What you may not know about Monte Carlo

MAY 22, 1995

What you may not know about Monte Carlo

THE Monaco Grand Prix is probably the most famous motor race in the world and it has been a major event for Grand Prix cars since 1929. It is, however, often confused with the Monte Carlo Rally, which dates back to 1911. The only thing that these two famous motor sporting events have in common is that they are both organized by the Automobile Club of Monaco.

Monaco is the smallest sovereign state in the world, covering under a square mile in total. The country is named after the little town which sits on the top of a vast rock, in front of imposing Palace of the Grimaldis, the family which has ruled the principality since 1297. Monte Carlo was a separate town on top of the hills on the other side of Monaco harbor - which was in an area called La Condamine. Today these three settlements have merged into one and, in fact, the Monaco Grand Prix takes place in La Condamine and Monte Carlo, but not in Monaco itself!

Long before His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III married Hollywood movie star Grace Kelly in 1956, Monte Carlo was world-renowned because of its casino - in its day, the most famous gambling establishment in the world. This was opened in 1863, and the city soon became a fashionable place for the rich and famous to enjoy mild winters in a beautiful setting. The Monte Carlo Rally and the Monaco Grand Prix added to the Principality's glamorous image.

The race through the streets was the idea of Antony Noghes, a wealthy cigarette manufacturer, who happened to be the son of the president of the Automobile Club of Monaco. The idea received enthusiastic backing from Prince Rainier's grandfather Prince Louis II and in April, 1929, the first Monaco Grand Prix took place. It was won by a mysterious Anglo-Frenchman called "Williams" in a privately-entered Bugatti Type 35B, painted in British racing green. His real name was Charles Grover and he had been a Monaco chauffeur in his youth. Grover would later become a British secret agent, who parachuted into Occupied France in 1941 to organize sabotage. He was captured a year later and executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp shortly before the war ended.

In racing, Monaco would stand as his greatest victory and many who followed in his footsteps were just as daredevil as the original Grand Prix winner. In 1933, Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari fought out one of their greatest duels; in 1934, the meteoric racing career of Algerian Frenchman Guy Moll reached its zenith; but within a few months he was dead, leaving Enzo Ferrari to mull over the man who would have been the greatest - had he lived.

The Grand Prix stopped during the war years but on August 5, 1945 - nine days before the Japanese surrender - the 36th American Infantry Division held a regularity trial in Monaco - using jeeps and GMC trucks!

Monaco was always a track where drivers can show their artistry: Ayrton Senna won the race six times; Damon Hill's father Graham five times and Alain Prost four times; great names such as Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart won three apiece and Juan-Manuel Fangio and Niki Lauda each won twice.

At Monaco, a lot of drivers hit the walls - some use them in qualifying to actually put themselves onto the desired line - but over the years there have only been a couple of men who have actually crashed into the harbor: Alberto Ascari in 1955 and Australian Paul Hawkins 10 years later.

Derek Daly, who went on to a career in Indycar racing and today commentates on the Grands Prix for ESPN Television, is also remembered at Monaco because of a first corner accident in 1980 when his Tyrrell was launched over the rear of Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo, hit Alain Prost's McLaren as it cartwheeled through the air and landed on the second Tyrrell of

Jean-Pierre Jarier!

Many of the Grand Prix drivers of today call Monaco home, profiting from the country's generous income tax laws which mean that of the 30,000 registered Monaco inhabitants only 5,000 are Monegasques.

But there are no French racing stars living in Monaco because the principality is a French protectorate and so there are no tax breaks for the likes of Jean Alesi... who has to live in Switzerland instead.

Other stories for MAY 22, 1995