Didier blew them away

Didier Pironi won the 1977 Monaco F3 race, his only appearance in this class.

This is a shortened version of an article originally written by Quentin Spurring.

In the past, the Monaco Formula 3 race winner has often dominated the event, and that was the case last Saturday (May, 1977). Didier Pironi, having entered Formula 2 this year straight from Super Renault, had the first and probably the only F3 race of what is certain to be an illustrious career, and was in a class of his own with the new Ecurie Elf Martini Mk 21.

Driving with an almost uncanny precision, Pironi left his challengers behind to fall over each other in their vain attempts to keep up, and the race was marred by very wild driving which did the reputation of Formula 3 no good whatsoever. Of the 20 starters, 13 cars were damaged in accidents, and there were only seven finishers.

Piercarlo Ghinzani, who had qualified his March on the pole, knocked off its nose against Pironi’s rear rear wheel as he tried to take the lead, and later went off for good, so fellow-Italian Elio de Angelis (Trivellato Chevron) finished second in front of Anders Olofsson (Polar Caravans Ralt). The challenge from Britain never materialised, for Stephen South and Derek Daly both retired with damaged cars, as did works Chevron drivers Geoff Lees and Eje Elgh. All four were super-competitive in the race, but at Monaco you have to be there at the finish.

Entry & Practice

The Automobile Club de Monaco cannot be blamed for running its own motor racing its own way, but it really was monstrous to accept an entry of 64 cars to qualify for 20 places on the grid for the Formula 3 race, this year a BP Championship round.This was the 19th time that an F3 or FJ event has supported the Grand Prix, and in recent years two heats and a final has become the established pattern, making the journey to the principality worthwile to the majority of the young bloods. However, this year the organisers bowed to pressure from the Formula 1 Constructors Association, who wanted two F1 practice sessions on Saturday, leaving no time for the customary F3 heats. Naturally, the club did not want to ditch the Super Renault and Renault 5 events, but it was unthinking of them to accept so many F3 entries, even if they did have over 140 applications...

The 64 cars were split into two groups for the purposes of qualifying, and each group had a 40-minute practice session on Thursday and an 80-minute session on Friday morning. Grid positions were determined on times only, which took no account of varying track conditions, but happily the track was pretty much the same for both groups.

European F3 Championship leader Piercarlo Ghinzani put his Allegrini March 773 solidly on the pole, 0.33s ahead of the field. As well as good teamwork and his own obvious talent, Ghinzani has the benefit of a super-quick Toyota/Novamotor, and very smooth driving by the 24-year-old saved a whole lot of face for March, only four of whose cars qualified.

Desperately eager for a win pour la gloire de la France, Hughes de Chaunac's Ecurie Elf team had their young F2 ace Didier Pironi in the cockpit of the new Martini MK21 driven in its first two races by Dany Snobeck, whose FSR commitment to the team takes precedence. Pironi - the winner of the previous two FSR races at Monaco - had had 30 laps in the car at Magny Cours, and felt that the FSR-based MK21 had a lot more to come. The car looked very soft during qualifying but, as de Chaunac said, "We could take it quite a lot further, but what is the point ? We are on the front row, so the car is obviously already sound." Yes, indeed.

Just slower than the baby-faced Pironi was the first of the Chevrons of the Italian Trivellato team, who managed to get three of its four carson to the grid. After a wet session shunt at St. Devote, Elio de Angelis managed to qualify his B38 a mite faster than Ghinzani's main challenger in the European series, Anders Olofsson, in his Polar Caravans sponsored Ralt. Next came Eje Elgh in the works Plastic Padding Chevron ahead of another impressive Swede, Stefan Johansson.


Pironi got the best of the start, and determinedly held the line for St. Devote as the field funnelled alarmingly into the chicane behind him. As they weaved up the hill towards Casino Square, Ghinzani held off Olofsson for second place, with Johansson in the Argo a menacing third. Elgh made a poor start, and was down in seventh place behind de Angelis amd Gabbiani in the Trivellato Chevrons.
Further down the field, Daly and Brancatelli, looking for ways through the cars ahead, had a coming together at Mirabeau, the Italian F2 driver leaving his braking too late as he tried to go inside the Irishman; the Ralt bounced over one of Daly's wheels, and Brancatelli drove slowly round to the pits witha punctured left front, losing almost a lap. On the third lap, Olofsson lost his nose bib against Ghinzani's rear wheel, and after that his Ralt began to overheat, and Ghinzani got away just a little. Much of the pressure gone, the March closed on the leader again, and on lap 5 Piercarlo got up with Pironi at Portier. Instead of biding his time, he tried to go by immediately, leaving his breaking far too late and knocking off his nose against one of the Martini's rear wheels. He continued, but at a reduced pace, falling back into the clutches of Olofsson again.

De Angelis caught Olofsson as the Swede came up with Ghinzani's stricken March again, and in two laps was past them both and firmly established in second place, 6s down on the leader. Pironi was driving beautifully, the Martini never being subjected to the kind of treatment against the kerbs that was being meted out to most of the other cars. As he slowly got his revs back, he eased away from de Angelis, and with ten laps to go had an unassailable 9s lead. The Italian, who had been throwing his Chevron around the corners in the vain hope of closing the gap realised the futility of the chase and settled for second place.

Olofsson could not find a wa past Ghinzani and was still in fourth place at half-distance, and Johansson was still fifth, but we had lost Elgh and Gabbiani. The latter really started knocking the Plastic Padding Chevron about in his frantic efforts to get by, and finally punted Elgh into the armco at Station Hairpin, running over his left rear wheel as he bounced off it for good measure. Gabbiani continued and actually got by Johansson at St Devote in an awesome manoeuvre, but amidall this drama he picked up a puncture. He ptted and his mechanics replaced the wheel, but Beppe elected not to carry on.

As they lapped the Starz March going into the fast left-hander at Casino Square, Ghinzani chose the wrong side, and Olofsson went through as the March dinged the barrier and shuddered to a halt. The Swede took over a solid third place, but the Ralt was not the same after its earlier contact with Ghinzani's March, handling badly over the bumps because a front wheel had been knocked slightly out of true; there was no catching de Angelis, let alone Pironi.
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