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ENJOYING THE excitement—and occasional chaos—of the televised 2013 Monaco Grand Prix reminds me of my own electrifying laps of this circuit. (A little EV humor here; very little.) Indeed, in 1993 I took part in an electric vehicle demonstration held less than two hours before Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and others lined up for the 51st Monaco Grand Prix.
The demonstration was organized by the Italian car magazine Quattroruote and the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile, up until 1993 the sporting arm of the F.I.A. Twenty-seven EVs took part in demonstration laps and in displays along Monte Carlo’s Rue Grimaldi and at the Yacht Club de Monaco.
I drove one of two Fiat Cinquecento Elettras. Fiat ran a Panda EV as well, both it and the Elettra being in (small) series production at the time. The 500 Elettra’s DC motor had all of 12 hp giving the car a maximum speed of around 50 mph—all the better for keeping me out of trouble on Monaco’s famed 2.1-mile circuit.
We’ve seen plenty of televised laps of Monaco, but none convey the extreme changes of elevation there. Comments of my electrifying lap follow.
The start along Boulevard Albert 1er is level until the right-hander at Sainte Devote. Then begins a more than moderate climb up through Beau Rivage to where it levels off into Massenet, a left-sweeper with the Hotel de Paris on its left. (I believe even a fit bicyclist would be challenged by the hill. Has any reader tried this? It was quite enough for me to hoof it 20 years ago.)
The circuit is level through Casino onto Casino Square, with the Casino on the right. Through the gardens nearby are whimsical sculptures by Fernando Botero (a Columbian artist who seems to have chosen me subliminally as a model).
The right turn at Mirabeau Haute looks sharp enough on the telly, but this medium cannot convey the drivers’ abrupt change in elevation. It’s a steep, steep, steep downhill from here through the hairpin that’s called Station, Loews or Fairmont, depending on when one got involved with this sport. The steepness abates only a tad all the way down to Mirabeau Bas and Portier.
How steep? I don’t believe any San Francisco street betters it. (Lombard Street, for instance, has its many changes of direction to mitigate the drop.)
The rest of the lap is essentially level, but not without excitement. The telly does a good job of showing the blind entrance into the tunnel, itself a long right-hander taken at high speed.
Well, not in a 50-mph Elettra.
At any speed, the tunnel’s exit isn’t seen until more than halfway through. And I believe the camera handles the abrupt change of illumination better than the human eye does.
Innes Ireland, rest his soul, told me that in his and earlier eras, the tunnel wasn’t as well-lit as now. What’s more, its walls weren’t brightly tiled, but unfinished rock. Innes recounted how he once exited the tunnel first—pieces of his Lotus following him only later.
As their names suggest, the Nouvelle Chicane and Piscine (Swimming Pool) were not on the historical circuit, first run in 1929. Tabac was there (named for a tobacco shop nearby); Louis Chiron came later (honoring this famed Bugatti driver’s support of the race) with Piscine.
The circuit continues on the level through the right-hander at Rascasse (named for the cafe there) and the kink at Anthony Noghes (the race’s first guiding light) and onto the start-finish straight.
I’ve never lapped the Monaco circuit at speed. In fact, though, I came close. The first year of the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco, 1997, my vintage-racing patron, John “Jake” Jacobson, rest his soul, and I were on the backup list of entries—with Jake’s 1930 Miller Ford sprint car.
But that, as they say, is another story for another day. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013