Kop Hill – Rare and Interesting

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The comparatively recent revival of the hill climb at Kop Hill has been a notable success. Our Special Correspondent attended and unearthed his usual cocktail of rare and interesting.

One of the three Fox & Nicholl Talbot 105 team cars which won an Alpine Cup in the 1932 Alpine Trial. The cars had special bodywork by Vanden Plas and this one was driven by Norman Garrad. They all completed the arduous event without loss of marks!

Dating from 1937, this has to be one of the early four-wheeled Morgans.

It has the Coventry Climax overhead inlet and side exhaust valve engines.

An unusual body on a 1920 Trafford Park, Manchester, made Model T Ford. It labels itself a “Centredoor Top Hat “ saloon but while seating five, it was felt to be unstable and there was no safety glass at that time.

This Chevrolet Roadster is interesting because it dates from 1928 and is therefore one of the last Chevrolet four-cylinder models – it has an o.h.v. Mason-designed motor.

For 1929 Chevrolet introduced its superb 6-cylinder o.h.v. unit, nicknamed both the “Cast Iron Wonder” and “Stovebolt Six” which went on to power every Chevrolet car and light truck until 1954!

TAILPIECE

The capacious boot of a Gordon England Austin Seven Cup model.

David Blumlein, December 2019

Bright Sparkford

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The Special Correspondent has been out West and he paid a visit to “ The much improved Haynes Motor Museum, Sparkford” as he described it. In this piece he brings us some of the highlights he found in the recently revised museum.

Visitors are greeted in the entrance hall by this gorgeous Rover 8. Designed for Rover by Jack Sangster, it has an air-cooled flat twin side-valve engine of 998 c.c. (enlarged to 1134 c.c.) and sold very well from 1921 to 1925 when it was overtaken by the Austin Seven.

The Horstman was manufactured in Bath, Somerset from 1914 to 1929. Initially it had a 995 c.c. 4-cylinder engine of Horstman’s own design and manufacture but after the Great War Coventry Simplex and Anzani engines were used. A 3-speed gearbox was mounted in the rear axle and a pedal was used to start the engine. Most Horstmans had open 2- and 4- seater bodies and a Super Sports model was offered. The cars performed well in the multiple trials of the period and a Horstman came fifth in the 200 mile race at Brooklands in 1923.

A 1926 Star Scorpio. The Star Motor Company of Wolverhampton built their first car in 1898 and by the start of World War 1 were one of the six biggest motor manufacturers in the country. They built well engineered if rather conservative cars – this Scorpio is typical, having a 4-cylinder side-valve 1745 c.c. engine. Unable to compete with the mass produced cars, the company closed in 1932, having made 15,600 cars altogether.

The Empire began life as a 20 h.p. 4-cylinder 2-seater, built initially in Indianapolis, and among its backers was Carl Fisher, the instigator of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, the prototype Empire was the first car to be driven on the new brickwork circuit. Under new ownership the car only lasted until 1919 despite new additions to the range.

Packard, Pierce Arrow and Peerless, the three “ Ps”, America’s  prestige car makers. By the mid-Thirties Packard felt the need for a medium- price car to enable more people to be able to buy a Packard. The result was the 120 Series with an L-head eight cylinder engine and a variety of body styles. It was just what the dealers needed and sold for the year from August 1935 50,000 units! The car was chosen as the Pace Car at the 1936 Indianapolis 500 and for the first time the winner would receive the Pace Car – Tommy Milton was the lucky new Packard owner!

Elwood Haynes started making cars in collaboration with the Apperson brothers but after a while the arrangement did not work out and from 1905 Haynes renamed the firm the Haynes Automobile Company. At the New York Automobile Show in January 1916 was introduced this Haynes V-12 with a 5842 c.c. ohv engine, built in-house. It became known as the Light Twelve and it was a real rarity –only about 650 were made.

The Duesenberg Model J, the most prestigious car of the Errett Lobban Cord empire. It has a Lycoming –built twin overhead camshaft four valves per cylinder straight-eight engine of 265 horse power and this example wears a Derham Tourster body. Only 481 of these masterpieces were made.

Sensation of the Chicago and New York Shows in November 1935, the Cord 810 was a radically new design, the work of Gordon Buehrig, E.L. Cord’s chief body designer. It used front wheel drive and an electrically operated gearbox. Powered by a 4730 c.c. V8 Lycoming engine, it was the first American production saloon to achieve a genuine 100 mph. This is the Beverly model.

David Blumlein, November 2019                                 

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Rebirth of the Cool

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Motor Racing is an essentially circular activity, much like life, though in that particular case it eventually comes down to the ever-decreasing variety. On a July Saturday, almost 50 years ago, I travelled in a state of great excitement to Kent, Brands Hatch to be precise. I was going to my first motor race.

My heroes were going to be there; Seppi and Pedro, plus the greats such as Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Jack Brabham and Graham Hill, I could not believe my good fortune. The 1970 British Grand Prix was chock-full of legends like Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti and John Surtees – another future ace, Emerson Fittipaldi, was making his F1 début.

I had devoured Motor Sport and Autocar for the previous year or two in search of knowledge of this exciting and glamorous scene and was just getting into another publication, Autosport. I was properly hooked on motor racing, it was all downhill from there.

The race is remembered for the last lap victory of Jochen Rindt, taking advantage of Jack Brabham’s fuel starved car. From my perspective in the grandstand at Clearways it was downright robbery, the Aussie had earned the win. A few weeks later this thought was tempered with the news of the Austrian’s death at Monza. That season had already seen Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage killed while behind the wheel of a racing car, we would witness the first, and hopefully the last, posthumous World Champion.

Years passed and I was fortunate to have some small involvement with the sport, mainly in the endurance racing sector. A familiar name popped up in the mid-90s, that of Brabham, this time David rather than Jack, or Sir Jack as he was honoured.

David was one of the top drivers of his time, a Le Mans winner, but also a genuinely good bloke, clearly his father’s son. Recently he has relaunched the family name in the world of high performance cars, indeed I wrote about the launch of the car some time back. HERE

A week or so back the Brabham brand returned to Brands Hatch as David raced the Brabham BT62 in its début, scoring a memorable victory in the first Britcar endurance race of the weekend. The one hour event on Saturday evening was held in torrential conditions as competitors raced into the sodden night. Co-driver Will Power struggled with a windscreen that misted up during the opening stint but when he handed over the elegant racer to Brabs at the mandatory pitstop he had done enough to lay the foundations for success. The pair were justifiably chuffed with the result, perhaps the first step on the road to Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans in 2022.

The team were brought back down to earth on the Sunday morning when they were forced out of the lead in the second race with alternator problems. A very promising start and hopefully the prologue to a motorsport legend in the making.

DDC had the services of Simon Hildrew to illustrate this piece, as ever he did a brilliant job, more to come from him during the coming weeks as we attend to clearing the backlog of pieces ready to post.

John Brooks November 2019

The Magic of Monterey

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One of the many pleasures of running things at DDC is how old friends pop in and contribute. Gary Horrocks will be a familiar name to anyone who has followed IMSA since Doctor Don revived the show at the turn of the century. Gary was of the stars in the world of DailySportsCar.com – his reporting of the American Le Mans Series was top notch, keeping absentees like myself informed and entertained in full measure. When he offered to give us a flavour of the scene around Monterey earlier this month, I jumped at the chance.

Laguna Seca under any name has always been a favorite track of mine.  I’ve been going there on an off and on again basis since 1984. 

Even after covering the ALMS and Grand Am series from 1999 thru 2016 and being at so many different tracks, any trip to Laguna almost felt like going home. 

When it was announced the featured “make” at the Monterey Historics was to be IMSA, I knew one way or another it was to be on my schedule.  50 years of IMSA sounded awesome.  Well, it wasn’t pretty, but I did manage to take in the sights and sounds for a day at least…

First of all, I opted to not apply for credentials – I didn’t expect to be “working” although eventually I did accomplish some work.  That brought on sticker shock – $90 for a Friday only ticket.  It was an additional $120 for Saturday. 

I’m sure there were packages available and such, but with prices like this, well yikes.  Then on top of that you have the business principle of supply and demand shining thru in regards to hotel rooms.  I saw a particular room I’ve used for the IMSA races at $170 a night up to a staggering $499 per night for this event.  As if the area isn’t expensive enough.  I’ve heard of many that are much better off than I that are staying away simply because of the expense.  This week isn’t for the common folk anymore…

Any trip to Laguna typically includes stops at In-n-Out Burger (a double-double will do just fine) as well as a stop at Canepa Motorsports.  During the week of the historics, their restoration shop is open for viewing and as always, their showroom and museum are open for your drooling pleasure…

This place is staggering.  Again, not a place that I really belong in, especially now being retired, but a great place to see some unique and special cars.  Thru the years that I’ve been visiting I’ve seen the inventory in both the showroom and museum change, but it seems that you can always count on the core being present. 

Gulf 917?  Check.  Mass/Ickx 962?  Check.  Audi R15 plus?  Check… 

What was of most interest to me was the appearance of the John Paul Greenwood Corvette.  This was the last of the line for Greenwood, but this Bob Riley car was the most extreme of a long line of extreme Corvettes.  I’d seen the car in the shop in 2016, stripped to the bare frame and to see it complete now was a sight to behold.  What a fantastic beast.

Anyway, on to the main event  the Monterey Historics.  Before arriving I’d stayed away from the entry lists on purpose – I simply wanted to be surprised.  I guess the car I most wanted to see (and hear) again was a Panoz.  Just one more time to see the beast in action.  While it wasn’t the coupe as I’d witnessed at Laguna in ’97 and 98, it was none other than the full on wacked out roadster I feel fortunate to have witnessed in 1999 and later.  Mags and Brabs could always be counted on to give it their all in the beast.  Even though it was typically an Audi show back then, the Panoz was still something to behold.  Good times…

Another highlight was Tommy Kendall’s RX-7.  If my feeble mind remembers correctly, this car was originally constructed by Jim Downing, raced by Jack Baldwin to two championships and served as Tommy’s entrance into IMSA racing.  All told, the car won 5 championships (Downing 1, Baldwin 2 and Kendall 2) in the IMSA GTU category.  None other than Dan Binks was Tommy’s crew chief back then and thru much of his career.  It was also Dan that was responsible for getting the car back in running order.  Tommy said, “we just wanted to get it running.  Mechanically it is great – Dan did a great job with it.  Cosmetically we didn’t do much to it.  It is as it last ran.  We did vacuum up the cat fur out of the car though.  My cat loved to sleep in the drivers seat when I was recuperating from my injuries.  It was sort of my therapy buddy…”  Dan added that the car is “quite slow when compared to today’s racing, even to a current street car.  We only got a bit over 300 hp in it.  That’s not much anymore.”

Even though there is a featured make, there are also other stunning cars in the paddock.  In this case it wasn’t just IMSA.  There are always an interesting assembly of F-1 cars, from back when the cars were unique and different.  Even if the featured make isn’t your thing, it is still worth the effort.  Just make sure you’ve the funds to make it work.

Anyway, what I was able to do didn’t disappoint.  Sure, I’d have loved to have had more time at the track, but it just didn’t work out this time.  At least I got one day at the track.  Poor Brian Mitchell – he and his lovely wife Linda made the trip, only for her to take a tumble on a pedestrian bridge.  The result of the fall was a wickedly messed up leg with multiple breaks.  He spent more time in the hospital with her than he was able to be at the track.  She faces a long recovery time – sadly she had just retired from many years of teaching.  Keep them in your thoughts…

Gary Horrocks, August 2019

Rare and Interesting at Techno Classica

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It may be the dog days of summer but here at DDC Towers we are beavering away, playing catch up with material that has taken time to get posted. Here are the Special Correspondent’s reflections on the Techno Classica.

It was Clément Ader who made the first V8 engines and he entered three V8–engined cars for the tragic Paris–Madrid race in 1903. The race was stopped at Bordeaux because of the fatal accidents but all three of these cars successfully reached Bordeaux safely.

However it was de Dion who gave us the first production V8 car which was introduced at the 1910 Paris Show. This de Dion V8 dates from 1913 and its engine is of 4.6-litres.

In 1930 the Mille Miglia organisers introduced a Touring (Turismo) class for four-seater saloons to attract more entrants. In 1931 Alfa Romeo entered three 6C 1750 Gran Turismos with special “Aerodynamic” coupé bodies built by Touring – these can be considered the true ancestors of the modern GT.

In 1931 Gazzabini/Guatta came 8th and 1st in class; in 1932 Touring prepared new aerodynamic bodies and Minoia/Balestrieri came 4th and 1st in class.

This is a Talbot Grand Sport, chassis 110105. It ran at Le Mans three times but was never a works car. In 1951 it finished 17th; in 1952 André Chambas and André Morel raced it with two Roots-type superchargers fitted and brought it home 9th, the only Talbot to finish.

1953 was the car’s last race and Chambas had Charles de Cortanze (of Peugeot fame) as his co-driver – alas, Chambas spun after just 25 laps, damaging the gearbox and causing retirement; poor de Cortanze never got to drive!

During 1951 John Wyer, the Aston Martin racing manager, was hoping the new sports racing DB3 would be ready but , when  it became obvious that it would not be available until the end of the season, he decided to build two “lightweight” DB2 cars, registered XMC 76  and XMC 77. They had extensively drilled chassis, bodies in lighter 18-gauge alloy, Perspex side and rear windows and a power output of 128 bhp.

This car first appeared in the Production Sports Car Race at Silverstone in May and Parnell won the 3-litre class with seventh overall. At Le Mans Parnell shared with Hampshire to finish in 7th place and then Shawe-Taylor took another 7th in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod.

In the 1952 Mille Miglia Parnell and Serboli finished 13th overall and in Switzerland’s Prix de Berne at Bremgarten in May Parnell came 5th, lacking the speed to challenge the Mercedes-Benz 300SL opposition.

TAILPIECE

A little Rovin microcar, made after World War 2 in the former Delaunay-Belleville factory at St Denis, Paris. One of these splendid machines won its class in the 1950 Bol d’Or at Montlhéry.

David Blumlein, August 2019    

Storm and a Teacup

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A few weeks back a bunch of scoundrels gathered in the metropolis otherwise known as West Kingsdown, the Mercure at the entrance to Brands Hatch to be precise. The purpose was to celebrate Malcolm Cracknell’s début as a novelist with the launch of his cracking yarn “Taking the World by Storm”. Michael Cotton, a celebrated author himself was amongst the guest list, and has provided us with a book review that you can see HERE

The guests were drawn from Malcolm’s friends and family and also his extended family in the motor sport fraternity. We were fed and watered in some style courtesy of Crackers. But before that we had the high point of a very convivial luncheon date, Crackers presenting his creation. The performance was given without notes and he was well supported through the 45 minutes by his attentive carer, Maria.

During that address we learned some interesting facts that had remained largely unknown till that point. One of the disguised stars of the book’s narrative, Laurence Pearce, was there with his better half, Fiona. Crackers asked him about a few things relating to the book then mentioned the Le Mans Pre-Qualifying in 1998.

Those of you who are not familiar with this unhappy episode will be shocked to learn the Lister Storm was refused even access to the track, let alone the chance to get into the Big Race. The officials maintained that the modifications made since the ’97 event had changed the car so much that it was no longer in compliance with the homologation papers as submitted to support its status as a GT. In addition the rerouted exhaust system, now through the cockpit, was also declared illegal. No doubt this bad news would have been delivered in the usual sympathetic and sensitive manner that the French in general, and the ACO in particular, are rightly famous for.

Laurence told the assembled throng that he suspected that the ACO had been tipped off about the exhaust by none other than Tom Walkinshaw who was running three Nissan R390s for the Japanese manufacturer. The two outfits had tested at the same time at Le Castellet with the Lister struggling to put whole laps together but showing flashes of real pace. Walkinshaw and TWR must have realised that their policy of developing their ’97 car had led to them falling behind in terms of speed compared to their rivals such as Toyota, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, all of whom had new racers for ’98. From the original entry list it looked as if up to eight or nine GT1 entries would be eliminated in the Pre-Qualifying sessions in early May, so grassing on a potential competitor for one of the starting slots would not have been given a second thought by TWR. As Laurence declared, it was not sand-bagging that dictated their behaviour at Paul Ricard but that the car had a problem with the new clutch actuation system and struggled to get a clear lap…………..

Crackers then asked if it were true that Laurence had grabbed the Chief Scrutineer, Daniel Perdrix, by the throat when informed of the ACO’s position. No came the answer, though I did kick down the door to the office of Technical Director, Alain Bertaut…………….I was trying to explain my views on the situation.

The topic of gambling came up and once again Laurence confirmed that this actually happened in the 1999 British GT Championship, but the sum won was actually £1,000,000………I am still not sure quite how all this was possible but it must have been completely above board if it involved upstanding citizens such as Julian Bailey, Jamie Campbell-Walter and Laurence. Life in Portugal must agree with the Pearces, as both looked in top form.

It was also good to see James Weaver once more and looking well. He came a long way to attend and I know that Crackers really appreciated this. In real life as in the book James is an absolute star. Other stalwarts of the sportscar scene put in appearances such as Mike Youles, Peter Snowdon, Tommy Erdos, Jock Simpson, Shaun Redmayne, Alan Lis, Martin Little, Graham Goodwin and all the way from the Pacific Coast, historian Janos Wimpffen. Special mention should be made of Ian Smith, the engineer who “narrates” the tale……..he managed to show up despite working in the Far East for McLaren. One person who was missed, having to deal with a domestic crisis that suddenly sprung up, was Deborah Stephens. The book is dedicated to her brother aka The Captain and others who also have gone way too soon, Allan, Damo and Jack.

It was one of the good days………………brilliantly organised and put together by Marcus Potts and his son Josh.

For those interested or those considering purchasing the book there is a web page HERE

John Brooks, August 2019

Italian Girl

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“She was tall, thin and tarty and she drove a Maserati, faster than sound, I was heaven bound…..”. Rod Stewart’s non-PC song from 1972 is a reminder of that land that we can never revisit, The Past.

Except sometimes the rules get a little bent, distorted almost. I had not been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for a few years, a matter of regret but other things would get in the way. Nearly did not make it this year when the brakes failed on the car……………as good a definition of living in interesting times as you can get. A good egg, Andrew Cotton, took pity on me and picked me up at cock-crow on the Saturday and we headed for the South Downs.

Once on site I made my way to the Concours in front of the Stables, Cartier’s Style et Luxe. This has always been one of the highlights of the past Festivals of Speed and 2019 did not disappoint. The usual suspects had been rounded up and it was a collection of automotive grace and beauty. Then my attention was drawn to one side where there was a stand with that rarest of beasts these days, a modern car with style and elegance, it turned out to be the De Tomaso P72.

OK the beauty was not from Modena, except perhaps in spirit, but it would surely have inspired Rod the Mod to sing. This interest and appreciation was shared by a wide number of car guys and gals thronging the grounds of Goodwood House. In particular one observer caught my eye , sporting a trade mark Marlboro stetson. Who else, but the great Arturo Merzario? He gave the curvaceous Italian the once over, nodded approval and toddled off possibly muttering “Bella Signorina”. His verdict was shared by all I spoke to there………

A young American asked me who was this cat in the hat that everyone was staring at? I answered that Art was a legend on track, a Ferrari Grand Prix driver and double winner of the Targa Florio and had played a prominent role in the rescue of Niki Lauda from the flames at Nürburgring in 1976. This explanation appeared to mean little to him, though he was trying his best to be polite to an old guy just rambling on. He soon returned to admiring and filming the P72 with his phone and doing all manner of social media things…………some days you feel your age.

The voluptuous coupé had me fascinated, it had the siren-song of a V12 when fired up for its trip off the pedestal and up the Hill. I needed to know more.

One motive in heading to Goodwood in general and to De Tomaso in particular was the chance to meet up with old friends, Gayle and Pete Brock. Was it really 20 years ago that Doctor Don created the American Le Mans Series? My travels following that circus around the turn of the century led me to getting to know the legend that is Pete. More time available for conviviality during the treks across North America than on his annual pilgrimages to La Sarthe or Monza.

Gayle and Pete were in Goodwood courtesy De Tomaso Automobili, apparently he had provided inspiration for the relaunch of the brand and the P72. But how or why?

A consortium had acquired the De Tomaso name back in 2014 and had taken a deep breath considering what to do next. They then acquired the assets of Gumpert Apollo and developed the Apollo IE, a hypercar that almost defies description. The carbon fibre chassis set the group thinking, perhaps something could created and the 60th anniversary of De Tomaso’s founding in 2019 gave the team a target. But what inspiration should this resurrection take?

Going back into the history of De Tomaso there was a collaboration in late 1964 between Alejandro de Tomaso and Carroll Shelby to produce a prototype known as the P70. Big powerful racers such as this proposed project were very much coming into their own in the mid-’60s, this would lead to the fabulous Can-Am era still regarded by many as one of the high points of motorsport history.

Peter Brock had enjoyed great success as a designer and stylist, in particular with the legendary Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupé that had comprehensively defeated Ferrari in the GT arena. He was called upon to design that new car that would be built in Modena, this would be known as the P70.

De Tomaso would build the car, actually the job would be farmed out to Carrozzeria Fantuzzi, one of the many excellent motor shops in the Modena region. It was to be powered by a 7-litre V8, Ford-derived.

The resulting design was a combination of elegance and function, it had to perform on the track but it should also a thing of beauty, it was the spirit of the times.

Despite the best efforts of the designer the project eventually foundered on the clashing personalities of Shelby and de Tomaso, that and Shelby being offered the opportunity to take on the GT40 campaign for Ford, winning the lottery in motor racing terms.

The story of the P70 is fascinating, Peter and Gayle have produced a fine book on the topic. Rather than me rehash the tale here do yourself a favour and purchase a copy, you can get it autographed if bought from this website

Back to the future and the P72. The new group had a chassis courtesy of the Apollo. For the prototype they would use their V12, a development of a Ferrari engine and entirely in keeping with the retro ethos of the project. For the proposed 72 production cars the powertrain has yet to be announced, I would not be surprised if it bears more than a passing resemblance to sonorous unit in the prototype on show at Goodwood.

The styling has been compared to a Ferrari P3 or P4 and certainly there are elements in common, but one could say that about the Glickenhaus SCG 003 or Ferrari’s own P80C. Bill Warner, the guiding light behind the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, was quoted recently about the work of the great Sergio Scaglietti. “They’re the kind of voluptuous shapes boys are trying to draw when they sketch racing cars during study hall . . . instead of doing their homework.” From my perspective that sentiment could be applied equally to the P72.

The interior finish and styling was on a different level to virtually anything outside the Rolls-Royce/Bentley/Pagani/Bugatti level, it reflects the values of Style et Luxe. The budget has been spent in those areas rather than on electronics, old school one might say.

Value is an interesting thought, the proposed price is €750,000, a comparative bargain when compared with most other cars in this class. 72 people are going to be very happy when they take delivery, the likes of me can just dream…………….

John Brooks, August 2019

Photography courtesy of Gary Harman and De Tomaso Automobili

Local Boys Make Good – GT1 says farewell to the Spa 24 Hours

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I wrote this retrospective a while back, intending it to be used for another purpose. Perhaps it should have seen the light of day last weekend when the attention of the GT Universe was focused on Francorchamps. It matters not, like the 2019 edition the 2009 Spa 24 Hours was action packed, this part of Belgium rarely disappoints. So take a few minutes to look back to the time of GT1………….

Change was in the air for those anticipating the 2009 edition of the Spa 24 Hours. In early July that year the FIA had given approval for SRO’s next big step, the FIA GT1 World Championship, a brave venture to launch in the face of the financial storms that were raging at the time. This bold move also spelled the end of the road for the FIA GT Championship which had graced tracks around the globe since 1997, taking GT racing to new heights.

The 2009 Spa 24 Hours would therefore be the last contested by the GT1 cars that had pretty much ruled the roost since 2001 when SRO took over as promoters of the Belgian endurance classic. That fact combined with the economic challenges of the time faced by all the competitors meant that the field in the leading class was smaller than in previous years. However, the quality of the competitors more than made up for any shortfall in quantity.

Hot pre-race favourites were the trio of Maserati MC12 GT1s entered by Vitaphone Racing, as winners in three of the previous four years at Spa, they looked on course to add to their trophy cabinet. The German team’s driver line ups were first class too. In #1 were the reigning FIA GT Champions, Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels with Stéphane Sarrazin and Alexandre Negrão completing the quartet. #2 MC12 had regulars Alex Müller and Miguel Ramos supported by Pedro Lamy and Eric van de Poele, a record five-time winner at the Spa 24 Hours. The final Vitaphone entry had Belgians Vincent Vosse and Stéphane Léméret leading the charge with Carl Rosenblad and Alessandro Pier Guidi also in the team.

The opposition to the Italian supercars came in the shape of three Corvette C6.Rs. Local favourites Peka Racing Team gave the crowds something to shout about and did not lack in speed and experience in the driver department with a line-up of Mike Hezemans, Anthony Kumpen, Jos Menten and Kurt Mollekens. Race day would be Mike’s 40th birthday, what better present than a second triumph at the Spa 24 Hours?

Bringing a touch of the exotic to the grid was the C6.R of Sangari Team Brazil. The car, formerly run under the DKR banner, was crewed by ex-F1 driver Enrique Bernoldi and his fellow Brazilian Roberto Streit, with Xavier Maassen the third driver.

The final Corvette on the grid was entered by Selleslagh Racing Team, long-time supporters of the Championship. Leading their challenge was Vette factory driver and all-round good egg, Oliver Gavin. His teammates were James Ruffier, Bert Longin and Maxime Soulet.

The brave new world of the future GT1 class was also represented on the grid with the Marc VDS Ford GT and a factory backed Nissan GT-R. While these novelties attracted much attention, they were considered too new to challenge for outright victory.

The Qualifying sessions were struck by rainstorms of biblical proportions and there was virtually no running in the dry. The grid lined up with the Vitaphone Maseratis at the head with the Sangari and Selleslagh C6.R pair up next. Then it was the Marc VDS Ford, the final Vette of Peka Racing and the GT1 field was rounded out by the Nissan.

The Maserati phalanx immediately grabbed the lead on the run down to Eau Rouge and headed the field on the climb up the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes. If the MC12s thought that they would dominate the race they soon disabused of that notion. Within seven laps it was a Corvette 1-2, with Bernoldi heading Gavin, while Hezemans was also on the way up the leader board. However, the weather gods decided to get in on the act and soon heavy rain was falling and that seemed to favour the Maseratis.

For the first two hours the race swung between the leading six cars, then Streit’s Corvette crashed heavily at Raidillon and was out of the race. The rain returned with a vengeance after that with the contest potentially being won and lost in the pits as much as on track. Getting the right tyre strategy was vital to keeping up the pace, the engineers were as stressed as the drivers. The lead continued to change until just after Midnight when Bertolini lost control of his MC12 after encountering oil all over the track at Pouhon. He managed to get the heavily damaged car back to the pits but the repairs would take three hours and cost 67 laps. It later emerged that Hezemans was following the Maserati closely and also spun on the oil but without making contact with anything, that really was a late birthday present.

The problems at Vitaphone piled up when Pier Guidi was hit by a backmarker not long after the Bertolini incident. The subsequent repairs took ten laps and banished any realistic prospect of victory. Meanwhile out on track a fantastic battle raged in the darkness between Gavin, Hezemans and Lamy. This contest continued when Soulet, Kumpen and Müller took over their respective mounts at the next set of pitstops.

The rain gradually disappeared and as dawn broke the remaining Maserati began to slowly edge away from the chasing Corvette pair, although a mighty stint from Gavin yielded the fastest lap of the race, 2:15.423, and kept his Vette in contention. Then just after 10.00am disaster struck Müller in the MC12 when the Maserati’s rear right wheel collapsed approaching Fagnes, damaging the suspension. Despite his best efforts Müller could not get the three-wheeler back to the pits and was forced to retire on the spot.

The race had one more act of motoring cruelty to inflict, this time on the Selleslagh Corvette. A breather pipe worked loose, the loss of oil damaged the engine and the team parked the car in anticipation of completing one slow lap at the finish, being classified and scoring points would be scant reward for their efforts battling for the lead.

The final three hours of the race played out without drama at the head of the field till Kurt Mollekens crossed the line to score a popular and famous victory. The Peka Racing Corvette hardly missed a beat, the only one of the leading contenders to do so. Eleven laps down, and in second place, was the recovering #33 Maserati, but bitter disappointment would be all that Vitaphone Racing would take away from Spa.

The final step of the podium was taken by Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8 LMS which was running in the G2 class. The crew, Marcel Fässler, Marc Basseng, Alex Margaritis and Henri Moser had a largely trouble free run. The performance of the Audi gave a clue as to the future direction of the Belgian classic. The Audi was essentially a GT3 car, the race would prosper under that formula when it was adopted for the 2011 event. The fantastic entry for this year’s race is proof of that.

GT1 has signed off at the Spa 24 Hours in the most dramatic fashion, now there was a World Championship to chase.

John Brooks, August 2019

Taking The World By Storm – Review

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The endurance racing paddocks and media centres have been graced by a few during my time in the game, and disgraced by many as well. On the right side of the ledger is Michael Cotton who had been one the leaders of the pack till he took a well earned retirement. Another in that gang of the righteous is Malcolm Cracknell, one of the pioneers of reporting on the internet as it was known some twenty years ago. ‘Crackers’ has also been forced to take a step back out of the limelight but maintains a keen interest in the sportscar world. A few years back he decided to write a book, finally he has managed to publish it. The launch was last week, Mr Cotton was in attendance and now gives us his verdict. Go on buy it, you won’t regret it.

Fact or fiction? It’s called faction, and Malcolm Cracknell has served us a cracking blend of faction based on Laurence Pearce’s Lister Storm GT cars which challenged the might of Porsche, McLaren, BMW, Nissan and Toyota at Le Mans in the mid-1990s. Pearce becomes Larry Payne, his Paddock Princess wife Fiona is Frances, engine builder Ian Smith, who relates the story to Malcolm, is Smithy throughout, and the Jaguar V12 powered cars are Laser Strikes. You get the idea.

James  Weaver and Andy Wallace (who did not drive the Storm, they were in a Panoz) became James Wheeler and Arnie Wallis, joined by rookie Dane Allan Stevensen. The story has an authentic ring on almost every page. I can hear Laurence giving Smithy near impossible tasks to perform, targets to meet, insurmountable obstacles to be overcome, driving and cajoling the entire team through testing, qualifying and to the starting grid. Yes, he ran out of money, asked the crew to forego their wages until the end of June, but scraped through with sponsorship, though without the mythical wager that was said to put £4 million into the coffers, if the Laser Strike could finish in the top ten. I swallowed bits of the story hook, line and sinker. It was more than 20 years ago, I remembered episodes as though they happened the day before yesterday, but had to pinch myself to remember that Tom Kristensen was part of Joest Racing’s Porsche prototype team, and he damned well did win the race. Neither of the Storms, yes there were two in the race, even got to nightfall on Saturday, but let that not spoil a jolly good yarn.

Facts were plucked from the history of Le Mans, the Porsche’s seizing engine that just tottered over the line in 1983, Nissan’s missing luggage boxes, the works Porsche 911 GT1 catching fire in the closing stages, and the extraordinary shenanigans of the March-Nissan team, hell-bent on not winning Le Mans in 1986 (“a bun-fight of truly biblical proportions” said James Weaver, who was the target of several obstacles posed by the Japanese).

Place your £10 orders at www.world-by-storm.co.uk. Money well spent.

Michael Cotton, August 2019

Ps. Thanks to Andy Hartwell for the photo and Marcus Potts for the graphics…………..


Sunday Service

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A few Sundays back I toddled up to London, my destination was Belgrave Square with the intention of attending the Belgravia Classic Car Show.

I was not sure what to expect, cities these days are largely anti-car despite the many freedoms we have enjoyed since the horseless carriage arrived……perhaps that is it. Can’t have the peasants making decision for themselves, can we? Who knows where it might end? They will be asking for the vote next…….

Well I am certainly glad I made the effort as the show was small but perfectly formed, I even bumped into a few old friends and made the odd new one.

Several of the cars on show caught my eye like this Bristol 405 Drophead Coupé, idiosyncratic motoring from the 50’s.

This Smart which had clearly been beefed up and made Tifosi-friendly was interesting but the BRDC badge made me wonder about the owner.

He turned out to a gentleman with real bunch of stories to tell. Colin Hyams raced in Formula 5000 around the world in the early ’70s, hence the BRDC connection. A few years earlier he also was part of the gang of drivers at the Tasman Series mixing with Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart when they were in the Antipodes. I could have listened to him all day.

This Costin Amigo was a contender for car of the show, at least in my eyes, I suspect the judges would have reached a different conclusion.

Maybe this mouth-watering Dino could bring out the inner Danny Wilde in anyone, though Belgravia is much more Brett Sinclair territory…………..

At the other end of the scale is this Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost originally sent out to Bombay and nicknamed “Taj Mahal”. It exudes class and craftsmanship, a wonderful centenarian.

So here is a brief look back at a very agreeable event.

John Brooks, July 2019