The Great Events

May is a wonderful month for going motor racing. In Europe there is the Monaco Grand Prix. In America there is the Indy 500. Both are unique. Indy with its speed and huge crowds; Monaco with its picturesque nature and the mind-boggling spectacle of drivers brushing walls as they dive through the streets of the Principality.

In many ways Monaco is just too popular. It attracts the beautiful people, who come not to see, but to be seen.

This year the jet-set was faced with an awful choice: the Cannes Film Festival was on at the same time as the Grand Prix. The beautiful people, poor dears, were torn between two venues. Darlings, it's just not fair! Where should one be seen most?

In Cannes they had a brown-haired Madonna promoting In Bed with Madonna which probably wasn't too difficult a task as most of the male population of the world appears to want just such an experience. Against that kind of opposition not even Arnold Schwarzenegger could muscle much in the way of newspaper coverage.

The Ninja Turtles, did their best to steal Madonna's limelight, parachuting onto the beach at Cannes.

Up against such formidable competition Monaco was struggling, and yet the place was still packed. The rotten weather did not deter the crowds, but the evenings of wandering and hanging-out in the bars did not really happen. Even the famous Tip-Top bar had a poor year... and when that happens times must be hard for a little alcohol has long been used by racing folk to dull the pain of working in Monaco.

The regular F1 crowd do not much enjoy Monaco. No, why pull punches, they hate it. Yes, the track is exciting, and the spectacle intense, but working conditions are dreadful. You are constantly fighting your way through crowds, mechanics are forever being trodden on by beautiful people, who have no place in the pit-lane and the facilities, being temporary, are less than impressive.

One of the nice things about the event is that Friday is a free day. You can escape the madness. It is a time to take off to one of the nicer, less spoiled parts of the Riviera to clear your head with fish soup and the local wines.

While Monaco will always remain a spectacle, leaving it behind is something that the majority of the F1 paddock does with great pleasure. On Monday morning at Nice airport, everyone is in high-spirits. There is much laughing and joking.

This year a kindly American handed me a copy of the legendary Weekly World News - the paper which breathed life into Britain's Sunday Sport and the journey home was spent with helpless giggling.

It was this splendid rag which produced what I consider to be the greatest headline in the history of publishing: 'Cannibal tribe doomed after eating AIDS victim'.

This time Weekly World News led with George Bush having a six hour summit with a space alien - complete with pictures.

Hidden away in the corner of this paper was a headline 'McMiracle!', the story of McDonalds setting up a restaurant in the religious city of Lourdes - just down the road from Pau, home of the second greatest street race of today.

Pau is a beautiful town. Like Monaco it is a resort, a place where the rich once came to take the waters.

It has a long sporting history. It was here that golf was first played on the continent when three Scotsmen set up a golf club. The climate was good too and Pau was considered a good place to breed horses. The original Grand Prix de Pau, dating back to 1879, was a horse race at the Pont Long racecourse.

Before the war the Marquis de Portago completed a unique double, winning at both the Grands Prix: one as a gentleman rider, the other at the wheel of a racing car. Today, such a thing is hard to imagine: Alain Prost winning the 3:15 at Longchamps?

The first Pau GP took place in February 1933 -- four years after the first running of the Monaco GP. Street racing was the fashion of the moment and races were taking place in towns all over Europe.

But the first Pau GP was special in one important respect. It was snowing at the time. More bizarre still, it was won by two Algerians: Marcel Lehoux and Guy Moll. They had not raced in the snow before and for whom it held no terror.

For mere mortals, the F3000 Pau Grand Prix is a delightful experience - and highly recommended to those who do not wish to be part of the hurly-burly of Monaco.

'This is a real street circuit,' muttered Ron Tauranac one day. 'Monaco's got nothing on this.'

Firstly, there is a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. Although motor homes are beginning to invade Formula 3000, it is still easy to move around and chat to the drivers. It is place where racing is more important than being seen. A serious version of Monaco, if you like.

The track is wonderful, a reminder of another era. It begins under the ramparts of the city, in the valley beside a river.

It rises from the hairpin by the Station up the hill, under the arches of the ramparts to curling left, under the Pont Oscar and into the hairpin. Then it is on to Parc Beaumont, where you can tell the men from the boys. As the track curls through a long, long right-hander around the casino, you can pick out the wheat from the chaff. Only the best can take Parc Beaumont well.

At the monument to Marshal Foch, the track jinks left and then right, plunging downhill, through another hairpin, into the valley, between the houses. It is a track where you need talent and courage and where experience helps.

And yet, like Monaco, it is a track where overtaking with modern racing cars is too difficult and dangerous to make for interesting races. In recent years Pau has distinguished itself with many accidents and few finishers, but overtaking is not really part of the show.

This year, amongst the frontrunners there was but one overtaking manoeuvre, when Eric Helary forced his way past Marco Apicella is an exciting move at the Pont Oscar - not a place recommended for overtaking if you value your old age.

Hard though it may be to accept, Monaco and Pau - exciting though they may be - are not really races, but rather regularity trials following all-or-nothing qualifying sessions, which supply the most exciting moments. The rest of the time it is a matter of waiting for the accidents to see who will come out ahead.

Long may Monaco and Pau continue for they bring racing to the people. At Pau they race on the Sunday night before the Grand Prix, throwing the gates open to the public for free. It is an evening of searching headlights and thunderous noise, rounded off with a firework display. The atmosphere is like that at a 24 Hour race - a little special. With the smell of barbecue in the air and the bustle of happy crowds.

At the same time, the two races have been left behind by technology. Even the Formula Fords at Pau found overtaking hard. The races survive in a time warp.

So too does one Japanese reporter at the recent Magny-Cours testing. Sent to Europe to do a piece comparing Ayrton Senna with the great Jim Clark.

Reporter-san reckoned he had a scoop on his hands. A Japanese photographer pal had pointed out an old Scotsman, wandering around the paddock during the test and assured him that this man was none other than the great Jim Clark, coming to have a look at F1 cars - and at the great Senna.

Reporter-san was somewhat put out when told by a European journalist that Clark had been dead for 23 years.

By then it was too late - his deadline had already passed.

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