PAU Historic Grand Prix - May 2006

Team Curtis/Dowling trucked across from Monaco to Pau although this time James Wood joined the motorcade. We spent a couple of nights recuperating at a nice hotel halfway where there was something for everyone, a secure car park, swimming, tennis and a good restaurant. Travelling on from there we looked around Carcassonne a sort of medieval Trago Mills (a West country discount store), similarly over commercialised and packed with trippers (like ourselves, I suppose).

Although both Pau and Monaco are street circuits the feel of the two places is entirely different.There is much less pressure at Pau, the paddock is calm and leafy, the town is less frantic and one is not constantly seeing Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches being used where a Smart car or a Deux Chevaux would be more practical.  In place of the richest yacht park in the world one can gaze contemplatively at the snow-capped Pyrennées
We got through the hurdles of signing on, scrutiny and drivers’ briefing without any problems and enjoyed sauntering through the town to our rooms in The Hotel Central
Soon after arriving Paddins was asked if they could use the ERA as a ‘prop’ in a film they were making which involved a guy dressed as a race driver and a pretty young girl, it was not long before the girl was in the ERA although our team rather delayed the process by making her laugh. There was also an opportunity to go in the ERA on a drive about on the open roads to publicise the event which Paddins was naturally keen to do, but older-heads acting as guardians of the gearbox  prevailed
The routines which we had established worked well on the car, though they were a bit time consuming (in the true Martin Morris tradition) much to the amusement of George Fowles, our neighbour in the paddock, who was looking after Tony Smith’s P3 Alfa Romeo and Ferrari Dino. It was a tribute to his preparation that all I saw him do was to light a cigar or open another bottle of wine fetched from the bowels of the mobile gin-palace!
There was one glitch when the car wouldn’t start by turning the wheels whilst on the jack. After exhausting the enthusiasm of several formerly willing helpers and a mild panic call to ‘mission control’ in Devon we realised that we would have to tow it as the next session was looming. The Audi, as luck would have it, was parked at the hotel but fellow competitor Paul Grant came to our aid with his Landcruiser. After changing the ERA’s rotor  arm (which may not have been necessary) and two tours of the paddock it roared into life and the drama was over.
Practice for us was uneventful and Paddins was pleased to be 9th on the pre-1961 grid and the fastest pre-1952 car. There were two races for the pre-1961 cars and the results were very similar. Duncan Dayton was a strong first in the Lotus 16 followed on both days by Nick Wigley’s B type Connaught, on Saturday John Clark was 3rd in his Cooper type 43, doing well to be ahead of Tony Smith’s Dino 246 now back with a V6 engine in place of the Tasman V12,  Rod Jolley’s splendid Monzanapolis Lister and Paul Grant’s Cooper Bristol. Paddins was 10th ahead of many of the post-war cars and all of the pre-war ones.
On the Sunday both the Dino and the Lister managed to finish ahead of Clark’s Cooper and Paddins was up to 9th this time in front of Ian Nuthall’s Alta.  Richard Pilkington got stranded when one of the new half-shafts in his delightful Cisitalia broke, leaving him not only with no drive but also without a wheel at that corner. He was ok and the car after recovery was shoe-horned back into its box suitably padded for the journey home.
The pre-1966 races saw victory for John Clark now in his type 51 Cooper followed by Nick Wigley’s similar car and Duncan Dayton’s Brabham BT11.
All this time the sun had been beating down and the memories of torrential rain and rivers of water running down the track and through the paddock in previous years seemed incredible.
Pau gave its traditional civic reception in the Palais de Beaumont, which was only thinly attended by competitors, judging from the boisterous tables outside the many excellent restaurants in the old part of the town.
On Monday, Paddins having taken Suzy back to the airport very early had a farewell visit to the track with James in my Nash before the locals got too active, kids heh!
The long truck back had its moments. We made a lunch–stop which got elongated because the person, who shall be nameless, parking the Audi and burger van missed his way in the parking lot and got funnelled back onto the auto-route which involved a considerable drive up down and back again before he got his frites. Extraordinarily on the way out of the same lot when we all left, the same driver got funnelled off again this time back towards Pau, meanwhile the driver of the Nash was going like hell, unaware that the rig was travelling in the opposite direction, muttering about the irresponsibility of driving the rig so quickly that he couldn’t see it despite travelling at 100 mph or so!
All’s nearly well that ends well as we had a great night stop in a Château near Rouën when we met up again. The following day whilst driving on auto pilot I seemed to have had several senior moments and eschewed an excellent new autoroute toward Calais in favour of a tour of the Northern ports and spectacular bridges. The others who assumed the Team Leader knew what he was doing said nothing which caused an outburst, questioning parentage and explaining forcefully the difference between being a passenger and a navigator, for which I then had to offer abject apologies!
All of this does make one realise that it may not be an option to give up racing and take up TOPS tours, as the necessary attention to detail and navigating skills seem to be sadly lacking but I’m sure we’d have fun trying.
Normal life (if there is such a thing) will be interrupted again as soon as possible.


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