On paper, the concept of former Grand Prix drivers racing each other is quite mouth-watering. Cars would have to be identical in performance and design, no driver aids, and thoroughly safe. In the past, many have suggested the notion of such a race, but it had remained but a pipe dream. Scott Poulter, the man behind the Grand Prix Masters, took that dream by the scruff of its neck and made it reality.
Kyalami, South Africa, was the venue for this inaugural event. An eclectic mix of fourteen former GP gladiators, all—as the rules state over the age of 45—having varying degrees of success in Formula One, from World Champions Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell, to Eliseo Salazar (substituting for the injured Alan Jones) who is remembered more for his Hockenheim brawl with Nelson Piquet rather than his driving skill. So that weight would not influence matters, the Nicholson McLaren-engined Delta Motorsport cars, loosely based on the 1998 Reynard Champ Car chassis weighing 612kg, had ballast added so that driver and car combined weight was 702kg.
Skill and guile hopefully would decide the 30-lap race. Mansell headed the grid with a time of 1-minute, 33.428-seconds, Fittipaldi followed half a second down, then Patrese, Lammers, de Cesaris, Warwick, Danner, Cheever, Stuck, and Johansson completed the top ten, 3.5-seconds separated pole to Laffite, last of the fourteen on the grid. A rolling start ensured that all 14 were running at the outset. On lap 2, Johansson lost control and spun to a halt in the gravel, bringing out the safety car for the next two laps. As time went by, drivers began nibbling at the back of the car in front, although positions remained static. Laffite, who made several pit stops complaining about his seating position, became the mobile chicane for all to contend with until he put himself and Arnoux out on lap 25. Mansell and Fittipaldi led the field, by a 15-second margin, with 5 laps to go. Maybe irritation or realization that there were only a few laps left, Stuck, Danner, and de Cesaris started to move. Putting on a splendid display of car control and race craft, Mansell and Fittipaldi began fighting nose to gearbox with each other leaving spectators on the edge of their seats—Emmo getting alongside Nigel at one stage, but failing to complete the overtaking maneuver. Mansell, the victor, hugged both Fittipaldi (2nd) and Patrese (3rd) on the podium, each broadly smiling with the result. Appetites have been whetted for more in 2006.