It took all of a decade of pleading, coaxing, bribing, but in the end it was nothing but the enduring good will of the Catalan people that was the ultimate catalyst which managed to overpower the insurmountable obstacle of global economic insecurity and financial depression, to secure the first Historic Gran Premio Penya Rhin event in June, 1933. The acceptance by “The Little Great Man” – Tazio Nuvolari to race in the event, triggered off the required enthusiasm of the financiers to proceed with the race and fund it. Once Nuvolari was secured the field swelled to a who’s-who of the day, with teams from Scuderia Ferrari, Bugatti and Nacional Pescara enlisting, along with a few pivateers. Nuvolari performed reasonably, but his drive was to pave the way for him to ultimately be crowned the King of the Mountain in 1936 while driving his beloved Scuderia Ferrari/Alfa Romeo, against the great talents and expertise of the rival German teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. The Mercedes Cars had been unanimously victorious in 1935 at the hands of Luigi Fagioli and Rudi Caracciola.
The Dark Ages
After the 1936 race, political situations dictated that no further races occurred at Montjuic until the mid 40’s when after the war Fuel and vehicle shortages caused the local racing events to be a mixture of touring cars and mildly-prepared road cars. Theses vehicle ran in all sorts of classifications simply to feel the joy of motor racing.Cars of all makes showed up and event were held on the Montjuic circuit and Pedralbes alternately, in no particular order. Funding for these event was dubiously obtained by naming them after hospital charities. The Penya Rhin force behind these events however remained omnipotent. Nothing would keep the Catalan people away from continuing with their beloved racing, and races continued on in the face of strong International sanctions preventing great drivers and teams from recognizing these events.
With the onset of the 1950’s came many things which changed the way of life in Spain completely. Progressive political reform meant vastly improved International relations, and immediate acceptance of sporting events in Spain were once again on every country’s agenda. Tourism flooded Spain, and with this the enthusiasm for the Penya Rhin eventS rose to it highest level ever in 1951 with the World Championship accredited Pedralbes GP. The foundation for the Montjuic Circuit to be reborn were laid when in 1954 the Montjuic Cup for Sports Cars, and the Nuvolari Trophy, caused the racing activity in the great city to once again blossom. The first large Spanish Automobile production firm – SEAT, had been supporting local rival racers for a couple of years and decided to put their weight behind an all out effort to get Montjuic vibrating once again.
“The spirit of Nuvolari in hot pursuit of old rivals Varzi and Caracciola through the twisty up and down road, had been waiting to be released for 18 years”
Javier Del Arco De Izco
All sorts of races flourished in the late 1950’s including Rally Special stages, the Nuvolari Trophy which had grown into a sophisticated network of class-based racing for smaller European car manufacturers with SEAT, Renault and SAAB in the classes, and Jaguar, Porsche and Alfa Romeo’s showing up to race in the GT groups. Also, a new style of motor racing sparked great interest and encouragement from the fans – kart racing.
All the while the two-wheeled fraternity was racing in the increasingly important Montjuic 24hour Race – the International Motorcycling’s version of the four-wheeled 24 Heures du Mans at LeMans Sarthe.
Consolidation and Recognition
Starting off the decade of the 1960’s in a bleak way, the Motor Cycling supporters were fighting to have their 24 hour event recognized as a World Championship event, and on 4 wheels it was only the karting taking place. Then in 1962 it once again took the Penya group to propose complimenting the 24 Horas bike race with the re-organized Nuvolari Trophy in that year.
The chief motorsports organizers, now an RACC/Penya Rhin union, started to push hard for greater international recognition by hosting the ongoing Nuvolari and then the Juan Jover Trophy from 1963 onwards. By 1963 this event had the world’s best sports cars in the GT class, with Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo Zagato, Lotus Elite, Jaguar, Porsche, and even an Austin Healy in the field. In 1964 there were even more import cars present with Volvo appearing, Mercedes, Sunbeam Alpine, and an AC Cobra. The Juan Jover Trophy had by now gained such reputation that it hosted its first F3 event in 1965.
Reward and triumph!
The 1965 examination was a resounding success, and all the while F1 was but a dream to the RACC. With some carefully placed phrases, the F2 people decided that Montjuic was a short trip from Pau, and a race in May would suit them well. Suddenly, the streets of Barcelona echoed with the sounds of thoroughbred race machines at the hands of the world’s best – Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Hulme, Hill, Stewart. The 1962 F2 Race ended with Brabham, Stewart and Hulme up front richly rewarding Jack’s Honda-powered BT-18, even in the pouring rain.
With F3 and F2 now achieved going into 1967, the next logical step was Formula One and a Spanish Grand Prix counting for the World Championship. And so the eyes of F1 were heavily upon Montjuic as it hosted the 1967 F2 and F3 race with world’s greatest drivers and teams showing their prowess. Clark won the F2 race with Rindt and Hulme close behind.
1968 brought with it the completion of the Jarama circuit and the news that Montjuic would alternate with Jarama as the official Spanish GP circuit, while Montjuic would continue to host the F2 race. By May 1969 the Grand Prix cars of Formula One returned to Montjuic after an absence of 33 years. The RACC and Jackie Stewart had both won!
When Jochen Rindt came and approved of the track in March of 1969, the race was a definite event. Not only had the authorities approved it, but so had the drivers. Ferrari arrived on that May weekend with a 430bhp motor to take on the ageing 400bhp Cosworth DFV of team Lotus. Chris Amon was most consistent, and Graham Hill was unsuccessful in matching the Ferrari’s times. Then Rindt took to the stage, and blew the lap times away by logging the first sub-1:26 lap. He was on pole. The race however was indicative of the doom that would remove Montjuic Park from the FIA calendar. Hill lost control over the Stadium jump on lap 6 and crashed his Lotus into the guardrail on the outside. Leading on lap 11, Rindt’s car lost control at the exact same spot, and his car plummeted down into the stricken wreck of Hill to retire the Team Lotus contingent from the 1969 Spanish GP. It was up to Amon now to bring his red lady home, but on lap 57 the v12 had consumed all its oil and retired, leaving the ultra-consistent Jackie Stewart in his Matra-Cosworth to coast on to the winner’s rostrum. And so ended the most exciting weekend in Montjuic’s racing history up to that point.
1971 brought probably the finest F1 race ever to Montjuic Park, and with it the debut of Ken Tyrrell’s new car. He had the finest Montjuic racer to take on the other formiddable opponents in their Ferraris and Matra-Cosworths, which were all more successful in qualifying leaving Jackie Stewart in 4th on the grid.
Stewart had an extreme task ahead if he was to claim the victory. The Ferrari’s were better handling, more power and their pilots were the best in the business. He had to strike early lay hold of the lead and build as big a cushion as he could until it became eroded by the faster Ferraris as they used up their fuel load. By turn 1, Jackie was in 3rd place, and at the end of lap 1, in 2nd. Chasing Ickx as hard as possible, Stewart made the pass in the endless San Jordi left-hander coming out in the lead, passing on the outside. Around the 50th lap Stewart was 8 seconds ahead of Ickx who had set a stunning lap time of 1:25.1, and was starting to capitalize on the Ferraris superiority. As the laps passed by Stewart became the tactician that allowed him to finish the race a mere 3,4 seconds clear of the flying Ickx.
This was Tyrrell’s first ever Formula GP win and Jackie Stewart’s second F1 victory for the Park. The racing world was now having a romance with the circuit which had claimed no casualties by way of serious crashes, and the future looked bright, for the time being…
1973: Fitti and the Mk72
Coming out of his 1972 championship season, Emerson Fittipaldi arrived at Montjuic with a superstar team mate in Ronnie Peterson, and powerful opponent in former 2-time Montjuic GP winner Jackie Stewart. Peterson prepared on the Friday to take on Jackie Ickx’s low 1:25 lap record and within the first 60 minutes of the session he was already into the 1:23’s. By the end of the session the Lotus driver had set the still standing all-time lap record of Montjuic Park Circuit at a stunning 1:21.8 – a full 2.5 seconds clear of anyone! His race was unfortunately cut short by a failing gearbox which left him stranded on the back straight, stuck in 1st gear and handing the lead over to team mate Fittipaldi who was threatened in the closing stages by the charging Reuteman in the Brabham. Reuteman, car couldn’t maintain the pace unfortunately and he had to retire. In the final 10 laps Fittpaldi was threatened by Francois Cevert’s Tyrrell, when the Lotus lost air pressure in a rear tire. The French driver could not close the huge gap completely though, and by the final lap he was still 3.4 seconds away from that magic win.
The tense and tragic 4th GP at Montjuic Park started hesitantly in the last week of April 1975, with the RACC knowing that Montjuic was destined to be doomed. The FIA had mandated as early as 1970 that tracks like Montjuic HAD to make specific changes. Particularly, both the San Jordi zone and Stadium zone had to have chicanes constructed by the 1977 event. The city of Barcelona however would have none of it, and major obstacles faced the RACC. A week before the race inspections were made and instructions issued regarding higher guardrails and new fencing. At the first practice session, these new additions were found to be seriously lacking in stability and safety, and the session was cancelled. After a frantic Friday night of bolt-tightening and guard rail-stiffening, the drivers and FIA officials declared the circuit to be in an approximately suitable state for the practice session. After much disagreement and arguing, more than half the drivers were practically blackmailed into commencing the official practice by 4 pm on the Saturday.
By the end of practice it was Lauda and Regazzoni on the front row with the Scuderia cars being dominant. The only question was whether the field were driving to their full potential or not. Many observers suspected “not”. Emerson Fittipaldi refused to take to the grid, and an uneasy feeling swept through the pits, as the race drew near. Most drivers were not concentrating fully on the prospect of racing a Formula1 GP at Montjuic Park, a circuit notorious for not allowing any driver even a split second lapse in concentration. Some of the top drivers had even stated that they would quit after a couple of laps.
The start was frantic with the two flat 12 Ferraris’ streaking into El Angulo, side by side. Lauda being nudged from a following car as he braked, crashed into the guard rail on the outside and Regazzoni T-boning him, and put both Red cars out of the race before a mile had been covered. James Hunt fortuitously inherited the lead followed by Mario Andretti who pushed to catch the desperately driven Hesketh, forcing Hunt into a sliding crash at Vias. Andretti had a 15 second lead by the 11th lap when he lost his rear suspension and the command of the race fell to Stommelen who tried desperately to hold off the talents of Carlos Pace and Ronnie Peterson, with foolish swerves. Frantically attempting to get past the two slower drivers, Peterson attempted a double-pass on the outside of Vias and crashed on lap 23. Pace then relaxed a little and tried to drive easily behind Stommelen for a couple of laps in order to regain some rhythm and plan his next move. The German’s rear wing became completely separated from the car just at the beginning of the climb up to the Stadium jump and his car went wildly out of control as he crested, smashing into the right-side guard rail and rebounding across to the other side at 155mph! Stommelen’s car took high flight as it touched to side fender of Pace’s Brabham and hit the third rail of the barrier as it was rising. This caused the car to jump up higher and crash on the other side of the barrier after smashing into a lamp post breaking it into four large, separate pieces. As the car flew high in the air it severed TV and phone cables and the news of the tragedy only arrived at the pits 10 minutes later, at which time the Clerk of the course raised the Red Flag to terminate the event. Jochen Mass was awarded the win and given half points.
Four people’s lives ended tragically that day, as did the shaky existence of Montjuic Park as the Spanish GP venue.