MOTORSPORT fans have the unique chance on Sunday to see this year’s Monaco Grand Prix then meet the man and car who won it 50 years ago.
Sir Stirling Moss and the Lotus 18 he won the 1961 race in will both be at The Stirling Moss Exhibition in the Greene King car park behind Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal from 2.30pm. For only £5, fans will have the chance to see five of the cars he drove and meet the 81-year-old legend himself, who will also be doing a sold out show at the theatre from 2.30pm called A Life in Motorsport.
Sir Stirling says all he needs to make it an enjoyable visit is ‘people who are enthusiastic’ and there should be no shortage of those for a man who became such a household name that policemen still ask speeding motorists ‘who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?’ 49 years after he left Grand Prix racing. The exhibition’s cars will also be a big draw with the Lotus joined by a Porsche RS61, C Type Jaguar, Cooper Monaco and Maserati 300S, which are among the 108 different cars he has competed in — everything from Grand Prix to the 1,000 mile Mille Miglia road race.
He is still very much a motorsport fan and looking back half a century to that Monaco race he says: “I was very fit and today’s drivers are very fit. I have no doubt that any driver who is competitive now would have been competitive then.”
But it was a very different race then with 20 more bends and the slower cars taking 3.5 hours to do the 100 laps modern cars take little over an hour to complete.
Even today, Monaco is a tight and difficult circuit, with little margin for error and few of the run off areas most modern circuits have. “Now it’s foreign for the drivers because they’ve ruined so many circuits with all that,” Sir Stirling said. “But then that’s how it was everywhere. I was doing road racing so I was used to it.”
It certainly gave him the edge on a circuit with so few opportunities to overtake. He passed other top drivers, including Jim Clark, to take the lead on lap 14 then held off the Ferrari team for the rest of the race.
“To give you an idea how tough it was, I got pole position and if I’d done the 100 laps at the same speed as I qualified in, it would only have made the race 40 seconds quicker,” he recalled.
Sir Stirling would be a rare beast today having competed in just about every class of motorsport. “If anyone would pay me, I would drive,” admits the man, who turned professional at 18. “On Sundays I would be driving in four different races. The reason I raced was because I loved it.
“I probably enjoyed sports car racing the best, partly because I felt I had more advantage over other drivers.
“Some drivers can’t get on with Grand Prix cars, people like Derek Bell who’s won Le Mans six times. Others, like Fangio, weren’t as fast in sports cars.”
For many, the ultimate sports car race is Le Mans’ 24 Hours, but Sir Stirling admits: “I hated it. It’s because the cars weren’t as reliable then.
“Now you get a Grand Prix where every car finishes, but in my day that didn’t happen. You know, the maximum I could rev a car was about 7,000rpm, now they’ll do 19,000 and they’re still more reliable.”
They are also much safer. “I did 585 races without a seatbelt,” he said. Surely not in Formula One? “No, the car would break up if it crashed so you wanted to be thrown out.”
It was while driving a GP car at Goodwood in 1962 that Sir Stirling had the crash that finished his racing career. He was unconscious for a month and it took four years to get his concentration back, so he retired from competition. But he still drives and will pilot a Porsche RS61 in a classic car curtain raiser at Le Mans on June 11.
When will he stop driving? “If I think I’m getting in someone’s way, I’ll stop,” he said.