For over a century, Pau has hosted a Grand Prix weekend at the beginning of May to rival that of the Principality of Monaco. Set against the majestic, snow-capped Pyrenees Mountains, the course swirls up and around the central crag façade of the city much as it does in Monaco. The one great advantage of the Principality, I have to admit, is the incredible view over the cliff-lined Mediterranean Sea. But what Pau lacks in shoreline it gains in accessibility. A touch less prestigious than the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of May, the Pau Grand Prix is both less expensive to attend and less crowded. Featuring two weekends of events, the races began today with the ‘Antique Car’ races which will be followed next weekend by the Formula 1, 2 and 3, Sports Cars and Formula 3000 circuits.
This morning I woke up to the muffled roar of motors zipping along the Boulevard des Pyrénées directly outside my bedroom window where I’m recuperating in the care of my parents-in-law. Spectators are packed all along the Boulevard lining the cliff of the city-center. The sun is brightly shining today, the sky a most perfect shade of deep sapphire falling upon the entire range of snow-topped Pyrénées. It’s simply breathtaking.
Begun as the La France Auto race in 1901, the Pau races became the Grand Prix in 1933 and have since continued annually, save for the war years.
My father-in-law, who moved with his family to Pau in 1946 just after the Second World War, remembers being a young boy and walking with his father along the Boulevard to watch the Grand Prix. When asked how things have changed since that time, he answered:
“My father wore a three-piece suit with a pocket watch and a hat; I was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a blazer with socks pulled up my calves. But besides the modernization of the race cars themselves, not much else has changed in 70 years except the style of the people’s attire.”