Rick Pearson - Diary of a Monaco Racer

Monaco Diary Wednesday Welcome to this, my Monaco diary. For those of you who have never come across my columns before, my name is Rick Pearson and I race a Clio V6 trophy in the European Championship that is normally part of the Eurosport Super...

Monaco Diary Wednesday

Welcome to this, my Monaco diary. For those of you who have never come across my columns before, my name is Rick Pearson and I race a Clio V6 trophy in the European Championship that is normally part of the Eurosport Super Racing Weekend, but for this weekend only is supporting the F1 at Monaco.

I've agreed to record the trials and tribulations of the weekend for posterity so you can get some idea of what it's like to race the streets of the Principality as what some of the media are refering to as the 5th Brit!

The week and therefore this diary start on the Wednesday. We are required to sign on with the Automobile Club de Monaco before 5PM, so it's an early flight out of Stansted with those nice people from Buzz and then a trek across the Mediterranean coast to meet up with the Mark Fish Motorsport team who were required to be here at exactly 10AM yesterday: (No debate possible since the trucks have to be threaded through the narrow streets of Monaco into the underground car park just beyond the entrance to the famous tunnel.) This car park will be my home until Sunday since the qualification process for the race is such that we had no idea we would be invited to attend until after the previous round at Silverstone by which point there was no accomodation left (within our somewhat stretched budget)! So yes, whilst Monaco is a glamorous place to be, remember as you read my adventures over the next few days that I am sleeping in a Renault Scenic hire car in a permanently lit underground car park before stepping into my 300bhp, mid-engined Clio to take on 26 other like-minded nutters.

Well it's early to bed for me tonight, as tomorrow I will be on track for the 2 forty minute qualifying sessions to see if I can win a place on the grid for the 2 races this weekend, the first of which is Saturday evening after the F3000 race, the second is Sunday just before Herr Schumacher et al take to the circuit. There are 30 cars here and only 27 grid spots available, so we must learn the circuit quickly.

Wish me luck!

Monaco Diary Thursday
Typical!

After days of beautiful sunshine, today which holds the promise of our 1st run on the circuit dawned cloudy. And surely enough, as we lined up for the first qualifying session (no untimed practice for the V6 runners), having only ever driven the track in our dreams, it starts to drizzle.

Since our 2nd and final qualification session followed just a couple of hours after this first one, it meant that if the rain set in, the opening laps of this session could be our only chance of recording a dry time on the circuit.

Having lined up fourth at the end of the famously cramped pitlane, I was one of the first out on the circuit. We got around St Devote and headed up the hill into Massanet, where unfortunately it had been raining a lot harder than in the pits. The first man to arrive was last year's winner, Anthony Beltoise and he drove straight into the barriers damaging the rear of his car seriously and causing a few interesting moments for the following pack. He won't be the only driver to heavily wound his V6 in this session.

With 4 laps needed to ensure qualification, we all tiptoed round, discovered that Monaco in the damp is particularly slippery, then I dived for the pits to take wets and try and build some confidence and speed.

Quickly my lap times started to tumble and driving up the hill to Casino square I could see the times on the big screen (yes, you really do have time to register what's on the big screen each time you pass it) and briefly I'm 3rd quickest. Sadly with just a few minutes remaining in the session a dry line appears and since a proportion of the field have stayed out on slicks I end the session 16th but not disappointed. My team mate, Paul Lomax had a gentle nudge of the barriers but otherwise our team was unscathed and we were ready to take to the circuit again for session 2. A couple of cars didn't make it out, so the job of qualification was suddenly made a little easier when it became obvious that this next session would be dry and the times from session 1 will count for nothing. Since only 27 of the 30 entries will get to start on Saturday our goal was just to qualify at this stage!

The dry showed that we still however have the same handling imbalance with which I have struggled with on my car since the start of the season. In particular, the tunnel which is easily flat for the other drivers is not possible without a significant lift of the throttle for me. This costs me a lot of time and I qualify an unimpressed 21st. The team are delighted however as my team mate also sneaks onto the back of the grid in 27th. Since tomorrow, Friday is a rest day, there will be a few celebratory beers tonight (once we've decided what to do about my handling imbalance!).

Monaco Diary Friday.
Today was a rest day so just a brief update.

Last night turned into quite a lot of fun partying with Eddie Jordan and friends at Stars and Bars. A few sore heads amongst the crew this morning not helped by struggling to discover the cause of my cars somewhat terrifying high speed oversteer. A very long meeting with the Renault chassis engineers elicits a few ideas, we'll put them all on the car for tomorrows race if it is dry as while it is marvellous in the wet, it can only be improved for dry running!

Monaco diary Saturday

We spent the day trying to kill time and not get too nervous about tonight's race. We didn't start until 6.20PM but the extraordinarily long-winded process at Monaco to get onto the grid meant we are in the cars by 5PM. We are lined up in the underground car park, 25 minutes before we are then escorted to the entrance of the swimming pool. We then remain here until the pits have been cleared of F3000 teams. Since this takes in excess of 20 minutes we're all out of the cars waving to the people on their yachts who are just sitting down to their pre-dinner drinks and a surprisingly large number of paying spectators in the grandstands.

We then progress to the grid where we leave the cars and hustle down to the pit lane exit where Bernie and team have their HQ for yet another drivers briefing.

Having promised not to crash into each other we return to the grid and our waiting cars. What a feeling! Striding down the middle on the Monaco grid with my identically clad team mate drinking in the atmosphere of the occasion.

We then spend another 20 minutes waiting in and out of the cars before being dispatched on a formation lap. We return and cut the engines, waiting for the 5 minute countdown to begin with engines being restarted with 1 minute to go, a green flag lap and then a Clio V6 standing start. Fot those of you who have raced in the UK regularly, Racing Ahead this is not! Since this is the only race of the season that is not a rolling start, for many of the grid this is the first experience of trying to get a V6 off the line. I've been practising and am pleased with my launch, however there is no room at the first corner regardless so it gains me no places. Quickly however I discover I can catch the cars in front of me easily. My car is working a little better but it mystifies me how these guys have managed to outqualify us as they don't seem to have any speed advantage and are braking earlier everywhere.

I pass one under brakes into St Devote, another down the hill into Mirabeau and a third into Portier. The fourth I try and dive inside into Tabac but he closes the door much too late. There is contact and the German, Rossaro is spun around and dispatched into the wall in a big fashion. The safety car is scrambled and I feel somewhat guilty. But he is out of the car as I pass next time round and it was pretty much a racing incident. The safety car is only out one lap and although I make some good ground on the guys in front, my handling is shot to pieces and I a have a big thwack against the barriers at the exit of Tabac a couple of laps later so I decide to back off and save the car for part 2 on Sunday. It would be tragic to miss out on the big race through pushing too hard now. So I finish 15th and am very pleased. Team mate Paul has made it to 20th but has a significant hole in the side panel of his Clio Trophy, legacy of his savaging by a mad Italian who objected to having been passed by torpedoeing him on the exit of the Grand Hotel Hairpin and pushing him most of the way to Portier, right near the end of the race.

The team will be able to fix it before tomorrow and now we are off to the Grand Prix Ball in aid of the Race A Million Charity which helps children affected by September 11th. I will stroll out of our underground car park home in my Dinner Suit feeling pretty satisfied with the weekend so far.

Tomorrow however is the big day, racing in front of the Grand Prix crowd and teams.

Monaco Diary Sunday

After a great (albeit sober) evening at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club where we arrived fashionably late and unfashionably sweaty, fresh from the Clio V6 Round 1, Sunday dawned as another real scorcher.

Once again we had to go through the lengthy Monaco starting procedure including the drive to the grid, abandon the cars and saunter down the centre of the pit straight for yet another drivers briefing before strolling back and hanging around for 20 minutes before departing for a formation lap etc..

I strolled back to my car only to discover Sir Jackie Stewart making a beeline to our team principle, Mark Fish, probably to find out how we'd cured our handling problems having seen Irvine wrestling with his Jaguar in the previous days qualifying....

The impressive thing was the crowds, since the majority had already taken their seats for the main event which always follows the Renault Sport trophy race at Monaco. The Principality was heaving and there appeared to be some really significant UK support by the number of people waving from the various stands and on the hillside above the final corner.

Another good start for me, but nothing compared to my team mate, Paul Lomax who was right on my tail from 5 places behind me on the grid as we arrived at St Devote. Unfortunately their appeared to be a familly dispute happening as one of the Bleekemolen sons (who had both out qualified their father) was buried in the barriers having assaulted Jerome Policand and his father who I passed limping on the run down to Mirabeau.

Fortunately, each driver I caught over the next couple of laps promptly drove (unaided!) into the barriers. Firstly Austrian, Mayerl turned it around at the exit of Massenet, then the Italian, Comandini hit the wall hard at Tabac. I was, much to my annoyance passed under waved yellow flags my Brescia at Mirabeau. I have raced the V6 long enough to know that you should never slow for yellow flags. The fact I was then broadsided at Portier by Lorenzo Case losing another place whilst I was still kicking myself didn't improve my mood further. However, I saved my tyres for a couple of laps and set about catching the pair of them, aware that Case had finished behind me the previous day and that the result would be done on aggregate time, I knew I just had to sit on his rear bumper in 10th on the road to secure 9th place! A top ten finish on my first ever visit to Monaco, that has to be a result! Even more impressively, despite stopping to have some bodywork ripped away (and attempt to run over a large number of corporate guests who decided to saunter down the middle of the pitlane which the Monagasques had not elected to clear for our race!) my team mate Paul finished 18th on the road and a fantastic 13th on aggregate!

It has been an incredible priviledge to race on these hallowed streets this weekend and I would like to thank our sponsors Freeparking.co.uk who have supported us so far this year and I am glad that the team was able to provide them with greater results and publicity than they thought possible. I'd also like to thank you for reading the ramblings of a racer and hope you will come and say hello when the Clio V6 Championship returns to the UK at Donington in October.

Rick Pearson
Clio #33 Racing with Freeparking.co.uk.

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Series General
Drivers Eddie Jordan , Jackie Stewart , Jérome Policand , Lorenzo Casé , Rick Pearson , Anthony Beltoise