2011 Historic Formula One Championship, Monza 3-5 June. Report from Jon Bunston.  Click to view images gallery

D'Aubreby in the Groove as Collins' slick trick slips 

Frenchman Patrick D’Aubreby took a well judged Monza win on a wet but drying track after pole-man Steve Hartley exited from the lead with a flat, and a bold move by Dan Collins to start on slicks ever so nearly paid off. The small grid put on the best racing show of the HFO (Historic Formula One) season to date.

The 59th edition of the Coppa Intereuropa at Monza generated a smaller grid than usual for the fourth round of the FIA Historic Formula One Championship. Fourteen drivers signed on for the event, a marked contrast to the 30 seen in recent years but a reflection of the smaller levels of participation being experienced in all forms of the sport including the historic arena. “Normally Monza is the biggest draw of the year,” said HFO’s Stuart McCrudden, “but this year several drivers are starting their season late and we have not had the regular Italian contingent enter for their “local” event. The Brands entry is looking much more like the norm and the latter part of the season will be as strong as usual.”

The entry was headed by the McLaren MP4 of Bobby Verdon-Roe, Richard Eyre’s Williams and Steve Hartley’s Mirage-prepared Arrows A4. Katsu Kubota was making his first start of the year in the Bennett family-tended March 761 and Dave Abbott’s Arrows, also out for the first time this season. Patrick D’Aubreby had his Tyrrell 012 running nicely and John Delane was his enthusiastic self with his 002 model. HFO Chairman Dan Collins ran his Classic Team Lotus 91 model and Andrew Beaumont his Lotus 76. Richard Barber made a first time entry to an HFO event with his immaculate Fittipaldi F5A. The field also included Terry Sayles and his Osella, Michel Baudoin’s Hall & Hall Shadow, Luciano Quaggia and his Theodore and Bruno Ferrari and his March 701.

Friday’s free practice session was literally washed out after just 10 minutes when a monsoon hit the Lombardi region right over Monza. Seeing water flowing up the pitlane driven by a howling wind was awesome and quite frightening. Race Director John Felix wisely decided to can the session for everyone’s safety.

The wet first qualifying saw Hartley set fastest, nearly two seconds ahead of Collins with D’Aubreby next ahead of Abbott, Eyre and Barber. Andrew Beaumont had a coming together with D’Aubreby which broke the rear wishbone joint on the Tyrrell and Abbott and Collins also tangled gently. John Felix summoned all the drivers to a second briefing to emphasise that high driving standards were expected and that any form of contact would result in serious penalty.

Verdon-Roe suffered fuel pump problems which left the MP4 short of laps. The problem lasted all weekend and even the installation of extra high pressure pumps would not relieve the running problem and Bobby eventually withdrew the car on Sunday morning rather than risk engine damage. Quaggia’s Theodore ran roughly from the start and ended the session covered in engine oil from a split pipe.

The second session was right at the end of Saturday but thankfully dry which enabled the quick times to be set. Hartley was fastest overall ahead of Eyre, Kubota and Collins. Dave Abbott had a nasty off at the second chicane when he got the Arrows off-line and on the treacherous Astroturf edgings which hold water even when the track is dry. The Arrows snapped right across the track and hit the tyre barrier hard taking off the front corner and breaking the rear upright. Abbott exited the car safely without injury but the red flag delayed the session. Twelve runners would line up for 12 laps on Sunday.

A very wet 10 minutes of warm-up in the morning gave a few brave souls experience of a streaming track but the day veered between showers and dry which simply added to the tension as race time drew near. Dan Collins was the only driver to elect to start on dry slicks with the track still showing quite wet in places and a few drops falling from a grey sky. Some teams considered changing to dry tyres on the grid after an exploratory lap but car 11 was the only starter on slicks.

Hartley gunned the Arrows away from the grid with Patrick D’Aubreby making a brilliant start from the third row into the front group as they all scrambled through the first chicane. Eyre and Kubota were already squabbling over position with John Delane’s Tyrell heading Collins for the first couple of laps. After the second tour the order was Hartley and D’Aubreby 15 seconds clear of Eyre, Kubota, Collins now ahead of Delane with Barber, Ferrari and Beaumont. Hartley punctured on lap 6, the right rear wet going flat quickly and forcing the Arrows into retirement. The Frenchman’s Tyrrell was now well ahead of Eyre’s Williams with Kubota’s March smoking and slowing. Collins however was taking great chunks of time out of everybody as the slicks bit into the drying track.

By lap 8 D’Aubreby had a 21 second advantage over Eyre but Collins was harrying the Southend man and passed into second on lap 9. However, Eyre was not done and retook the place and Collins spun and stalled; he was restarted by the marshals but the challenge for victory was over. Richard Barber, who had lost third gear on the first lap, was now pushing the ailing Kubota car and when the March engine cried enough, the Kent garage owner moved into a well deserved third overall. John Delane proved both consistent and quick to place fourth at the finish with Andrew Beaumont’s Lotus fifth and Collins recovering to sixth. Bruno Ferrari slid the March off on the last lap but only damaged fibreglass.

This was Patrick D’Aubreby’s first ever visit to the top step of an HFO podium and a great reward for his small team of young technicians who run the Circuit de Croix en Ternois school during the week. He also took class D honours whilst the other class winners were Delane for class A, Barber class B and Eyre class C. The points table closes dramatically with Bobby Verdon-Roe non-starting the weekend.

Next round will be at the HSCC SuperPrix at Brands Hatch long circuit in early July.

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