Saturday, 6 April 2013

Classic Tracks, part 2 - Monza

In the hope that readers were not too bored (or jealous!) by tales of my exploits at Indianapolis in 1991, I would like to continue the tour through my scrapbook, by sharing the two occasions, in 1980, that I visited another iconic motor sporting venue, Monza.

Just before Christmas 1979, I was dispatched by my employers to Lugano, in Switzerland, to help a certain bank whose year-end computer procedures were likely to take around 36 hours to complete. As the bank was planning to close at 3pm on New Year’s Eve, and reopen at ten in the morning of January 2nd, this didn’t leave much leeway for anything to be corrected should things not quite go to plan, so the consultancy for which I worked was called in to ‘fix things’. My predecessor had promised much, and hopes were high that I would come in, sort everything out, and take the next flight home. It didn’t happen: the bank stayed closed all day on January 2nd, and I was still living in Switzerland until May 1980.

The silver lining to that particular cloud of my IT career was that I got to go to Monza; twice in fact: the first time to see the 4-hour, European Touring Car Championship race in March, and the second to see the 1000km World Championship of Makes race in April. Rather like the Motor Speedway at Indianapolis, Monza is a place that is defined by its race circuit. Its surroundings are the very stuff of which motor racing legend is made.

On both occasions, I made my way there on public transport. It was a relatively straightforward trip: from my digs in Lugano, the train went directly to Milan, crossing the Italian border at Chiasso. From Milan, a provincial train service then took me to Monza, and then there was just the matter of a three mile walk from the station to the famous Royal Park, in whose grounds the Autodromo Nazionale is to be found.

As a motor sporting venue, I can only describe Monza as magnificent. Neither of the events I went to was particularly well-attended, but the atmosphere was still tremendous. The huge grandstand overlooking the startline, the famous electronic scoreboard, the columns guarding the entrance to the paddock; they all contributed to an almost religious feeling. Here was a place that was filled with fervour at the Italian Grand Prix every year, and the echoes of the tifosi were ever-present.

For the Trofeo Mario Angiolini, as the ETCC race was called, on March 23rd, 1980, I left Lugano, according to my diary entry, at 6am. I didn’t actually record the time that I arrived at the circuit, but I described the journey back home again as a “pain – arrived just before midnight”. I recall Italian transport services on a Sunday evening being just as flaky as in the UK.

It was a rather grey and dreary day - as the photos suggest, but brightened up by the presence of a very purposeful looking Mercedes 450 SLC driven by Jörg Denzel and Clemens Schickentanz. The competition was similarly German, in the shape of various BMW 635 CSis. Although the Merc led early on, it turned out that the BMWs were able to spend less time in the pits, and the race was won by the green 635 CSI driven by Umberto Grano, Heribert Werginz and Harald Neger.

Much more memorable was the World Championship of Makes race on April 27th. My diary records that I was on the 05:09 train out of Lugano – I must have got up before 4:30am; boy, I was keen! – and I was at the track in time to see the Alfasud support race that started at 9.30am.

There was a second support race, for Formula Fiat Abarth, which featured folk such as Paulo Barilla and Roberto Ravaglia on the entry list, but the star of the event was a certain Emanuele Pirro, who won the race easily.

For the main race, the entry was good – there were two works Beta Montecarlos from Lancia (being driven by Riccardo Patrese / Walter Röhrl and Eddie Cheever / Piercarlo Ghinzani), along with a third car entered by the Jolly Club. As a Brit abroad, though, the main interest was the British Racing Green De Cadenet-DFV, which the charismatic Alain de Cadenet was sharing with Desiré Wilson. The rest of the Group 6 (aka prototype) cars were, to be blunt, a fairly motley assortment of Osellas, of varying engine capacities.

The main battle of the race was between the de Cadenet and the Sportwagen Porsche 935T, particularly when it was in the hands of Pescarolo. Towards the end of the six hours, though - and it was a six hour duration event, despite being billed as the "Monza 1000kms" - it began to rain, and the big Porsche looked a bit of a handful through the Ascari chicane, where I was standing at that point.

It went into the pits for rain tyres, but the de Cadenet kept going, and ended up the winner of the race by a mere 10 seconds.

They were both great events, and I remember both very fondly. I never got to see a Grand Prix in Italy, but still there were fans climbing onto the advertising hoardings to get a better view, and quite a few, I reckon, coming in through holes in the perimeter fence.

For the police, it was also a grand day out; they would happily point their guns at the fans in the trees, telling them to come down, before sharing a joke with the same fans, who would climb back up again as soon as the cops moved off to another part of the circuit.

I even managed to climb the old banking, covered in moss, for a view of the cars heading down the start-finish straight. Great memories!

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