MONACO, 17 MAY 2002

GRAND PRIX HISTORIQUE

Monaco 2002 proved to be the remarkable experience everyone expected. For us however it was memorable for more than the location. The car arrived down in Monaco after a relatively safe journey and passed scrutineering on Thursday with flying colours. Armed with lots of goodies from the organisers Friday was a day of exploration. First on the menu was looking at all the fabulous cars on offer. The paddock was filled with a mouth watering display of cars ranging from the Bugatti 35B that won the very first Monaco GP in 1929 to the Lotus 49C in which Graham Hill took his fifth and final win – this time being raced by current Jordan Grand Prix pilot Takuma Sato. The Formula Juniors were allocated the GP pits located on the Start/Finish straight and a very impressive sight they made with cars arriving from as far away as California.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris Ashmore who was the original works driver for Elva in 1962 and took “003” to its only race win in Crystal Palace. A great moment to re-unite him with his car from 40 years ago even though it goes a little faster now with some minor changes.

Very hot weather on Friday made for a very sweaty walk around the track to try and find the best lines. The gradients are remarkable and are not done justice by the TV pictures. In the evening we had the drivers briefing which mainly concerned instructions about not all crashing at the first corner – and a warning about the weather.

Saturday was for qualifying and was gloomy with threatening clouds. The Juniors were out first in mostly dry but slightly greasy conditions. We went well and ended up 15th overall and third in class – with not damage to report and more speed available with more experience of this amazing track. Sadly this was not to be as the afternoon session was very wet and extremely treacherous – many cars visited the Armco barriers after losing grip either on the white lines or on the very slippy street surface. Times were not improved so 15th it was for the race.

The plan for the race was to stay out of trouble and ideally make up a class position. After two formation laps the lights went green and made a pretty good start. My plan of diving up the middle was foiled when Marcus Mussa from just in front of me on the grid did just that and blocked the space. Never mind, up the hill to Casino Square with no places lost we met the first retirements (contact). Flying past came Bob Birrell in his very rapid Brabham BT6 – a man on a mission. He then locked wheels with the next man up entering the Gasworks hairpin and was very fortunate not to finish there and then (which I was hoping for of course!).

All went well for the first two laps as we held station and gradually got faster. Lap 3 however brought disaster. Just exiting the tunnel at the fastest part of the circuit the plan is to brake at about the 150m board. Just as I did this the top wishbone came adrift from the wheel which collapsed under the car. A passenger for the next few seconds I was fortunate not to touch anything scraping to a halt beside the barrier. There, I joined the unfortunate Mike Hibberd who had been hit from behind and then by Robin Longdon who arrived in a cloud of steam having hit a car in front. Such is motor racing!

Overall, a wonderful weekend and a great experience. A disappointing end to the race but minimal car damage and we will be ready for the next event.

 

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