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THE APRIL 2016 issue of Saveur, my favorite magazine of cuisine (and travel) brought back memories of Ayrton Senna’s first Formula One victory, the Portuguese Grand Prix, Estoril, 1985. I was there, along with Rob and Betty Walker, who shared tales of Estoril’s World War II days of intrigue. That Estoril history is cited in the Saveur piece, together with a scrumptious-looking recipe for Braised Bass and Clams, a classic Portuguese dish. It’s not unlike one I enjoyed in nearby Cascais back in 1985.
Indeed, Saveur magazine has a motorsports link, albeit a tenuous one of history: The magazine is published these days by Bonnier Corporation, and long-time race fans may remember the sports car and Grand Prix driver Joakim Bonnier. His extended Swedish family was, and continues to be, in the publishing business. For a while, Joakim studied for this role, but motor sports captured his passion.
Among Jo Bonnier’s wins were the 1959 Dutch Grand Prix, the Targa Florio in 1960 and 1963, the 1962 Sebring 12-hour and the 1966 1000 km of Nürburgring. He was also one of the Formula One advisors for the 1966 racing movie Grand Prix (Two-Disc Special Edition).
In the early 1960s, Jo drove for the Rob Walker Racing Team. Stretching relationships thin indeed, I once knew a Swedish woman who danced with Jo; my ties with Rob and Betty were rather closer. In particular, Rob was covering Formula One for R&T and I lucked out with a press trip to the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix.
Rob and Betty always stayed at the Palacio Estoril, a grand hotel built in 1930. Given Portugal’s neutrality in WWII, the Palacio was the residence of many European royalty in exile, not to say a nest of spies. The Saveur article notes that Ian Fleming conceived of James Bond while staying there, his inspiration being triple agent Dusko Popov, a man nicknamed Tricycle (because the fellow always had a woman on each arm).
Rob, Betty and I enjoyed dinners at the Palacio and, the next evening, the Cima Restaurante English Bar, where Rob recounted tales of Allied and Nazi intrigue. The English Bar is in Cascais, on the seafront where intelligence agents of both sides received messages flashed in code from ships lurking offshore.
On race day, April 21, 1985, it rained, often heavily. Rob performed his reporting duties in the pits and press room. Betty and I staked out a trackside spot to do one of her legendary lap charts. (This was one of Betty’s responsibilities when Rob had his Formula One team; another was providing favored drivers with excellent good-luck brownies, unique for their sultanas.)
Though Betty and I got soaked to the skin in 1985, we encouraged each other to stay out there and somehow keep the chart notations from being washed away. Ayrton Senna and his Lotus-Renault 97T were on pole and the rain-master ran away from the field. Only second-place Michele Alboreto, more than a minute behind in his Ferrari, finished on the same lap. The other Ferrari, Stefan Johansson’s, was more than five laps behind, in eighth place.
Nearby Cascais provided me with another memorable occasion. After the race weekend, three of us on the press trip visited a charming little seaside restaurant. While we enjoyed our wonderfully fresh Portuguese seafood, a couple with a small child came into the place.
I’m sure Bernie Ecclestone, his wife Slavica and baby Tamara enjoyed the ambience too. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016