Friday morning arrived and an invitation to attend the 4th Credit Suisse Media Forum was accepted. Breakfast at the Credit Suisse Drivers’ Club was offered by Credit Suisse with the Media Forum to follow.
Four notable motor sport legends were assembled to form the panel, hosted by writer and broadcaster, Henry Hope-Frost. The hour long panel discussion captivated the 100 strong media contingent – Sir Stirling Moss OBE, Derek Bell MBE, Jochen Mass and Romain Dumas.
The topic was ‘Dream Circuits’ but the discussion moved back and forth. Romain Dumas, a Frenchman who’s teammates in the Porsche Endurance team with Australia’s Mark Webber this season (in sister cars) was the only of the panellists never to compete at Monaco. When asked why he has a problem with this he said: “he had to slow down when doing a lap of the track at road speed”. The Police was there so a had to slow down a bit”
Hope-Frost put the question to Mass on his Formula One experience at Monaco – You finished 5th in 1976, 4th in 1977, but why didn’t you finish in 1978? Mass: “Don’t ask such a silly question!” ….and went on to talk about the 1972 F3 race instead.
Derek Bell was next and spoke about arriving at Monaco for the 1972 GP with the Tecno – which he apologised to the Italians in the room ahead of saying: “it was a lousy car …yes, the car that the best thing to do with it is jump over it”, furthermore going on to say “if I ever had a Formula One career blossoming the Tecno made sure it didn’t go any further”. The result was that the Tecno didn’t turn up at Monaco that year, so Bell ready to race had nothing to race with.
The forum went on to that initial question, and surprisingly, Sir Stirling didn’t say something like Monaco, in fact saying the 42 mile per lap Targa Florio in Sicily. He said the hard part of this circuit was learning it. They would do a practice lap there the day before, but the Sicilians would get out at night time to re-surface various parts. “The issue was they laid new tar over the top of rocks” – didn’t last long.
Talking about safety, Bell described his first sports car was the Porsche 917 with the car setup so that his legs were in front of the front axle. He said they did it, because back then there were another 100 people that would do it – drive a car with that level of protection at 396km/h down Mulsanne.
There was time between the Media Forum and a lunch in the Loges VIP, but a 45 minute wait in the que at the media centre to get the media accreditation passes put a stop to this, about the only down point at the event. But, thanks again to Credit Suisse and the Automobile Club de Monaco we were entertained at a lunch overlooking the pit lane. This was a great opportunity to mix and mingle with a number of other accredited media from all parts of the world. On our table were people from Canada, Tokyo, Singapore, Scotland and Belgium.
The sitting around, although extremely well worth it had to stop for me unfortunately as I didn’t want to miss what was happening outside. So the camera was dusted off again, and it was straight to the pit lane for a closer look at the 1973-1978 Formula One cars.
There was a large crowd of fellow accredited photographers gathering outside a couple of garages toward the end of the lane, so naturally another made its way to the flock. Inside two Renault F1 cars, one with A. Prost on the side, the other with Jabuille on the side, and chatting to each other were two World Champions, Alain Prost and Damon Hill. Hill in his driving suit ready to climb aboard the Jabuille turbo car. The two cars were getting ready for some demonstration laps. Johnny Herbert also wandered by (no, not like me following the flock!), but there as the Safety Car driver.
With about 40 media huddling around, it was hard to get a decent photo, and even harder to have a few words with either of these three greats.
With that excitement over, it was pretty much time to head trackside and capture the afternoon’s practice sessions. Among the fellow media I had met earlier was Scot John McKenzie whose son-in-law, Edward Wright is a Monaco based photographer. Ed was kind enough to accept my request to follow him for the first couple of sessions to find my way around the tricky ins and outs. Well worth it as I soon found how close to the track my tabard got me, and how many gates I could walk up to, open and walk through without been questioned.
First out were the pre-war cars, which includes the two Australian Bugattis. They faced tough competition though, with 4 ERA, 2 P3 Alfa, Maserati and a few other Bugatti. Paddins Dowling went out in his ERA R10B on fresh rubber, so made the session a bed in one, so was not at the top of the lap board. This was taken by a similar looking black ERA B of Michael Gans.
Tony Smith is known for his pace in the ex. Phil Hill Ferrari 246 Dino, but he was proven not to be as quick in his Alfa Romeo Tipo B ‘P3’ as the that of Paul Grist, Grist out-pacing him across all seasons. We chose two vantage points for that session, both at the same corner – the entrance to the swimming pool extension to the track, a very fast left-right hander where you see a lot of over steer and under steer, particularly from these cars.
This session was followed by Grand Prix cars up to 1961, a great era of Formula One cars, including Smith’s Ferrari. A handful of Maserati 250Fs took to the track, number 4 being the ‘Offset’ model that we saw here in Australia a few years ago in the hands of its American owner, Tom Price. Roger Wills was out getting the most out of his Cooper T51, as was Gary Pearson with his BRM P25. The fascinating cars continued with a brace of Gordini, Cooper-Bristol and Connaught A & B Types.
Like the pre-war grid, these are the cars that you can really see the driver at work correcting the steering, particularly those Cooper-Bristol & Connaught drivers who had a lot of skill as they pulled off the same correcting moves each lap.
By now Ed had led me to a spot opposite the Hotel de Paris just before Casino Square for that event, but then we walked back down the steps we had just come up and continued along the back of the Casino to another security gate, which we entered and that opened up to the steps that walk down to the hairpin – yes, the steps you see in all the pictures looking back at the private room of the casino.
Every angle of the hairpin was taken during the next practice session, the session of the 1966-1972 Formula One cars. What a treat is was to photograph these great open-wheel race cars as they negotiated the slow hairpin.
Within seconds of each other the personal favourite Ferrari 312 – B2, then B3 chasissis screamed past, the pure engine roar coming from their V-12 powerplants under acceleration out of the hairpin was absolutely piercing, and then it happened lap after lap.
Outright pace though was coming from Lotus and Brabham with the BT33 of Duncan Dayton making its return to the track after two years since its last race 0 the 2012 Monaco Historique. Like the Brabham, most of the cars in the field comprised of the Cosworth-DFV as their powerplant, including the three types of March represented – 701, 711 & 721G.
Friday for the scribe was concluded by finding the RM Auctions venue. A fairly long walk along the foreshore, through the Princess Grace Oriental Gardens and on for another kilometre or so until arrival at a security gate – staffed by a couple of beautiful ladies. A golf buggy shuttle was on hand to ferry us up to the main door of the auction venue, the Grimaldi Forum at Sporting Monte Carlo.
There was a quad-cam 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 in the foyer announcing the Monterey auction. Briefly, this car was purchased new by Steve McQueen, but is now offered to the market by current owner Vern Schuppan (yes, Australia’s 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours winner).
Of particular note in the auction line up for the following day’s sale was another 1967 vehicle. The Brabham-Repco BT20 was piloted by New Zealander Denny Hulme during his Championship year with his most notable victory coming with the 1967 Grand Prix de Monaco victory. Well, the bidders got carried away and the car went for over $1,500,000 AUD – about $400,000 over pre-auction estimates.