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Pau Historic Grand Prix, 23rd-25th May2009

9° Grand Prix de Pau Historique

This year the Historic Grand Prix was under a new regime – that of Patrick Peter, famous for his splendid organisation of the Le Mans Classique and for those who went, it was to be a most enjoyable weekend, both on and off the track.  However, six months before, all had not augured well!!  When the entry forms were despatched it was clear that a Monagasque type event was envisaged (indeed intended to fill the ‘alternative’ year where there is no GP Historique at Monaco), but accompanied by Monaco type prices – sadly, although it is one of the truly historic G.P circuits, and So original, it lacks the harbour, the glitterati et al of the Côte d’Azure – and the beautifully prepared invitations, ended up, mostly, in the bin!  By the time that the entry fee had been halved in February, other plans had been laid, but it was still a 12 car FJ entry that headed for the Pyrenees in May, Philipp Buhofer (Lola Mk5A) having already withdrawn due to work commitments, Alex Morton topped the list in his Ausper T3, with Christian Traber from Switzerland in Lotus 22-J-7.  A strong contender for honours would be Dr. Stephane Rey from nearby Nogaro in his Lola Mk5A, as Paul Alquier would be absent this year in his 20, his wife Chantal still recovering from a heavy stay in hospital.  Back again for a second bite, John Dowson, with Ruth, inseparable from the familiar satchel, tended by Matt King in the Elva 200.  Front engined cars were in strength, with Stanguellini’s for “Mr John of B” alias Jean Guittard , not seen since Monaco 2009, and welcome newcomer, French expatriate Italian, Guido di Egidio, with wife Angela, in the ex Marc Coshieri 00119.  Its standard engine had been replaced by a full race version from FIAT ace, Delio Galassi, but something was not at all right in the fuel feed or ignition area – nonetheless much assistance was provided by John Arnold, Justin Fleming, Team Bond and others and despite not a word of English passing, Guido and Angela soon become firm friends, dining with the FJ contingent in the old town each evening – sadly, but wisely however, Guido decided not to risk further damage after timed practice.
Team Bond were out in force, but after a troubled free practice the linkage broke again at the end of qualifying, and although a repair was effected, the poor Bond expired up the hill on only its second race lap – but they were not discouraged and continued to enjoy the weekend, generously, in the old town! Stuart Tizzard was making his appearance in the ex-Clive Wilson, Lola Mk2, though they had taken over a Chateau some way out of town, and didn’t make the first (early!) practice – and to complete the front engined brigade were the 2 Elva 100’s of Justin Fleming (with Wendy and son Christian) and Geoff O’nion, escaping from the razz-mataz of Monaco GP weekend, while Duncan brought up the rear, still with a down on power motor in the familiar Alexis.
But there was one other car in the FJ race, Michel Wanty’s Lotus 20, a late entry to be driven by Pierre Alain Thibaut, one of the owners of the Spa-Francorchamps track – but we need to look at the Tropheé-Argentin and Pau to relate the full sad story... This had been intended as two races, for rear engined and front engined GP cars – but the folly of running such a race without HGPCA support was readily apparent – 8 cars, for the two grids! (including Jean-Marie Muller’s 1969 BT23-5!) – hastily combined – worse was yet to come – on the first lap of free practice, Jean-Robert Grellet from Austria spun Connaught A8 into the wall, but not before collecting Michel Wanty’s Lotus 24 V8  - both cars too damaged to take further part – even worse followed, after qualifying, the six survivors were reduced to 4 – by race 2, there were but 3 cars circulating – but back to Formula Junior – Michel at least had the 20 – and duly qualified it into second place, a fraction ahead of Traber, although local man Stephane Rey was streaks ahead.  Alex Morton had the measure of the rest, though Justin Fleming was flying, ahead of Dowson and Tizzard, who would have gone better if he had taken the covers off his carburettors!!   - O’nion and the Bond were well ahead of a closely matched “Mr John of B” and Duncan, while Guido managed 6 unhappy laps at the tail.
Up to now we had had good sunny weather, but first race on Saturday morning heralded a damp track, and sadly a trap for the unwary.  First to go was Alex who all but lost his front wheel in a late braking manoeuvre under the bridge, but Duncan got caught up, albeit unscathed, and just got going ahead of Justin who was not enjoying the conditions. Two laps later and it was Michel Wanty’s turn to badly damage his second car of the weekend out of the hairpin.  Up front Stephane was untouchable, but behind there had been a good battle between Morton, Wanty and Traber, with much place changing in the conditions – however the accident left Traber comfortably second, and elevated Tizzard to third, whilst a spinning Dowson worked his way back ahead of ‘Mr John of B’ by the flag.  A resounding ‘La Marseillaise’ was a fitting tribute to Stephane’s excellent drive; then plenty of time to work on the cars before the excellent lunch provided in the Drivers “tent” for all participants – in fact outside, as the rain had done, and fine weather prevailed for the rest of the weekend.
The only other Monoposto race comibined F.Ford, F.France and 1000 F3, our regular friends Philippe Bonny and Michel Renevand being joined by local man Alain Benedetti, having his first race, all in Tecno’s.  Engine problems sidelined Benedetti after first practice, whilst a stirring qualifying by Renevand was to no avail as his engine, too, failed in race one.
Saturday night was spent in the town as the Grand Party in the Casino was,  sensibly, held on Friday – it was a splendid affair, surpassing any of those under the former Mayoralty – drinks in the sunshine on the Terrace, food served exquisitely and promptly, speeches of minimum duration in the middle of proceedings and not dragged out at the end, and Formula Junior all forgathered on two tables with much juxtaposition of different nationalities with Sharon O’nion acting as French liaison between Italian and Anglo Saxon.
Race 2 was not till Sunday afternoon, this time in the dry – John Dowson rather spoilt his copybook on lap 1, at the ‘Gare’, calling it a day with deranged nose, though a little gaffer tape might have saved the day.  Stephane Rey and Christian Traber were comfortable leaders, but Justin Fleming, relishing the sunny weather rather than the wet, kept Stuart Tizzard in sight. Geoff O’nion had a lonely race, but “Mr John of B” got by Duncan on lap 2, but thereafter Duncan had his nose up the Stanguellini tail for the whole race, the power of the FIAT on the straight just being too much for Duncan, who would catch up again through all the twisty bits!

All in all it was a splendid weekend, much Formula Junior socialising, and excellent organisation and hospitality from Patrick Peter, and Jean Paul Dusset and the rest of the A.C.B.B.  We shall definitely be back in 2011 when Patrick Peter puts on his next show, no doubt with lessons learnt from his first foray to the Pyrenees.