Ferrari at the Castle

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A late summer day spent at Blenheim Palace for Salon Privé was followed 24 hours later by a grey autumnal day, also in the company of fantastic cars, this time the venue was Windsor Castle. The reason for this was attending the 2016 Concours of Elegance, repeating its visit to Berkshire back in 2012. Using my Ferrari test what was the level of the show?

 

In a word, sublime. This Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione aka Daytona is typical of the rare and authentic gathering of Maranello’s finest seen in the Upper Ward. Chassis 16425 was the final Competition Daytona to built, car number five in 1973 and number fifteen overall. Jacques Swaters was the customer and, as was his tradition, his Ferrari was painted in a distinctive yellow or Giallo Fly.

The Daytona raced in two major international events in ’73, Spa 1000Kms, finishing 12th overall in the hands of Teddy Pilette and Richard Bond. A month later Bond shared a run to 20th place in the Le Mans 24 Hours with Jean-Claude Andruet.

The Daytona made its way across the English Channel where it has resided ever since, running in national events, usually with Mike Salmon driving. It is believed to be the only unrestored Competizione Daytona and is almost completely the same as it was leaving the factory.

Not all the 60 cars on display were completely unfamiliar to me, this unique Ferrari Testarossa Spider was built for none other than Gianni Agnelli, the President of Fiat, on the occasion of his 20th anniversary at the helm of the Italian industrial empire.

Indeed I had encountered this special car back in February at the Rétromobile and wrote about at the TIME

The Testarossa Spider was by no means the only car that was specially made for Agnelli by Ferrari. In 1955 he commissioned this famous Ferrari 375 America that made its first appearance at the Turin Show. The nose resembled a Facel Vega, the A-pillar is tilted forward, there are fins on the rear deck and a transparent panel in the roof.

Add in a red-green paint job and you have a striking car that attracts admiration when seen in person.

Almost as rare as the Testarossa Spider is this beast, the 288 GTO Evoluzione, dating from 1986. Just six of these fearsome contraptions were built by Michelotto in anticipation of the FIA Group B regulations being applied to the tracks as well as the forests. My previous POST gives a fuller account of why the FIA cancelled their own regulations leaving the Porsche 961 and the 288 GTO Evoluzione with nowhere to play, though the Porsche did make two appearances at Le Mans in ’96 and ’97.

Actually, according to Joe Sackey, the MAN when it comes to the 288 GTO, Ferrari dropped the 288 from the Evolution model so it should be referred to as GTO Evoluzione but hardly anyone pays attention to that.

The figures for the GTO Evoluzione are staggering considering what the opposition were doing at that point 30 years ago. Power of 650bhp meant accelerating 0-60mph in just 4 seconds and a top speed of 229.9mph was quoted, Mamma Mia!

Perhaps the most important role that the GTO Evoluzione played was in acting as a test mule for the F40 that would be launched the following year. To see one of these elusive wonders of the Maranello World in the flesh is truly impressive.

There are few cars that have an entire book dedicated to them, much less by a historian as respected as Doug Nye, but Ferrari 250 GT SWB, chassis #2119, is one of such a select group. The Ferrari was delivered to Rob Walker and Dick Wilkins in mid-1960 and Stirling Moss was scheduled to drive it at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy in August. This despite not being fully recovered from his serious injuries sustained in the Belgian Grand Prix two months earlier. Moss ignored the pain and put on a fantastic show to crush the opposition, with the performance passing into legend as Moss turned on the car’s radio to hear the BBC commentary on his race.

In an earlier book about the Ferrari 250 GT SWB, Nye found that Moss was really enthusiastic about the car. “It was quite surprising how good it was – a really comfortable Grand Touring car; with good brakes, a super engine and crisp gearbox, and unusual in that it would not lift its inside rear wheel despite that old-fashioned live axle……. quiet difficult to fault, in fact.”

Moss took two further victories that season and #2119 was sold on to Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour who scored another three wins in 1961, with promising new-boy and future Ferrari Grand Prix driver, Mike Parkes, behind the wheel.

Several well-known owners followed for the Ferrari such as Neil Corner and Sir Antony Bamford till in 2014 #2119 was acquired by Ross Brawn, the legendary engineer who was an integral part of the successes of the Schumacher era at Ferrari. Subsequently Brawn ran a team under his own name and won the Formula One World Championships in 2009. Brawn GP was then purchased by Mercedes-Benz and has formed the foundation for their tremendously successful team that currently dominates F1.

For Brawn #2119 is a dream come true. “When #2119 came up for sale I decided it was such a unique car that I had have it as well; I had to muster everything I could to buy it. To me it’s as aesthetically perfect as you can get for a sports racing car of that era. The historical connection means a lot to me because when I drive it I think of Stirling.”

The Ferrari 250 GTO succeeded the SWB as Ferrari’s GT standard bearer and has now become the most valuable and desired car in the world. Just 39 examples were built and #3729 was ordered by John Coombs, the Jaguar dealer from Guildford, who was a prominent driver and entrant in the ’50s and ’60s.

The line up of drivers who got behind the wheel in the ’62 to ’64 seasons was pretty special, Graham Hill (in the year that he won his first World Championship) , Roy Salvadori, Richie Ginther, Mike Parkes and Jack Sears. A second place in the ’62 Goodwood Tourist Trophy, courtesy of Graham Hill, would be the highlight of #3729’s career.

Somewhere along the way #3729 was repainted red but the current owner had the distinctive off-white colour restored recently, and it is much the better for this.

A decade before the GTO, Ferrari were turning out very competitive racers such as this Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale Coupé. It proudly sports number 52 as running under that designation it finished first in the 1953 Coppa InterEuropa held at Monza and driven by the Ferrari agent for Milan, Franco Cornacchia.

A few weeks later #0237EU scored a class win in the Bologna-Raticosa Hillclimb. Subsequently the 212 was sold on to Venezuela and then to the USA, finally returning to Europe in 1986, since then it has become a regular in the historic racing scene.

Ferrari was not just about racing, the line of fast and luxurious Gran Turismos became another thread of the legend of Maranello. The Ferrari 500 Superfast has been compared to the Bugatti Royale and in the Tanner/Nye master-work Ferrari it was described as; “This was the ultimate in front-engined Ferraris for those who like the Rolls-Royce touch with their performance.” 

The 500 Superfast was popular with royalty, The Shah of Iran ordered two, the Aga Khan and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands each had one. Other notable owners that give the Rolls-Royce reference such substance included, Gunter Sachs, Otis Chandler, Barbara Hutton and Peter Sellers. It remains one of the most sought-after Ferraris.

One very special Ferrari that was on display at Windsor Castle is this gorgeous 250 GT SWB California Spider. What makes this example unique is that the first owner from Milan specified it with right-hand drive and it is the only example of the 57 cars built with this configuration. He wanted to race the car and felt that RHD would be the optimal arrangement.  In fact he did compete in just one race, the Trofeo Pacor in ’62, finishing 5th.

Although the California Spider was not intended for competition both the LWB and SWB variants did race at a range of venues including Le Mans, Sebring and Targa Florio as well as club events and hill climbs. The best result for the SWB brigade was 12th overall for Allen Newman, Gaston Andry and Robert Publicker in the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring, widely regarded as the toughest endurance race of them all.

The 250 GT SWB California Spider attracted many owners from the creative arts, in France these included Alain Delon, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot, Johnny Halliday and François Sagan. In the US Bob Hope, James Coburn, Barbara Hershey and Ralph Lauren all have enjoyed the pleasures of driving the California Spider. The jaw-dropping good looks and almost perfect proportions will have appealed to these stars of stage and screen, that and it being a Ferrari.

The Concours of Elegance has passed my Ferrari test with flying colours, the question is what will we find when the circus assembles again at Hampton Court Palace 1-3 September? My advice is to grab a ticket and go along, it is truly one of the great motoring displays.

Finally, on behalf of all who toil at DDC Towers, may I wish our readers a happy and healthy 2017.

John Brooks, January 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferrari at the Palace – 2016

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Back in 2015 I came up with a theory that you could measure the value of a car event by the quality of the Ferraris on display, a shaky premise to be sure but as good as any other subjective tool. So now at the fag end of the year it is an opportunity to look back at some of Maranello’s finest that I encountered on my travels.

The approach of autumn is heralded by some of the finest car events of the year. Salon Privé continues to delight those of us fortunate enough to attend with an eclectic selection of cars for our delectation and the Ferrari crop in 2016 is no exception to this rule.

Perhaps the place to start is at the top and the 2016 Best in Show which was awarded to this fantastic Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa which has recently been totally restored by DK Engineering, whose painstaking skills have rightly been recognised..

This example, 0614MDTR, has a well documented competition pedigree. Starting life across the Atlantic, the 500 TR became a fixture at the Nassau Speed Weeks in ’56 and ’57 plus appearances at the Cuba Grand Prix, with the original owner, William Helburn scoring a class second with Le Mans Legend, Olivier Gendebien, in February ’57 edition.

A new owner, Boris ‘Bob’ Said, took a class win in the Nassau Trophy. Said competed in the 1959 US Grand Prix at Sebring and was the father of well known endurance and NASCAR driver, Boris Said III. The Ferrari was sold on again to James Place, who campaigned it at Meadowdale and Elkhart Lake, eventually sticking a Chevvy engine to replace the 2-litre, four cylinder Italian unit. A Ferrari engine was eventually put back and now we have this most elegant mid-50’s barchetta to admire and enjoy.

Another piece of 50’s style from Maranello was this Ferrari 250 Europa. One of two prototypes and the sole example of a short chassis with Pininfarina styling.

Powered by a 3-litre V12 version of the classic this model was the ancestor of the Ferrari 250 GT range.

Fast forward some 30 years, to another legendary Ferrari, the 288 GTO. Back in 1982 the FIA introduced Group B regulations to encourage a move to production-based cars for competition as opposed to the prototypes in Group C that raced in the World Championship and Le Mans. A minimum production run of 200 examples was mandated but the laws of unintended consequences intervened. Porsche and Ferrari considered building cars for the tracks, whereas Austin-Rover, Audi, Ford, Lancia and Peugeot introduced Group B cars to rallying. The vastly increased performance of the new cars led to several incidents with spectators being killed or injured. The final straw came with the deaths of Lancia star, Henri Toivonen, and his co-driver, Sergio Cresto, on the Tour de Course, when, inexplicably, their Delta S4 left the road and caught fire. Group B was finished, cancelled by the FIA.

One of the reasons that there was little enthusiasm for racing either the Porsche 961 or the Ferrari 288 GTO is that it was cheaper to buy a Porsche 956/962 and have a shot at outright victory as privateer teams beat the Werks car on several occasions, even at Le Mans. The cancellation of the FIA regulations might have caused Ferrari a problem but the designation GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) guaranteed demand and in the end 272 cars were built. They sold out immediately, the 288 GTO achieved iconic status.

Looking at the auction houses gives a clue as to why this matter, the spiritual ancestor of this car, the 250 GTO, achieves prices way, way in excess of any other car. The 250 GTO is the Holy Grail of Ferraris, the ultimate object of desire for those with ‘Il Cavallino Rampante’ in their hearts. A look through the list of owners of the 288 GTO turns up some well known names, four FIA World Champions, Niki Lauda, Keke Rosberg, Michael Schumacher and Bobby Garretson. F1 notables such as Adrian Newey, Eddie Irvine, Walter Wolf, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem and Michele Alboreto have had a 288 GTO as have endurance racing stalwarts Fredy Lienhard, John Bosch, Giuseppe Lucchini, Hans Hugenholtz, Martino Finotto, Rik Bryan and Jean Blaton aka ‘Beurlys’. Arguably the most famous owner was front-man from the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, proving that

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

However it was not just sentiment or the collection of stars that purchased the car that makes it special, the 288 GTO was a very important car in the Ferrari story. It was the first Ferrari to utilise the modern technology developed from motor sport to enhance performance and the driving experience. Powered by a 2.8 litre V8 with twin turbochargers installed longitudinally in a tubular chassis derived from the 308 GTB and clothed by a body made of a glass-fibre or mixes with Nomex and/or Kevlar.

To quote Joe Sackey, author of the book that is the last word on the 288 GTO. ‘This car epitomised a new beginning for Ferrari, and served to popularize its road-going cars in a way that previous models had not. The 288 GTO was truly the last car that Enzo Ferrari had any direct influence on, personally naming the car and setting a mandate for his men which left little doubt about his goals by stating: “What we have to do is build a new version of the Berlinetta. We shall call it the GTO.” ‘ No pressure then, but the result of this encouragement speaks for itself, it is a truly special car, even by the standards of Maranello.

If the 288 GTO had restored Ferrari’s reputation for producing the ultimate supercar, then its successor, the F40, propelled this status to the heavens. The F40 was intended to celebrate Ferrari’s 40th anniversary and it took the performance of the 288 GTO to another level and was claimed to be the fastest car in the world at the time of introduction in 1987 and the first road-legal production car to exceed 200mph.

It was not just the performance but also the dramatic style of the F40 that caused shock waves when publicly unveiled to the world at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Enzo Ferrari was well aware that his time was short, as he was approaching 90, and he encouraged his workers to create the ‘ultimate Ferrari’, he would have felt satisfaction at the results of his encouragement.

 

Available only in ‘Rosso Corsa’ and despite the eye-watering price tag, the F40 was a best seller, 1,311 examples were produced in the production run stretching from 1987 to 1992. The Ferrari F40 is right up there in the pantheon of Maranello’s heroes.

 

Any serious consideration of the roll call of Maranello’s Heroes would have to include the 365 GTB/4 or perhaps the even more precious 365 GTS/4. This handsome beast catapulted Ferrari back to the top of the supercar tree in the face of the challenge of the Lamborghini Miura, much as the 288 GTO and F40 would do in the following decades. Moreover the car was nicknamed as the ‘Daytona’ in a salute to the 1-2-3 victory in the 1967 edition of the Daytona 24 Hours, despite heavyweight opposition from the normally rampant Ford factory effort that suffered with catastrophic transmission failures in all their entries. To beat Ford so comprehensively in their own backyard must have been particularly sweet for Enzo Ferrari, especially in view of the drubbings that Ferrari endured in 1966 at the hands of the Detroit giant,  the Daytona designation was allowed to stick.

The Daytona was first presented at the 1968 Paris Salon and although production was slow to begin with, by the time the model was replaced in 1973 1,284 examples were built. The numbers on the convertible were were much smaller, all but 18 of the 122 production run were destined for the US market and this is one of the few.

The premium attracted by the desirability of the open top has led to some conversions from the original coupé. Author and Ferrari expert, Anthony Pritchard, in his excellent book The Road Ferraris, gets quite cross about this vandalism as he sees it: “Prices of the open cars are ludicrously high, even by classic car standards, and rather foolishly some Berlinettas were rebuilt as convertibles by Autokraft and other concerns, with sellers often anticipating similar prices. Original Daytona Spiders are worth a very great deal of money, but converted coupés simply debase the coinage, and no genuine and serious enthusiast, as opposed to misguided investors, would buy one.” Well that told us.

Another strikingly elegant convertible on display was this 250 GT Series ll Cabriolet that was introduced at the 1959 Paris Salon. 202 examples of this car were made up to 1962.

No assembly of Ferraris would be complete without a Dino and this 246 GT is particularly attractive. The Dino is a truly landmark car in Ferrari’s history. Glen Smale in his great book, Ferrari Design – The Definitive Study  had this to say: “Pininfarina readily admit that the stylistic approach of the Dino concept served as the foundation for all successive mid-engined Ferraris. Perhaps this fact serves to highlight the importance of this model.”

So there I rest my case, a high bar has been set and with the 70th birthday of Ferrari in prospect the Salon Privé will have its work cut out to go one better in 2017, I look forward to seeing the results.

John Brooks, December 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essen Show

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John Elwin brings his expert eye to the proceedings at the recent Essen Motor Show, along with a comprehensive gallery, a good way to start the holiday season.

The German authorities might well be trying to dream up plans to ban fossil-fuelled vehicles altogether from the roads of Europe in the not too far distant future, but the fact that some 360,000 visitors poured through the doors of the Messe Essen during the 10-day run of the 49th Essen Motor Show suggests that the German love affair with the motor car is not quite over yet.

Inside, they found the full panoply of motoring, ranging from new-car debuts on manufacturer stands such as Ford and Skoda, to live action drifting. Everything was a little more condensed this year as the Messe is undergoing an upgrade, which meant a couple of halls were unavailable due to building works.

As usual, S.I.H.A. – the organisation responsible for organising the Techno Classica Essen Show in April – took charge of the classic side of things at Motor Show, with many of their regular exhibitors filling one hall with everything from a Heinkel bubble car to a monstrous Mercedes 600 Pullman, the subject of a recent 6,500-hour restoration. It was being shown by Brabus Classic, an offshoot of the company more familiar for its tuning and modification of modern cars. A sign of the times, perhaps? Whatever, the workmanship was very impressive, as was that on the matching blue 300SL Cabriolet and Gullwing models also on show.

Another Gullwing to attract a lot of attention was a black example being shown by Rosier Classic Sterne from Oldenburg. Despite a rather sumptuous tan leather interior, and a roll cage, side-exit exhausts gave the game away that it also had a competition history. There was more intrigue, though. The business was founded some years ago when Thomas Rosier snr. had the opportunity to buy a Mercedes dealership and in the process of raising funds, he sold a Gullwing that he owned at the time.

His son, also Thomas, joined him in the business and over time they built-up a network of companies employing some 800 people. Now in overall charge, Thomas jnr. sold most of the business to concentrate on classics. As part of that plan, he sourced some cars from America, amongst them the black Gullwing. Imagine his surprise when researching the history of the car, he discovered that it was the very Gullwing owned and sold by his father all those years ago!

The VW Golf Mk1 is at the other end of the extreme from Gullwing Merc’s but a very original GTi was attracting a lot of interest on Dutch dealer Potomac’s stand, leading one journalist colleague to excitedly ‘phone a friend’ whom he knew was looking for one. As he pointed out, to find a good original Mk1 Golf GTi is more difficult than a Gullwing Mercedes – there’s plenty of those for sale!

Alongside the GTi sat a 2010 (that’s correct) Mk2 Golf 1.8 with just over 6,000km on the clock, and what’s more it was right-hand drive. It transpired to be a South African-built car and Potomac anticipates selling it in the UK. Asking price is €24,000…

That however was a lot less than the sticker price on the very rare Alfa Romeo unanimously chosen by the jury as ‘Best in Show’. As a member of the jury, I cannot remember an occasion when every single member chose the same car. The car in question was a 1953 Alfa Romeo 1900C Sprint Supergioiello, the last of 18 such cars built by Ghia.

It was sold new to a Spanish owner who rallied it extensively, including taking part in the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally, hence the ‘400’ on the door – it’s start number in that rally.

Having spent most of its life in Spain and Portugal it underwent restoration in Italy and is now with IMBU Classics in Holland, who have it on offer for €599,000. However, it failed to sell at auction in Monaco in May with a lower guide price.

Upholding British honour, DD Classics from London was awarded the ‘Best Coupe’ prize for its Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

 

S.I.H.A.’s themed display this year featured Ferrari, with a fine array of machinery from the earliest days to the very recent FXX and LaFerrari supercars.

A Ferrari display featured elsewhere in the show too, with everything from Alfa Romeo Monza as raced by Ferrari before building his own cars, to more recent Grand Prix cars.

As befits a show that has its origins as The Jochen Rindt Show, motorsport plays an important part – that hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Live action, mostly of the Drifting variety, filled one hall.

The adjacent hall was host to a variety of event organisers, car builders and preparers and suppliers, catering for everything from karting to NASCAR.

 

Meanwhile the major manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Mercedes – concentrated on displaying their current DTM machinery, backed up by a display of cars from earlier years. Great to see those mighty Audi V8’s, Sierra Cosworth’s and Merc 190’s again!

Curiously, whilst you could inspect an ex Keke Rosberg Opel Calibra, there was seemingly no evidence anywhere in Essen that his son Nico had just won the World Championship for Mercedes. Likewise, you’d never know that VW had just won the World Rally Championship, or that Audi and Porsche had dominated endurance racing. With Audi bowing out of the WEC, what a great opportunity it would have been to mount a display of the cars that have brought the company so much success since 1999. Opportunities missed? And on another front, whilst a prominent feature displayed electric cars, why on earth are not the likes of Mercedes and Audi shouting from the roof tops about the amazing advances in engine technology they are making through motorsport?

Needless to say, some very different forms of motive power were on display amongst the custom car exponents. How about a Ford Econoline truck with four – yes, four! – engines mounted on the back.

And if that wasn’t enough for you, alongside it was a VW pick-up sporting a jet engine. Not much good for load-lugging but it would have got you to your destination quickly, especially if the route was a straight line.

Essen Motor Show was for long the bastion of the powerful German tuning industry. That is less apparent now, but the likes of Brabus and AC Schnitzer with their take on the latest offerings.

There’s always plenty to see at Essen, so why not go and have a look for yourself? With next year being the 50th show, there are bound to be some extra treats too.

02-12 December 2017    www.essen-motorshow.de

Before that, we have Techno Classica Essen, not to be missed by any classic fan.

05-09 April 2017   www.siha.de

John Elwin, December 2016

 

The Legend…………Prologue Part Two

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The Audi R8C was far too new to stand a chance at Le Mans even if the field had not been as packed with contenders for victory as it proved to be in 1999. There is one certainty when running in the 24 Hours at La Sarthe, if there is a weakness it will be found out. The intense test programme post Pre-Qualifying did not reap much in the way of lap time improvements and the transmission still gave much cause for concern. The project needed months not weeks of development to realise its obvious potential, the speed was good on the Mulsanne at 217mph but handling issues elsewhere meant that time was lost.

One area that Audi had employed lateral thinking to get an advantage over their competitors was the ability to change the entire transmission in next to no time on the R8R. Dry-break couplings were fitted to engine, clutch and gearbox oil cooler fluid pipes. Special tools were made to facilitate removal of the bellhousing, all of which was possible because the R8R’s rear wing was part of the tail section rather than being attached to the gearbox. During the run up to the race a practice run was undertaken and the whole rear end of transmission and rear suspension was replaced ready to get back on track in around five minutes!

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this arrangement was that the press almost completely missed it. Even the doyens of the Le Mans’ Media Tribe, Paul Frère and Jean-Marc Teissedre, only noted the speed of the R8R transmission changes during the race but did not enquire as to how this was achieved. Perhaps they did and were fobbed off with bullshit. To be fair there was plenty of excitement going on with flying Mercs and crashing Toyotas and the BMWs. My source for this and other technical information is the excellent autobiography from Tony Southgate and he would know.

Another improvement to the transmission came with the adoption of the Mega Line pneumatic gearshift for the R8R. This system allowed the drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times, helping with cornering, and there was a dramatic reduction on the wear on the dog-rings in the gearbox, greatly improving reliability over a long distance race.

 

The 1999 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was something of a high water mark for the participation of manufacturer backed teams in pursuit of outright glory. No fewer than four other factories joined Audi in the hunt for victory, 15 cars in total. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota were all serious contenders for victory, only Porsche was missing and they would not be back for a generation.

 

Pole position was grabbed by Martin Brundle in the Toyota GT-ONE, scorching round in 3:29.930, meanwhile the R8Cs were struggling, the best that #10 could manage was 20th and 3:42.155, #9 was timed at 3:45.202 which meant a further three places back on grid.

No matter what problems the Audi Sport UK were enduring they were not as bad as some others were experiencing. Eric van de Poele destroyed his Nissan early on Wednesday injuring his back seriously. The following evening Mark Webber became airborne in his Mercedes-Benz CLR, a feat he repeated during Saturday’s Warm Up, scratch two contenders from the race.

The situation on the other side of the Audi pit boxes was far more promising. The R8R pair got on quietly during Practice and Qualifying with Capello’s 3:34.891 being good enough for 9th place, Biela just half a second behind. A good result seemed within the team’s grasp, though the message came down from the Board, a podium was the minimum that would be accepted or else…………………….

I have worked for teams at Le Mans that have had problems with the car right from the start, it is a nightmare situation that can only end in pain, with no prospect of redemption or salvation, so I can sympathise with the hard working crew of Audi Sport UK. #9 was in after half an hour to have the suspension checked, then, just before 20.00, the car stopped at the entry to Les Hunaudièrs, the differential had broken, the car was the third retirement.

#10 lasted but 20 minutes before stopping to change the gearbox, a process repeated around midnight. The agony continued till 8.20 on Sunday morning when the gearbox failed again stranding Perry McCarthy out on track, ending the Le Mans’ career of the Audi R8C.

The Audi R8C was never seen again in competition, all resources were focused on developing the new 2000-spec car, the R8. However, the R8C did contribute substantially to the next Volkswagen Group endurance coupé, the Bentley Speed 8. Also designed by Peter Elleray and built at RTN, the Bentley beat the rest, including the legendary Audi R8s, to win Le Mans outright in 2003.

The other side of the Audi operation ran much more smoothly with only minor niggles afflicting #8 R8R. All the misfortune seemed to flow towards #7 which had no less than four transmission replacements but with the quick change system paid off, with each new gearbox being fitted in around five to ten minutes rather than the 50 minutes taken each time by the R8C. #8 ran strongly in the top five for most of the race, things were going to plan.

Both Audis benefited from the retirements of other contenders, the two top Toyotas each had a big accident during the night and  engine failure accounted for the Nissan. As to Mercedes-Benz, the catastrophe forecast by many happened just before 21.00 when, watched by the world on television and endlessly replayed, Peter Dumbreck’s CLR somersaulted into the trees at almost the same point where Webber had crashed on the Thursday. Mercedes-Benz has not been seen near Le Mans since nor are they expected back anytime soon.

The race had one final twist in the tale. The BMW of Lehto, Müller and Kristensen had led from almost the first hour and the trio had a cushion of three laps over their sister car. Then the roll bar broke and jammed open the throttle pitching JJ into the barriers at the Porsche Curves and out of the race. This misfortune elevated the #8 Audi to 3rd and the #7 to 4th, which, considering the situation Mercedes were enduring, was a good performance. Could they hang on?

 

The answer was yes, to the relief of the Boss Dr. Ullrich. Third place went to #8 driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Didier Theys, they were five laps down on the winning BMW. Fourth, some 14 laps adrift of their sister car, was #7 with Michele Alboreto, Dindo Capello and Laurent Aiello on driving duties. The result was enough to get the green light for a new car in 2000, the Audi era was about to commence.

Third and fourth places at Le Mans was not quite the end of the story for the R8R. While a completely new car would be unveiled for the 2000 season, the R8R would act as a test bed during the rest of 1999 for proving the components such as engines and transmission plus work on aerodynamics. The engine had performed faultlessly during the race, as we have come to expect from the work of Ulrich Baretzky’s department. Detailed improvements in power and weight reduction would lead to a major development in 2001 with the introduction of FSI direct injection technology.

There would be two more races for the R8R in 2000 in the American Le Mans Series rounds at Charlotte and Silverstone, while the new R8 was kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours. A podium place in the UK for Allan McNish and Dindo Capello was an appropriate way to mark the end of the road for the R8R.

Audi’s course was set for the next 17 seasons, racking up titles and victories no matter who was the opposition. The pit lanes and paddocks of the endurance world will feel strange in 2017 with the Four Rings.

John Brooks, December 2016 

The Legend…………Prologue Part One

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“Audi to quit Le Mans and Sportscar Racing at the end of the 2016 season” was the headline that shocked the racing community when the news broken last month by Sport Auto’s Chief Editor, Marcus Schurig, in Germany. The impact will be felt far and wide as many in the business have depended on the huge budgets committed by the German giant, either directly or indirectly. The story of the 18 seasons at the top of the endurance racing tree will fill the history books but perhaps now it is time to have a brief look at the racer that created the Le Mans legend, the Audi R8. But first we should examine at how this journey started.

Like all great legends there was a prologue. Audi arrived at Le Mans in 1999 with not one, but two different race cars, one open, one closed, the rules of the time allowed for radically different solutions. The Audi R8R’s chassis was designed by Dallara and built by ATR, while Fondmetal assisted the German factory with the aerodynamics.

The R8R made its debut in March 1999 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Two of the open prototypes were entered with the operation run by Joest Racing, four time winners at Le Mans, 84-85 with a Porsche 956 and 96-97 with the Joest Porsche.

#77 had former Ferrari Grand Prix stars , Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson on driving duties. This pair of former winners at Le Mans were joined in Florida by Dindo Capello, a multiple Italian Touring Car Champion with both VW and Audi.

#78 had Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Perry McCarthy in the driver’s seat. Pirro and McCarthy were both ex-Formula One men and Biela, another long time champion driver for Audi in DTM and BTCC.

The 12 Hours of Sebring is widely regarded as the toughest of all endurance sportscar events and Audi found out the hard way, making all manner of adjustments to the car that had not been necessary in pre-season testing.

Sebring International Raceway is notoriously rough on cars, this caused the R8R problems. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Sport, explained the issues. “It’s so bumpy here that we’ve had to raise the ride height of the car by 15mm. Otherwise we destroy the front splitters every 12-15 laps. We’ve never tried the car this high before.”

Audi struggled in Qualifying managing only 11th and 12th places, over 4 seconds down on the pole setting BMW. The ride height caused handling issues that could not be fixed at the track, it was going to be a long race.

Race day was kinder to Audi who got both cars to the finish, in third and fifth places, as others failed. A podium for Alboreto, Johansson and Capello, albeit 3 laps down on the winning BMW, would be the first of many for Audi in North America, it was a solid start to the project.

The next appearance for Audi was in early May in Pre-Qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours. 53 cars chased the 46 spots on the grid, those who could not beat the clock would be eliminated, unthinkable for a factory-backed team. The sleek Audi R8C pair made their first competitive appearance. Designed by Tony Southgate, engineered by Peter Elleray and sharing the same engine (3.6 litre V8 with twin turbos) and rear drive train as the R8R. The handsome coupé was seriously underdeveloped having been commissioned too late (the project only started in the previous September) with the second car only just completed before Pre-Qualifying. The driver line up was certainly experienced with #9 crewed by former winners, Stefan Johansson and Stéphane Ortelli who were supported by Christian Abt, a late call up after Yvan Muller withdrew from the Audi squad. #10 was an all English affair with James Weaver and 1988 winner Andy Wallace sharing the wheel with Perry McCarthy, the original Top Gear ‘Stig’.

The R8R pair qualified for the race with relative ease, not far off the outright pace of the leading Toyotas and BMWs with the Panoz Roadster S also showing a good turn of speed. Both R8Cs struggled to get into the race, Wallace having his door sealed up with tank tape to prevent it flying off into the French countryside. When the Chequered Flag was finally waved both were in but it had been a nervous time in the Audi Sport UK pit.

Five weeks later the circus reconvened at Le Mans, this time it would be for real………come back later for the balance of the tale.

John Brooks, December 2016

The Legend………………Chapter One

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The 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans was the first chapter in the best seller that became Audi’s story at La Sarthe, the book is now finished, at least the first volume is. Who knows what might happen in the future?

And yet the Le Mans universe is a very different place these days from that of sixteen years ago. Then, as now, there were four classes, with factory entries but there the similarities end.


1998 and 1999 had seen high profile and high budget manufacturer projects at Le Mans from Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche, with Audi joining in with their twin pronged approach featuring both open and closed prototypes for the latter year.

All of the above manufacturers left the House for 2000 except Audi who took on board the lessons from their comparative failure in 1999. Their answer was to create a new car which would turn into the benchmark for endurance racing in the first years of the 21st Century, the Audi R8.

First appearing at Sebring in the 2000 edition of the 12 Hour classic, it romped away to an easy victory, leaving rivals in no doubt as to the scale of the task they would face, come June, at La Sarthe.
Rivals? Ah yes, it was as if the ACO had issued a distress call across the Atlantic to replace the departing  Japanese and German outfits. In 1999 the American Le Mans Series was born and created a marketing opportunity for Detroit to match their products against the best. The opportunity was seized with both hands, not since George Patton’s Third Army had swung through Le Mans back in August 1944 had the Département de la Sarthe seen such a range of American firepower, although Bill Ford’s Armada in ’66 and ’67 ran Patton pretty close. Cadillac, Corvette, Dodge, Chrysler and Panoz represented Motor City and like Patton they were chasing the Germans. That however was where the analogy ends. George S. caught and beat his opponents………………

The rich history of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans allows it to have all manner of anniversaries each year, saluting some past heroes and their heroic deeds. In 1950 Briggs Cunningham stunned the French crowds by bringing two Cadillacs to La Sarthe, one an almost bog standard Coupé de Ville and the other a re-bodied streamliner, dubbed “Le Monstre.”

For 2000 Cadillac produced a conventional, in reality too conventional, open prototype running in the LM P 900 class. It was powered by a twin-turbo 4 litre V8, with Xtrac transmission and a chassis built by Riley & Scott. The aim of the project was to take an overall win in 2002 to coincide with Cadillac’s centenary. The whole project fitted in with GM’s attempt to change the brand’s perception of providing luxury barges to retired folk, the customer base was eroding with the passing of the years. That bit of the plan has, at least, happened, the 2002 LM-win did not.


A total of four Cadillac Northstar LMPs were entered, two for Team Cadillac which was created by Wayne Taylor out of Doyle-Risi Racing. Two cars were entrusted to the French DAMS outfit. However it was clear from the outset that these cars would not be competitive against the Audi squad, so expectations were managed down with “development year” talk. Marketing created a smokescreen with an infra red based camera system that was mounted in the car’s lights but no one was fooled, the whole project was seriously under-cooked and might have been competitive a few years earlier but the likes of Toyota, BMW and now Audi had moved the game on, massively.


Also with ambitions to win the 2002 Le Mans 24 Hours outright was Chrysler. As part of the journey to that destination they had enlisted their French racing partners, ORECA, who had run the successful Viper programme for them. They had purchased two new Reynard 2KQ chassis and shoehorned the 6 litre V8 into the rear. In reality no matter what they or anyone else did they stood little chance of success in the face of the Audi steamroller. The investment in new technology from Ingolstadt would dwarf the efforts from Detroit.


Ford were represented by proxy in the shape of Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S with the rumbling 6 litre V8s and their unusual configuration, the driver sitting behind the engine. There were two factory cars for Panoz Motorsport managed by the old lag, David Price.

There were two Roadsters from TV Asahi Team Dragon with Kazumichi Goh heading up the effort.


The final Panoz was that of the Danish outfit Den Blå Avis, which was a regular runner in the Sports Racing World Cup.


Another American legend to come back to Le Mans, was Mario Andretti. At the age of 60 he was rolling the dice one last time to see if he could win the one major race that had eluded him in his long and distinguished career.

 

Also crossing the Atlantic from the ALMS was the Team Rafanelli Lola B2K/10 with Judd power. This was a factory supported effort and was expected to fast but possibly fragile.


Another fancied Lola was the Konrad Motorsport example for the Dutch trio, Jan Lammers, Peter Kox and Tom Coronel. From this entry has grown the huge Dutch support for Le Mans. The Racing for Holland team followed on with the Drinking for Holland close behind or maybe that came first, oaks from acorns. Next year will see Lammers and the Dutch back at the 24 Hours, will he have a similar impact?


Peugeot were also represented at Le Mans 16 years ago. Henri Pescarolo, a four time winner and all round legend, had finally retired, so was now on the pit wall leading his Pescarolo Sport outfit running a Courage C52 powered by V6 turbo from the French manufacturer. A bit of a dark horse.

 

A second Courage was Judd powered and also French run but was not expected to shine in the face of the big budget outfits.

Keeping up the tradition of the privateer at the top table was Thomas Bscher’s BMW V12 LM. The team and car had finished a fantastic 4th overall in 1999, so they were quietly confident of being around at 4.00pm on Sunday.

Matching the Panoz contingent numerically was Reynard as there was also five examples of its prototype 2KQ on the Le Mans grid.

Arguably the best of these was the Judd powered Johansson Matthews Racing example.

Two of the Reynards were entered in the fledgling LM P675 class with werks turbo engines from Volkswagen, based on a rally unit that had run into homologation problems. They had limited opposition in what was easily the weakest class in the race.

The main challenge to the VWs in LM P675 was expected to be from the Multimatic Motorsport Lola powered by a V6 Nissan engine.

Which brings us neatly to the second part of the American Invasion. The LM GTS class would feature a titanic struggle between Le Mans returnees, (first time was 40 years previously, once again with Briggs Cunningham) Corvette Racing and the reigning champs, Viper Team ORECA.

 

The two camps had already gone toe to toe at the Daytona 24 Hours earlier in the year. Viper came out on top that time but their winning margin was just 30 seconds and they knew that it could have easily gone either way.

The three Vipers would be opposed by two Corvettes, real Detroit heavy metal, as 8 litre V10 battled 7 litre V8, Ali-Frasier-style, a classic Le Mans encounter.

Doug Fehan’s Corvette team have graced the 24 Hours of Le Mans ever since 2000, but it could have gone horribly wrong that first year. This lot look like they have just escaped from the set of ‘Allo ‘Allo………………………

The supporting cast to the factories in LM GTS were three Vipers, one entered under the Team Goh banner but in reality a Chamberlain Engineering effort.

2000 also saw the final hurrah for the Porsche 911 GT2 at Le Mans, Freisinger and Konrad trying to match the Vipers and Vettes.

 

The LM GT category was a Porsche monopoly, all 12 entries being the 996 GT3 R models. There were two examples that were head and shoulders above the rest, Larbre Compétition was, as ever, proudly flying the Tricolour and had former winner Christophe Bouchut leading the challenge.

America’s best hopes in LM GT rested on the Dick Barbour Racing factory supported entry. Young German stars, Lucas Luhr and Dirk Müller were guided by Bob Wollek who would make his 30th and final Le Mans start that year, losing his life in a pointless road accident the following March.

Race Engineering was the first Spanish team to enter Le Mans and was under the leadership Alfonso de Orléans-Bourbon, Duke of Galliera, who raced at Le Mans  previously. The team has gone on to great success in single seater racing with many stars such as Sebastian Vettel, Justin Wilson and Lucas Di Grassi coming through the ranks in their cars.

The forecast was for a scorching hot weekend, conditions that come to that part of France sometimes in June. Would the favourites win or as they often do, would they stumble along the road? Find out in part two later this month.

John Brooks, December 2016

Shots at The Palace

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I may not have been very impressed with the recent Classic & Sports Car Show at Alexandra Palace, thinking it a bit light on content and a bit heavy on dealers. However some 15,000 enthusiasts climbed up from Wood Green to Ally Pally on the hill during the three days of  the event, so someone is doing something right. Amongst those making the trek was master photographer Simon Hildrew and he offers us his customary silk purse.

John Brooks November 2016

The Family Silver

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2015 JB General

The Special Correspondent and I were invited to a book launch yesterday evening. Not just any old book launch but the premier of Nigel Trow’s masterpiece “Maserati The Family Silver”.

2015 JB General

This encyclopedic work in two volumes is likely to be the last word in telling the story of the charismatic Maserati brand through lives of the men who have guided the Modenese icon for over a century.

2015 JB General

Fourteen years have passed since the author commenced work on this history and the expression ‘labour of love’ is the only possible verdict.

2015 JB General

Motor Sport legend and multiple World Champion, John Surtees CBE, was present, celebrating the anniversary of his victory in the 1966 Mexican Grand Prix driving a Cooper T81 powered by a V12 Maserati engine. It would prove to be the penultimate Grand Prix victory for Maserati bringing down the curtain on the company’s international racing story till 2004.

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The event was held appropriately at Maranello Maserati in Egham and those who were lucky enough to be invited were generously looked after, also enjoying the fabulous collection of Maseratis and Ferraris, old and new, on display.

A review of the book will follow in due course, plenty of reading in the meantime.

PS those of you who cannot wait to see my leaden prose can get the book HERE and make their own judgements. The book is not cheap neither are the cars but true value cannot be measured in money alone.

John Brooks, November 2016.

NEC Treat

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There are a few events in the calendar that  are “must do” and the Classic Car Show at the NEC falls into this category. So The Special Correspondent and I will make the trek from Euston next week for another portion of automotive goodness. I would encourage those of you who are able to make the same journey to do so, you will not be disappointed.

Here is a selection of what we saw last year.

John Brooks, November 2016

Ally Pally?

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2016 JB General

While I careen down the autobahn of life I figure I have witnessed a fair amount of automotive stuff, but events sometimes prove that theory to be, if not redundant, a bit shaky. Take Friday, for example, I went up to London, Alexandra Palace to be exact, to see a car show. Well there was a car show, “The Classic & Sports Car Show” to be exact but it was not like others I have attended.

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Usually the show’s organisers cajole owners and car clubs to bring along stuff for us to admire and lust after. Manufacturers too are encouraged to show examples of their heritage to reinforce their brand image and values. However this show had but one stand that could be considered an exhibit, the rest of the affair was wholly made of car dealers and others selling goods and services, some car related, some not. A bazaar for the modern times, especially in the cosmopolitan ant heap that is London.

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The centrepiece was the grandly titled “A Century of Supercars”, as voted for by 17,000 readers of the magazine, giving the People’s Choice for the most desirable supercar of them all.

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The motors concerned ranged from the Bentley 4½ Litre Blower to a McLaren P1 via various Lamborghinis, Ferraris and a Bugatti. Now one might have thought that cars used as examples of their breed would be impeccable in their provenance but getting hold of an original Blower Bentley, one of the 55 built, seemed to be a step too far. The Bentley on show UW 7771 was originally a 4½ litre with a saloon body from Harrison, sold to a Mrs Beit in January 1930. Some time after the War it became a replica Blower when raced by a chap called Butterworth. Does this matter? Well yes and no, some would find it important, others would confine such discussions to the “How many angels could dance on the head of a pin?” drawer………….you be the judge.

2016 JB General

The winner of the poll was, unsurprisingly, the McLaren F1 and doling out whatever award was on offer was John Surtees, the only man to have won World Championships on two wheels and on four.

2016 JB General

Another feature of the show that was heavily promoted was the Live Parades on the roads around the Palace. Leader of the pack was the Tyrrell P34, unique in its configuration of four wheels at the sharp end.

2016 JB General

Leaving the hall to snap the parade I encountered a gentleman who was looking for the place that shuttle bus would leave to take him back to Wood Green tube station. He remarked that he had only come to see the Tyrrell, then it was back to deepest Wales. Emboldened, as I am at such events, I enquired what interest he had in this piece of Grand Prix history. “My name is Bob Tyrrell, Ken was my father.” He was a charming chap and I would have cheerfully spent more time with him recalling the era when I was actually interested in Formula One. However the lure of the Great Western train back to home proved too strong.

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This encounter set the tone for the day, I bumped into a few other petrol heads, some I already knew, some I did not, but we all shared a passion for cars. I was wondering what to make of the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa on the GTO Engineering stand. I heard a voice, “Must be a customer car, the factory TR’s had De Dion rear suspension.” Such detailed knowledge is common at such events and serves as a reminder to me to keep schtum rather than revealing the limitations of my wisdom concerning the automotive universe.

2016 JB General

There was naturally an auction going on in the background, Coys had assembled a fine selection of cars that were way out of my league price-wise.

2016 JB General

One lot that caught my attention was this 1971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV and my interest was heightened when I discovered that the original owner was one Rod Stewart. Through buying his records back then I had contributed in some small way with his acquisition of this Italian classic. Every picture tells a story indeed.

2016 JB General

There were dealers all the way through the two halls, with all manner of other goods for sale, including vintage clothing.

2016 JB General

One stand that did get my attention was the fine graphics on display at triplespresso, I am a sucker for the clean lines of this kind of art.

2016 JB General

Was the show worth going to? Not easy to answer, a brisk trade seemed to be going on all round  but there was little of the passion that you can feel at the Rétromobile or Techno Classica. As they would say in The Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” and that may be the factor that I missed. Perhaps I am not part of the target audience.

2016 JB General

One thing that did put a spring in my step was transported both back in time and to and from Wood Green tube in a red Routemaster, fifty years or so have gone since I used to traverse North London in such a vehicle, some things never go out of fashion.

John Brooks, October 2016