The tunnel portion of the Circuit de Monaco is a one-of-a-kind theater for watching a race: closed off to spectators except for emergency response personnel, filled with a cloud of exhaust, and, when a pack of Formula One cars rips through, so loud that your head stands a very good chance of exploding or at least never being quite the same again. The storied track winds through the streets of Monte Carlo, all hairpin turns, narrow roads and cramped pit conditions. It’s the venue of both the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and this weekend’s event, the Monaco Historic Grand Prix.
Though Chopard has been the official timekeeper for the Grand Prix Monaco Historique for the past 12 years, the 2014 running of the race saw the release of the company’s first special edition timepieces. The Grand Prix de Monaco Historique Chrono is the most race-worthy of the commemorative trio. Its specs are impressive: A 44-millimeter titanium case surrounds a chronometer-certified self-winding mechanical calibre. The dial is exquisite, with bold snailing, black-on-gray “panda” subdials, bright yellow hands and chapter ring that pick up where the strap — bold, leather, rally-style — leaves off. The outer bezel features a tachymeter scale calibrated to 300 km/h, perfect for timing the magnificent machines to which the watch pays tribute.
The Historic Grand Prix is one of the most important historic track events of the year, and it’s easy to see why. Throughout the weekend, classic cars of all sorts, from a Bugatti 35B with wheels as skinny as nickels to a 1976 McLaren M26 that wants to eat your lunch, scream along the circuit. Nearby, the “Paddock” houses a stable of classic cars valued in the millions. Drivers mingle in their race suits. Mechanics tinker. Car nuts scoop their tongues off the ground. Tall women wear cocktail dresses and heels. And when a racing legend like Jacky Ickx makes an appearance, photographers blast flashes like the paparazzi.
The backdrop is the sovereign city-state of Monaco, the second smallest country in the world, with the highest per capita GDP. It’s less than one square mile of land perched on the Mediterranean Sea, ruled by a prince. Spectators watch from the stands on one side of the track and on yachts from the other. The setting, in other words, is a little bit surreal — which makes it the perfect background for a weekend of racing the rarest classic cars in the world.