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monaco-coverMonaco may not amount to much as a thoroughbred race track. Yet it has achieved one thing. Bestowing several of its corners with French names that can also be pronounced as English names. Although the results are sometimes… a tad peculiar.

Barely has a lap started as already it winds around Sainte Dévote. Or Stained Devotion, as BBC reporters insist on calling it.

“Oh good heavens, there go Villanouve and Pairooooni through Stained Devotion side-by-side.”

It’s as fitting as it can be, really. Devotion has indeed grown very scarce around Monaco ever since Charles Honoré Grimaldi, also known as Carlo III de Monaco, had to sell Menton and Roquebrune to France. Back in 1861 that had been. It reduced the surface of the Principality by about eighty percent. Carlo did luckily have the good sense to not spend all of the proceeds on Parisian nights and the floozies dwelling in them. But used the best part of it to build the Monte Carlo casino. The profits of which where subsequently invested in infrastructure such as posh hotels and restaurants, paving the way for Monaco to become the jet set favourite it is today. Since those days, everything at Monaco has been somewhat stained by an unquenchable thirst for money.

Out of Stained Devotion, the cars storm up the hill towards Massenet. Pronounced by the average anglophone visitor as Mazed Maid. And let’s be honest, it is not that uncommon to end up dazed and confused by wealth’s opulent presence at Monaco.

Past Carlo’s Casino down to the Mirabeau. Where every driver practices his Mirror Bows on the morning of the race. As in Monaco, every starter really has a chance of winning. You may start near the end, and still end up in the lead after just one turn. Candy cars are effectively able of just simply going airborne at the devoted first corner, adding some stains to the fencing.

The small park opposite of the Mirror Bows is where I told Honey to hide during the race. With her hair died black and cut short, and giant dark sunglasses, Crazy and his gang should not recognize her, I figured. But noticed in her eyes that she was far from convinced.

As the track moves onward from Mirabeau, the Monégasques seem to have run out of inspiration. It indeed takes all the way to the last turn to come up on La Rascasse, which is non other than good old Race Case. Even if irony may get one a long way, at Monaco they seem to have overstepped the marker a bit. Race Case… Nothing around this track is really racy. Except maybe the bikini’s… or lack of them, on the yachts in the harbour behind the Chicane.

But even that titties spectacle can not mask that Monaco has, in essence, boiled down to an excuse for those not brave enough for Marseille. Insufficiently wild at heart for Marbella. Or just too shy for the nudity of Saint-Tropez breast.

The result is a somewhat drowsy paradise for fashionable socialites, who pretend to adore drama. But in reality only hope to hold on to their peaceful wealth, until they blow their last breath.

Those competing in a race here, are however advised to not drop their alertness. Not that the overtaking requires much concentration, passing being sheer impossible around the place. But you have to be right on the edge just to avoid damaging the car before even storming up Beau Rivage on that first lap.

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Here we go! The 5 to 6 first cars make it through Stained Devotion without a scratch. Behind, a typical Monaco congestion is building.

It is no different this time around. The top five or so manage to wiggle their pretty little six cylinder asses through Stained Devotion and prepare to assault Beau Rivage. Behind, the inevitable domino principle enters the equitation. Frederiksson and Mikula are both eyeing the same piece of real estate. That forces Gardiner to slow on the inside line. Which leaves Hlavac precious little room to move. Whited has anticipated it all and comes to a near stand still to avoid them. When the inevitable compulsory charger enters the play and obviously fails to avoid the congestion. This year, Bos assumes the honours, hitting Whited, slightly launching his car.

Drivers of my calibre obviously anticipate such developments. And know that, at Monaco, you have to start on the outside line.

That is why I stayed in my box, forfeiting any chance of bettering my time, while holding 15th spot on the grid. And happily let 5 other cars pull ahead of me. Handing me 20th and a starting position on the coveted outside line.

Barely started, my tactics are already paying off. I am quietly sticking to Czlapinski’s behinds, minding my own business, and fluidly pull past Hackman and Jereb, both caught in the inside line bottle neck. Ain’t this just simply grant?

Besides Bos hitting Whited and the progress of almost everyone behind being substantially hampered, everything looks quiet clean however. I have witnessed much worse when it comes to opening laps at Monaco. So I settle in to attack the race and have a sniff at Czlapinski’s 17th spot. And who knows what next?

Up the hill, towards Massenet, race control nevertheless brings the safety car out. And just as at the AVUS, some seem to have difficulty grasping the concept of a full caution period. Namely the bit about not pulling ahead of other cars remains hard to understand.

On the run down towards Mirabeau, young Iquino is charging like a merry stallion, bursting with youthful exuberance. Then thinks the better of it.

I hold on to my 18th spot. About 200 metres of real racing and already 2 spots up. Who ever said one needed talent to be a racer? Just make sure that the entire world outside of the car is unbearable. Leaving scurrying around race tracks as only real option for survival.

Up front nothing has changed. It is still Grant leading Thiago, then Austin, David Jaques and John Thim. The exact same top 5 as the one on the starting grid.

Jereb is behind me. Fond memories of the times Raul and I shared Porsche’s in long distance races float through my car. Sitting Ducks had been the name of the team and they called us the ducks. Where had those days gone? If I only could have stayed there; for ever swaying in those few good years life had allowed me.

Race control realizes that they may have been a bit trigger happy when calling the caution period. Starting lap 4, they beckon the pace car into pit lane. Off we go racing… and this time for good at the looks of it.

Grant commandingly holds the lead and even seems to build a small gap on Canola. Which is not to the liking of Johnson who is stuck behind his Brazilian teammate.

Everyone’s behaviour is pristine and well mannered. It is a near spotless single file of cars flowing through Mazed Maid and Carlo’s Casino into Mirror Bows. Then further down to Loews and Portier. It almost looks like marbles rolling down their coaster. But this being Monaco, the marbles probably are of pure diamond and the coaster’s bends bear expensive names.

Mikula has a look at Frederiksson into Loews. Small contact is the result but without much harm done.

Canola, weary to keep the good team spirit, lets Johnson through into Portier. Californian Sunshine goes hunting for Quicker as Lightning Riddall.

I manage to stick to Czlapinski’s bumper. We storm up Beau Rivage. Round Massenet and Casino. Wriggle through Mirabeau, Loews and Portier. All these names, each home to legends and racing anthology. I almost feel like a refugee around this place. I no longer belong here. Yet, nowhere else can I find a glimmer of the shelter I so desperately crave for.

Through the Tunnel we bolt. Jereb seems desperate to get ahead. He storms into an impossible late braking attempt at the Chicane. My rear view mirrors see it coming from miles away and I anticipate. Keeping well to the outside.

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The chances of this sticking were slim from the get-go Duck.

Duck spears past and then straight onto the Chicane’s brutal sausage kerb stones. Can’t mount those kerbs, Duck. They will launch your car. And indeed, there goes his car flying over the Chicane. Raul requires every ounce of helmsmanship to keep it pointing in the right direction.

I meanwhile round the Chicane with rather more discipline. And gather much more speed for the run towards Tabac. Raul seems to stay to the right but just as I start pulling ahead on the left, he decides to move somewhat that way. Our cars scrape like squirming roosters as Raul, surprised it seems, moves back to the right.

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It really looked like a gap from inside the cockpit.

“Come on Duck,” I slam my fist on the dashboard.  But reality is that there is not much harm done. Except for a serious dent in my fender, that is. Fact is however: I’m still in 18th and the fat Beemer continues to behave like a charm.

Grant Riddal is again fast as hell. But so is Johnson in second. The gap between those two looks rather stable. While both of them are opening a gap on Canola, who has Jaques looking for clues in his back.

Thim is still in 5th, but that position is quickly turning into a fiercely contested piece of real estate. Frederiksson has a very greedy eye out for it, and so does Mikula.

The ambient air is warmer than during the practice sessions, causing worried smirks on the face of some team engineers. Some cars already start smoking, which does not improve the engineer’s mindset.

Brother Duck has gained a better understanding of what is possible and what not. He is still looking for an opportunity to get by but seems more relaxed about it. I absolve him. This is a race after all.

As we blast through the Piscine-section, Duck’s car steps out. He struggles to stay on top of the slide and in control. He succeeds but I’m gone. The gap to Duck would steadily increase from there on.

Frederiksson looses the rear of his M1 under acceleration out of Anthony Noghès and slams into the pit wall. Mikula avoids him and moves into 6th, behind Thim who is smoking like a chimney. Frederiksson continues in 7th.

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Jaques was on Canola’s case for the full 28 laps. But in the end decided that 10 points was infinitely more than ending in the fencing.

In front of Thim, Jaques has decided that there is nothing he can not do if he puts his mind to it. He will show the world how passing at Monaco is done. And Canola will be his first random victim.

Frederiksson is working on getting 6th back from Mikula, both of them dazzled by the smoke of Thim’s car. Gardiner has recovered from an earlier mishap entering the Tunnel and is closing in on that trio; with Hlavac hot on his heels.

Gardiner then spins his car exiting Sainte Dévote and falls back to 15th.

Entering lap 10, Maximus Grantus is still leading but a small dispute with some wall, has allowed Johnson to be right on his tail.

Canola and Jaques in 3rd and 4th have already fallen back. The Canadian looks faster than the Brazilian but fails to find a way past. Then follow Thim, the Chief Smoker, Mikula, Frederiksson, Hlavac, Parker and Plaçais, who also has a smoke prone engine.

I have entered calmer waters after the duck-ish excitement and still have Czlapiniski in front of me. Cezariusz is not even that far ahead. And looks like a feasible catch. So, brave at heart as always, I start working on reducing the gap.

That seems to work at first, but than Cezariusz edges away on other laps. Only for me to reel him in again during a couple of laps… The number 28 factory car will look seize-able for almost the entire race, but will I ever manage to catch it? It is like a yo-yo playing tricks with my sanity.

The two leaders decide to put on a little show. Grant hits the inside kerb in Sainte Dévote too hard, killing all traction up the hill. Johnson does not blink and pulls alongside and then slightly ahead on the run up the hill. Grant is on the inside for Massenet and tries to turn that to his advantage, but ends up rounding Massenet sideways. Scrubbing of speed and losing time. Austin now opens a small gap.

Grant is determined to get the lead back as soon as possible and engages in what seems like minor brain fade. First, he hits the sausage kerb in the Chicane hard, almost bumping into Austin’s car. Then he scrapes and rubs the wall in the Piscine section. All it achieves is allowing Austin to pull away. Is Maximus Grant losing his cool?

Further back, Mikula and Frederiksson have lost every last drop of patience they had with Thim. They want that 5th spot and they want it now. So that they can start hunting down Jaques and Canola in 3rd and 4th.

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Characteristic view back from Thim’s car. The Swede had Mikula and Frederiksson on his rear bumper during the entire race.

Mikula is sniffing at every opportunity and some more. It must be congesting his nose as Thim’s car is now smoking like Turkish fruit on a barbecue. There is smoke everywhere, even if race control had insisted on setting up the cars in such way that there would be no smoking. Thim had either not been listening, or now hopes from some clemency from race control. His car looks pretty much like the whole of Ruhrstadt running laps through Monte-Carlo, at this point.

We are almost half way through this madness and I get the scare of a lifetime. I stamp the accelerator down hard into the floor panel as I exit Mirabeau. And out of nowhere… there is a factory BMW facing the track in the wrong direction. It’s Gardiner, I think.

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Gardiner is facing the track in the wrong direction between Mirabeau and Loews.

“Oh no, not Gardiner, not good old Rhys!” Yelps of sheer agony reverberate through the low cockpit as I head straight for the number 27. Then, somehow manage to avoid contact. Et voila… that is another position gained.

The drivers holding 5th to 8th spot have now put their brains in the boiling pots where the locals fry squid. Thim consistently refuses to yield for a clearly faster Mikula and Frederiksson. His car is smoking worse than the old diesel locomotive connecting Monte-Carlo to Menton.

Mikula is still desperately looking for a way past. While Frederiksson is clearly getting frustrated with both drivers in front of him. Jacob’s reasoning seems simple enough: if Pascal can’t get ahead of Smoker John, I will just pull ahead of the both of them.

So on the run up to Massenet, Frederiksson starts pulling abreast with Mikula. Mikula defends but cleanly, leaving Jacob sufficient room on the inside. The German then has the better line for Casino.

On the run to Mirabeau, Jacob again pulls up. Mikula moves right to cover the inside. A move that rather qualifies as solid defending than just smartly positioning the car. Still, nothing wrong with defending a position after having been gassed by Thim during almost the entire race.

Frederiksson sticks to working Mikula in Loews but overcooks it, nearly loosing the rear of the car. Which somehow lets Hlavac through into 7th.

All that has Thim opening a small gap and Mikula running for the hills, who around here look suspiciously much like a tunnel. With Thim slightly ahead, Mikula now suddenly discovers the advantage of cloudless vision. Vision may be highly overrated according to some, but around a race track it comes in pretty darn handy.

Mikula is back on Thim’s rear side fender bender in no time. Frederiksson somehow is past Hlavac again and closes back in on Mikula fast. And they can all go at it again.

The only one who still seems to have some sense left on him is Hlavac, who now keeps a somewhat respectable distance to the three crazed out lunatics in front of him.

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Gardiner was wrestling a badly battered car. He would end up spinning around the Swimming Pool, leaving Remmen nowhere to go.

Up front, Johnson still leads Riddall. The leaders have already lapped Chacon and Chapman and now prepare to lap Alberto Iquino. The young inhabitant of the Capital of Flowers and Light is very courteous, leaving plenty of room in Mirror Bows.

Frederiksson’s nerves meanwhile give in. He can no longer stand it. The smoke, the lack of overtaking opportunities on this track… It is too much and Jacob just parks his Beemer in the pit lane. Which, in essence, is the smart thing to do… If all these other baboons would be as smart, it would hand me victory.

Grant has a shallow look at Austin’s lead into Loews. There is minor contact but both continue unabated. Austin still leading.

Grant threatens into Rascasse a couple of times. But passing at Monaco really requires the guy in front to either cooperate or be of tortoise slowness. Austin is neither of those, leaving Grant with only one option: abide his time.

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What would become the turning point of the race… Johnson spins in Stained Devotion, handing the lead back to Grant. El Maximus would not surrender it.

And that time comes, starting lap 20. Johnson powerspins his Bavarian masterpiece out of Stained Devotion and round he goes. The lead is back to Grant… and he gets a nice gap on Austin as a free complement.

With only 8 laps remaining, Grant thus leads Austin. Canola and Jaques are still 3rd and 4th; Thim and Mikula 5th and 6th. Hlavac, Plaçais, Parker and Riddall the Wiser round out the top 10.

Canola and Jaques are lapping the circuit like a M1-tandem of sorts. The Canadian is working on creating a Jaques Enigma. In other races, he seemed possessed with the eagerness of a Peterson and Fittipaldi. Only crushing victories and astonishing lap times were able to content him. But here and now, he suddenly pulls a Lauda computer brain approach to the race out of his sleeve. And looks like settling for a good chunk of championship points.

Behind the Brazilian-Canadian waltz of mutual understanding, the pressure finally gets to John Thim. He completely misjudges his braking for the Chicane and bounces over the sausage kerb stones. Mikula can finally take 5th and quickly opens up a gap. Even in the world of racing, justice is sometimes served when all hope is lost.

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Racing is often just like the real world… Justice takes its time before being served.

Thim now moreover has his work cut out with both Hlavac and Plaçais being very keen on taking over 6th.

I still have Czlapinski running out in front of me. And although he has edged away now, there are some spots on the track where I actually still have visual contact with the factory entered car.  But then, Cezariusz is suddenly crawling around the track at tortoise like speed. And I pull ahead. As easy as a Sunday brunch in Monaco.

Plaçais somehow manages to sneak past Hlavac and the Czech, whose Beemer is equipped with a brand new steering column and wheel, is now giving it everything he has to recover the position. As disliked as Monaco may be, one has to admit that races are seldom boring here.

The situation even evolves into a matter of tension and near boiling points when the Czech-French duo reels in Thim, who is fiercely eyeballing his former 5th spot, now occupied by Mikula. With only 2 laps to go, Pascal has a bit of a wobble out of Stained Devotion and loses traction. Thim tries to capitalize. To no avail.

As the four cars wriggle down from Mirabeau through Loews and Portier, it looks like Bavaria has gathered all the venom it has. And the Motoren Werke are viciously meandering, snake like, through the streets of Monaco.

I am on my penultimate lap now. Running 15th just in front of Czlapinski… And there is Grant Riddall, looming ever larger in my mirrors. The Lightning One is about to lap me. But I am not gonna be lapped mate. No way. I am going to finish on the lead lap. So I squeeze one last effort out of the car and just nearly stay ahead of El Maximus Grant. As he takes the chequered flag, I stroll into my last lap.

Storming down to Mirabeau, out of the corner of my left eye, I notice Baldy, one of the highway hoodlums, skulking about the run-off zone longing the Mirabeau residence. What is he doing for clod’s sake? The moron is hauling a pet’s container… and now opening it. Bloody idiot… he throws a brown dog onto the track… Straight into my front wheels. I just nearly avoid it and continue without a scratch. One of his nutter friends has less luck. And crashes into the the Armco. His day is done.

I grab 15th. A result that is already a forgotten side note in racing annals as I cross the finish line.

Still, I made it through 28 laps of Monaco without as much as a spin and without being lapped… Maybe one day…

As I walk out of pit lane, to go and find Honey in the park opposite of Mirror Bows, Thim and Frederiksson are exchanging some heated words. Thim seems to be thirsty as he is vividly beckoning a waiter. “Garçon, garçon,” he is calling. Swedes speaking French… It always sounds a bit like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca: “Oh, play it again Sam. For old time’s sake.”

“It’s still the same old story
A fight for pole and victory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome racers
As time goes by.”1

Full broadcast of the race is HERE. Watching again highly recommended.

Standings after round 3 – courtesy of Lukas Vydra.

 

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1As time goes by – Sam Dooley Wilson, Casablanca (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), 1997 Rhino Entertainment.