaco GP circuit in 1929 wagered their lives to win.

Racing in cars where the engine was the dominant feature, they slid, shimmied and spun the four skinny, hard rubber tyres around a testing city circuit that demanded physical fitness to match their skill.

Ex-endurance racer and former head of L’Oréal Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones summed up the rigours to Motor Sports Magazine: “Just 20 minutes of practice was enough for me. Can you imagine Fangio, aged 45, in a 250F [Maserati] for three hours?”

He added: “The track is almost too dangerous; I’m too old and yet we all love it!”

Sir Lindsay was talking about the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, an unmissable biennial event on the classic racing circuit that on May 13-15 sees racing cars from pre-war to 1976 roaring again through the
skyscrapers.

Once raced by Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jacky Ickx and James Hunt they are now driven by young and not-so-young drivers fitted with modern safety gear but who may also need a tough fitness regime to last the course.

Géry Mestre, president of the Commission des Voitures de Collection at the Auto­mob­ile Club de Monaco, said: “The drivers tell us this is a very difficult event, a dozen laps and you are exhausted.

“It is also massive. Here, we do not close streets for the races we close a country. For the Historique we can expect about 30,000 spectators but for the Monaco F1 GP two weeks afterwards we will have 250,000.

“The reason they come is for unrivalled track action with cars better than they were when they first raced here. A car that did 200hp back then does 300hp today as the teams have rebuilt the motors with better balanced crankshafts, lighter pistons, oils that are 100 times better and better fuels.

“It is not the cars which win, it is the drivers – we aim for the best drivers in the best cars for real competitive races. And, here, you see the drivers and you can meet them.”

Friday viewing is free with Saturday tickets €20 and race day €30 (www.acm.mc) for a chance to relive 50 years of classic racing with the likes of Jaguar D, Cosworth DFV and a parade lap of the pre-war racers.

Vintage F1 cars racing around the Monaco Grand Prix course
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