A Second Opinion

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Today is the last day of the Ferrari Under the Skin exhibition at the Design Museum in London. I have already had a look at this wonderful collection, motoring art of the highest order.

This week DDC’s resident star photographer, Simon Hildrew, beetled his way to Kensington to catch the show before the curtain came down for the final time.

What a collection of images he captured for us there…………enjoy this spectacle.

John Brooks, April 2018

Design and Conquer

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One of the many benefits of being a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers is their organising of trips to places of automotive interest. Last month it was the turn of the Design Museum in Kensington and we were guests of our gracious hosts, Ferrari UK.

As part of the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Ferrari it was thought a good idea to display this most cherished of Italian marques at the Design Museum in London. The angle would be looking at Ferrari,  the cars, the brand and even the mystique from a design perspective. Thus was “Ferrari: Under the Skin” conceived.

The myth has now overtaken the reality, like a motoring version of Hollywood, it creates and, perhaps satisfies, dreams of those who can afford it.

Ferrari is now a big, profitable part of the Italian economy and also the primary component in the dna of Formula One, no matter what those who say that it could live comfortably without Maranello might assert.

There is an examination of the way that Ferraris were crafted down the decades, from the early days…………

There was a look at how Ferrari impacted the lives of celebrities and stars………….Peter Sellers enjoys the company of a Dino…….and Britt Ekland in the courtyard of the old factory at Maranello.

Our party included the President of the Guild, Nick Mason, captured here in front of his F40.

Evidence of the visual influence of Ferrari was on display all over the walls.

Even a poster for that most unlikely of best supporting actors, the Ferrari 512S, from Steve McQueen’s epic, Le Mans.

In the final analysis it is the cars that we come to pay our respects to, not the collateral material, fascinating as that is.

So here are few personal highlights. This 250 GTO, now owned by Sir Anthony Bamford, has a rich competition heritage with two finishes at the Sebring 12 Hours, victories at Kyalami and Luanda in Angola, plus a fourth place overall in the 1962 Tour de France. It is a beautiful machine, now restored to the colours that it raced in originally for the first owner David Piper.

Unique is a much misunderstood and misused word but it applies to this Testarossa Spider, the only example built by the factory. I looked at this elegant GT a while back HERE

Perhaps the most iconic car on display was #2119GT, the 250 GT SWB first owned by Rob Walker and driven to victory in the 1960 Tourist Trophy at Goodwood by the incomparable Stirling Moss. Moss repeated this success at Brand Hatch later that month. He rounded off the season with victory in Nassau Tourist Trophy against very strong opposition. The car was then acquired by Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour, with Mike Parkes as the lead driver for 1961. Several victories ensued and the year was rounded off by a fine second place in Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, only being beaten by Moss in the latest Rob Walker 250 GT SWB. This most handsome of Ferraris is now owned by Ross Brawn who is generous with showing it to the fans at events such as that at the Design Museum.

While we were at the Design Museum it was announced that the concept of the exhibition will go on the road, to Europe and North America. The run at Kensington comes to an end in the next week or so. So if you missed out on seeing it in London, I strongly suggest you catch it if you can.

John Brooks, April 2018

General Winter

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Since its reintroduction in 2014 The Goodwood Members’ Meeting has become one of the ‘must-do’ events on the motoring calendar. It features all the good bits of its more famous sibling, The Revival, without all the crowds that spoil that occasion, at least for an old duffer like me.

As with everything in life there is a price to pay for such pleasures. Held now in March, the Members’ Meeting is subject to the capricious late winter weather in Sussex. Some years that means sunshine turning the swathes of daffodils decorating the track into a golden ribbon.

This year that delight was not on offer. Instead bitter winds and snow greeted those hardy souls who braved the elements and displayed their stiff upper lips, though whether that was a voluntary state or the work of the climate is open to question.

I declared earlier that the Members’ Meeting was a ‘must-do’ however this year even the offer of a ticket on the eve of the weekend could not tempt me from my warm office. A combination of looming deadlines on a couple of assignments and the prospect of encountering “The Beast from East” ensured that discretion was the better part of valour. No Mentioned in Dispatches from the South Downs for me.

Which is what those who took to the track in F5000 cars on Saturday surely warrant. Bonkers does not even begin to describe this situation, but the show must go on, unlike NASCAR at Martinsville this weekend just gone.

Indeed for all the praise heaped upon the competitors, the real heroes of the weekend were the marshals, track workers, those on towing duty in the car parks, indeed everyone associated with making the event not only happen but making it a one to remember.

One figure that was absent from Goodwood was Henry Hope-Frost, who was tragically killed in a motoring accident a week or so before the event.

Henry was a thoroughly good bloke, the very definition of petrol head, with ‘#fever’ as his trademark. He had been the voice of Goodwood for a number of years and was, and will be, missed by all who frequent the track.

I managed to watch a fair bit of the action thanks to the comprehensive coverage provided by Goodwood on the interweb. Saturday afternoon was spent flicking between that tab on the browser and IMSA TV’s footage of the Sebring 12 Hours. Not sure which I missed the most but that is how the cards fall sometimes.

Highlights of the action…………I am always in awe of the pre-war racers………..the Bolster Cup was like watching a high wire act without the net.

As was the Caracciola Sportwagenrennen…………madness, utter madness but enthralling.

Touring Car hooliganism was on display in the Gerry Marshall Sprint, the old boy would have laughed his head off…………..and ordered another round.

Always eagerly anticipated the demonstration runs featured F5000 and Group 5 era sports cars. That would be worth the cost of the ticket alone, steep though that is.

Personal highlight was the irrepressible Rob Huff in an E-type, displaying all the car control that a World Champion should.

Despite the adverse conditions the 76th Goodwood Members’ Meeting was much enjoyed by all who witnessed it, from the hardy souls who braved the weather to the delicate flowers such as I who gazed at their screens, looking forward to 2019!

John Brooks, March 2018

Enjoy Simon’s fabulous gallery………………….

Excel as Expected

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The classic car and historic racing scenes continue to grow like Topsy. Driven by enthusiasm for the past or speculation for the future, or a combination of both. They are like the Terminator, they cannot be stopped or reasoned with. How long this will go on for is anyone’s guess. But for now let’s enjoy the spectacle.

To cater for this wave of nostalgia a number of shows and events have sprung up in recent years. Some disappear almost as soon as they arrive but one or two survive, grow and thrive. A good example of this group is the London Classic Car Show, now with four editions under its belt at the Excel in Docklands.

In a smart strategic move it joined forces with the Historic Motorsport International thus achieving a broad appeal, covering all the bases.

The show is attractive to the dealers as it is in close proximity to London’s financial centre and the timing is optimal, close to bonus time too.

The ROFGO Collection has been one of the most popular features of shows and events over the past decade. In a recent development there has been a merger with the respected classic dealership, Duncan Hamilton. The collection and the business have relocated to Hampshire and are well positioned to be a major player in this market sector. I am hoping to pay a visit in the near future.

Celebrities seem to play an increasing part of the landscape in our daily lives. Some have more validity than others, and into that category would surely fall Sir Winston Churchill.  Widely regarded as the greatest Englishman of the 20th Century, his profile has been lifted by a recent Oscar-winning movie. Churchill was frequently seen in this Daimler DB18 Drophead Coupé during the years from 1944 to 1949 touring the country.

The car is one of just three survivors of the model and features unique bodywork from the Carlton Carriage Company, though the actor is an optional extra – allegedly.

At the 2017 LCCS there was a fabulous display of Ferraris to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Maranello’s finest, the curation being the work of Joe Macari. For 2018 the theme was less exclusive, being Getaway Cars.  OK the Excel sits somewhere between the ’60s Manors of the Krays and the Richardsons but I cannot be the only one who questioned the taste of this collection. Some of these cars were connected to actual crimes not film or TV make believe.

Perhaps the highlight of this group was the Volvo P1800 that was used in the first series of the British TV show The Saint. Dating back to 1962 this car is highly original, even featuring the number plates used during filming.

The Show was opened by Quentin Wilson and two blokes I had never heard of, celebrity power has its limits.

Mention of Joe Macari brings to mind Ferraris and Maseratis and all manner of Italian exotics but the car that caught my eye on his stand was this 911 GT2. It was dressed up in the livery that it ran at the 1998 Pokka 1000 Kilometres held at Suzuka. It was a familiar sight as Nigel Smith, one of its drivers, was a client back then.

A name from that time that was also a client was Lister. Now under new ownership it launched a new car, the Lister Thunder, at the show. There were claims of 200+mph and 666bhp, certainly it looked muscular, almost on steroids.

Another Jaguar-based special was the elegant XK140 with unique Pinnifarina bodywork, apparently inspired by the legendary Max Hoffman, North American importer of both Volkswagen and BMW during the ’50s and ’60s. Even in such company as this show attracts the XK140 was a standout feature.

Perhaps the biggest star of the show was Nigel Mansell, 1992 Formula One World Champion. He is seen here in conversation with Henry Hope-Frost. Henry was killed in a motoring incident last week, a good man gone way too soon, he will be much missed.

Simon Hildrew was on top form as ever with cameras in hand, so enjoy his stunning work in the following gallery.

John Brooks, March 2018

Peer Review

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Malcolm Cracknell was one of the pioneers of endurance racing coverage on the then new-fangled internet. What set him apart from the throng of wanabees and fans with passes who invaded Media Centres at that time was the fact that he actually had a clue. Crackers understood both racing and people, especially the gang of scoundrels who chose endurance sportscars as their platform. Even after years of enforced retirement he observes the distant paddocks with more acuity than many who actually attend the races. Time spent chewing the fat with him over the phone is never wasted and is generally punctuated by laughter and seasoned with salacious gossip, ancient and modern.

When this SRO book was published last year I asked him to write a review from his own perspective, he was witness to much of the narrative. He did so promptly, which is more than can be said for my performance in posting the piece. So with humble apologies from the Editor for the delay here is the weekend treat.

25 YEARS OF GT RACING

STEPHANE RATEL AND SRO MOTORSPORTS

This is an extraordinary book, in so many ways.In terms of value for money, it has to be a bargain: £75 for a glossy, 406 page volume, packed with superb photographs, suggests to me that it has to be subsidised to some degree.

I’ll add a ‘but’ here though: this needs to be described as a hagiography (a biography that treats its subject with undue reverence).  Stéphane Ratel is largely portrayed as a God-like figure, his SRO the salvation of GT racing – which is certainly true in many ways.

Andrew Cotton tells more than the story of 25 years of GT racing: he begins with Ratel’s tragic childhood and describes the young man’s ‘playboy years’, importing supercars from California to re-sell in Europe at a healthy profit, then organising a ‘Cannonball Run’ in France (Paris to San Tropez) for his wealthy mates, which developed into the Venturi Trophy (1992-4, which saved the company) – and finally, with Jürgen Barth and Patrick Peter, he created the BPR Series.

 

Was that the high point of GT racing in the modern era?  In many ways it probably was – at least in terms of the way it captured the imagination of the public.  But as we know so well, Porsche and then Mercedes initiated a very rapid boom and bust – and Andrew Cotton reveals one (of many) fascinating tales that perhaps had more of an impact on Ratel the businessman than any other.  I won’t spoil it for those of you considering buying the book, but the man who wrote the foreword, one B. C. Ecclestone, was involved – and taught Ratel a very important lesson.

When the FIA GT Championship ‘expired’ at the end of a disappointing 1998 season, only one man was prepared to try and salvage the thing, and the last 19 years have seen Stéphane Ratel and SRO carry it on with varying degrees of success.

1999 was probably the low point, but if you’re determined enough, you can follow all the ups and downs to the present day.  It’s a convoluted tale, but to his credit, Ratel has stuck at it and is to be admired for that.

It’s been a battleground along the way, with GT2s becoming GT1s, three hour races becoming two, N-GTs briefly becoming the headline class – and then (I think this is missing from the book), in August 2007, there was an extraordinary Ratel proposal for the future of GT racing which was so convoluted that I’d need a 1,000 words to explain it.

That didn’t happen, but Ratel does admit that his plan for a GT1 Championship, of one hour races, was a mistake.  Ironically, he’d already discovered what the future should be with his GT3 idea.  Who, among those present at the launch of the FIA GT3 Championship, at a wet Silverstone in April 2006, could have guessed where this was going?

I was astonished to read that over 1,500 GT3 racers have been constructed in the last ten or so years.  Bentley has recently announced that it will ‘only’ build 40 of its latest GT3 racer, compared to the 100 to 200 cars that Audi and Mercedes have built.  Extraordinary figures, all of them.

‘Ratel series’ have expanded across the globe to soak up the demand, and it was intriguing to rediscover how the FIA tag came to be dropped, in favour of a slightly less formal, but more commercial, Blancpain name.

The book is punctuated with interviews / mini-biographies of a huge number of (not always) well known names who have been involved in SRO GT events during the last 25 years – many of whom have fascinating stories to tell.

In conclusion, I would suggest that there are only two things missing from this book.  One would be a results section – but in fairness, there have been so many races, it would need another book to encompass their results.

The other would be any mention of any relationship between SRO and fans of GT racing – but fans don’t seem (with the exception of the Spa 24 Hours) to fit the SRO business model.  Stéphane Ratel provides the cars, it’s up to the circuits to market their events to potential spectators.  But with or without them, GT3 racing just seems to grow and grow.

Malcolm Cracknell, March 2018

Italian Treasures

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The Rétromobile was an affair of the highest order, quality automobiles and automobilia presented in an entertaining and stylish manner. We have been fortunate enough to have the Special Correspondent weave us through his menu of Rare and Interesting and now it is my turn to try and please the readers. Time constraints mean that this will be attempted in smaller chunks rather than as a grand symphony, I trust that this will meet with approval.

There were almost too many highlights to cope with but I will make a start with the fine display of Abarths from the collection of Engelbert Möll. The excuse for this treat was the 110th celebration of Carlo Abarth’s birth, which sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

In a real treasure trove perhaps the highlight for me was the 6 litre V12 engine developed in 1967 to power a prototype at Le Mans and the other endurance classics. In July of that year the CSI, under the bidding of the ACO and without notice, introduced new rules to reduce the engine capacity in the Prototype class to 3 litres for the 1968 season. Despite howls of protest from those in the sport who had invested in the larger engines the French were completely inflexible, never happened before or since. Of course a loophole in the regulations and Ferdinand Piëch’s vision led to the 917/512 years so it was not all bad. The question in my mind is what would this handsome beast have sounded like at full throttle…………..

Enjoy a look round this wonderful exhibition of Italian speed with style.

John Brooks, February 2018

The Judgement of Paris

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Today is a significant day as the Special Correspondent turns 80 although you would never know it to speak to him or to read his wonderful articles. In defiance of convention the Birthday Boy gives us all a present, his thoughts and reflections of the recent Rétromobile. The show is without doubt one of the highlights of the motoring year, the 2018 edition maintained the high standard set by its predecessors. So please enjoy this cornucopia of automotive ‘Rare and Interesting’.

This is a Matra-Bonnet Djet and is the result of Engins Matra taking over the assets of René Bonnet’s small sports car company in 1965. These cars were made initially in Bonnet’s factory at Champigny-sur-Seine before production was transferred to their own plant at Romorantin.

One of the surviving pre-war prototypes of the 2CV Citroën. The car was designed to carry four people and 50 kilos of luggage at 50 km/h in great comfort. Its introduction was delayed by the declaration of war and it was finally presented to the public at the 1948 Paris Salon.

A Talbot Lago, a Coupé America of 1962, and one of the very last of this famous name.

Simca took over the Talbot Lago marque and its factories in 1958 and went on to complete just five more of these elegant coupés, equipping them with their Simca Vedette V8 engines.

With a 4-cylinder 951 c.c. engine, this Renault Type KG1 was the company’s response to the big popular demand for cars after the First World War. The early Renaults were characterised like this one by their scuttle-mounted radiators and it was only at the 1929 Paris Salon that policy changed and their cars henceforth had their radiators mounted at the front. A wide choice of bodywork was available and this cabriolet dates from 1923.

A one-off Siata built for 500 c.c. class records. It is based on an upgraded Fiat Topolino chassis with the engine reduced to 488 c.c. The bodywork was by Motto of Turin and Borrani made special wheels.

First seen at the Geneva Show in 1947, the Maserati A6 1500 was the company’s first true production road car. The elegant body was by Pinin Farina and the car was in the vanguard of the evolution of the GT car. An example, in the hands of Franco Bordoni, won the 1500 class in the May 1949 Coppa Inter Europa at Monza, the first race for GT cars. This car dates from 1949.

The Renault Type A G was the first proper Parisian taxi. From 1905 it gained in popularity despite customers reluctantly giving up the horse-drawn equivalents. It achieved immortal fame as the type of Renault which became known as the “Taxis de la Marne” when General Joffre needed urgent reinforcements to repel the German attack threatening Paris in 1914. It had a 2-cylinder engine of 1206 c.c.

A 1912 Mercer Type 35 Raceabout. This car was the work of Finlay Robertson Porter and it put the company of Trenton, New Jersey, on the American motoring map. It had a 4916 c.c. T–head engine and was capable of 75 m.p.h. It was often raced and would usually be driven to and from events. Two raced in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, finishing in 12th and 15th  positions; in 1912 one came 3rd while a year later a Mercer finished 2nd. Its great rival was the Stutz Bearcat and their respective fans would taunt each other with remarks such as “There’s no car worser than a Mercer” and “You’ve got to be nuts to drive a Stutz”!

This 1950 Jaguar XK120  was raced privately in period and came 9th and 2nd in class in the first Goodwood Nine Hours race in August 1952.

A Peugeot Type 176. This model was introduced in 1925 and was made in the factory at Issy-les- Moulineaux in southern Paris. It had a 4-cylinder sleeve-valve engine of 2493 c.c., being classified as a 12CV. The body was by Ets Charles Felber. During the Twenties Peugeot used sleeve-valve engines for all their larger capacity models.

There is no longer any trace of the original Citroën 2CV Barbot so this is a replacement – its history is too interesting to ignore. It was the dream of the engineer Pierre Barbot to transform a 2CV into a competition car – he cut off the roof, shortened the chassis, lowered the suspension, changed the aerodynamics and modified the engine extensively while reducing the capacity to less than 350 c.c. to qualify for records in Class J. On the 27th September 1953 Barbot and Vinatier father and son, aided by Yacco oils, drove the car at Montlhéry for 12 hours at an average of 90,960 km/h and for 24 hours at an average of 85,02 km/h, breaking 9 international records. Jean Vinatier also drove the car in the 1953 Bol d’Or at Montlhéry,  car no. 80, finishing in 19th position and winning its class. Interestingly in homage to the records, this replica ran on the track at Montlhéry in 2016 for 6 consecutive hours at an average of 104,31 km/h; among the drivers was a certain Jean Vinatier.

Velam was the Isetta bubble car made under licence in France and the company built this special car with a 236 c.c. motor to tackle records in Class K ( under 250 c.c.). At Montlhéry in 1957 drivers Bianchi and Peslier won seven international records including 24 hours at an average of 109,662 km/h. This is the actual car that achieved those successes.

This is one of two Guépards built in Paris between 1952 and 1953 by S.E.R. It is the car for Paul Bobet and has a tuned Renault 4CV engine and originally a barchetta body by Pichon.

 

It raced in the 1954 Bol d’Or with Bobet finishing 22nd and after an accident Bobet decided to have it re-bodied with the intention of making an attempt on the world records for the 750 class.

 

Marcel Riffard designed the new body which was similar to those he had done for Panhard’s Le Mans cars; it was made by Heuliez. The car took on the new name of Riffard-Renault. In 1956 it was raced at Montlhéry but again it was involved in an accident.

At the 1927 Paris Salon Chenard et Walcker presented two new sporting cars: this one, the ”Tank” Type Y8, a 1500 c.c. with an i.o.e. engine conceived by the engineer Toutée. It was based on the very successful racing “tanks” of 1925 and although a road car it was to be found in private hands on race tracks (one ran in the 1931 Spa 24 Hour race) and in the hugely popular Concours d’Elégances.

On the neighbouring stand a Chenard-Sénéchal, a roadster with more conventional body with cycle wings – the Y7 “Torpille” which used the same engine. In 1928 the Sénéchal name was dropped ( Chenard had been making the popular Sénéchals for Robert Sénéchal in the preceding years).

This Y7 saloon was 4,000 Francs more expensive than the roadster and did not find public approval!

Industrialist Jérôme Donnet bought the Zedel concern in 1919 and produced cars of conventional design to become France’s fifth largest car manufacturer by 1927. He then acquired the Vinot Deguingand company with their factory at Nanterre which he expanded considerably and inherited a 4CV design which he produced as the Donnette. This is unusual in having a twin cylinder 740 c.c. 2-stroke engine designed by the engineer Marcel Violet, the acknowledged master of the 2-stroke cycle. Possibly about 100 only were made and this car is thought to date from c.1932.

Marcel Violet presented his cyclecar in 1924 with a 496 c.c. air-cooled flat twin 2-stroke engine. It scored numerous successes, claiming in 1925 alone the Championship of France, two world records and winning all the major races in the 500 c.c. category. This car dates from 1925.

Think of Amilcars and we tend to remember the sporting CC, CS, CGS and CGSS but over the years Amilcar had developed a range of tourers and at the 1928 Paris Salon the Model M was introduced. This Model M3 came in October 1931 and had a lowered chassis, powered by a 4-cylinder side-valve engine of 1244 c.c.

This strange looking machine is a Dolo. It was first seen at the Paris Salon in October 1947 and subsequently at Brussels and Geneva. It had a 592 c.c. horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine driving the front wheels and all-round independent suspension by torsion bars. It had a rigid box type chassis and the roof was a “plexiglass” dome, a new material at that time. During 1948 two cars travelled across France, visiting fairs etc. This came to be stored under the Autodrome at Montlhéry and was rediscovered in 1967.

The Deep Sanderson 301 Coupé which made the marque’s first (of three) appearance at Le Mans in 1963. It used Mini mechanicals set transversely amidships (before the Miura!) and was driven by Chris Lawrence and Chris Spender before being flagged-off for covering insufficient distance.

TAILPIECE

Fernand Maratuech was an inventor/constructer who lacked the means to build his own aeroplane so he made this “aeroplane without a wing”. He used a 250 c.c. single-cylinder motor-cycle engine and covered more than 5,000 kilometres in his 3-wheeler.

David Blumlein, February 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Blue Touch Paper

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The first rays of sunshine arrive from the East, over the Atlantic. For those still circulating at Daytona International Speedway it signals that they have made it through the dark………the Chequered Flag is almost in sight……

Not for everyone though, some will suffer the heartbreak of a late problem at the Rolex 24. Daylight is visible in the sky as James Weaver punches onto the Tri-Oval banking after the Bus Stop at NASCAR Three. Under acceleration the Ford V8 emits a blue flame, a signal confirming the damage to an exhaust valve, dramatically reducing power. A 27 lap lead over the pack would evaporate, as following the demise of the Cadillac SRP challenge, the Viper/Vette GT train gained a handful of seconds every lap. The clocked ticked away, the gap shrank, the maths played out and the inevitable happened, victory slipped from the Poughkeepsie team’s grasp. The only consolation to “the death of a thousand cuts” would come later in the season when the 45 points scored by James Weaver for staggering round to fourth place would give him the inaugural Grand-Am Drivers’ Title.

John Brooks, January 2018

Out of the Limelight

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Back in the last century, the lights were not turned on at night in Daytona International Speedway during the sessions that the Rolex competitors ran in. When it rained as it did for the Test Days in early January ’99 matters headed to the dark side. However with a bit of luck you could get something different. This slide needs to be scanned again but it gives something of the flavour of standing on the gas out of NASCAR Two down the back straight and seeing the Bus Stop accelerating towards you, it took more than a bit of intestinal fortitude to keep poking the bear. That’s why I had a camera in my hand rather than a steering wheel of a Riley & Scott.

Let’s hope that these conditions remain in the past while the 2018 Rolex rumbles on.

John Brooks, January 2018

Analogue Racing

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Twenty years ago this week I jumped on a plane and headed for Florida, destination Daytona International Speedway, It was the first phase in what I laughingly now refer to as a career in motorsport. Since the early ’80s I had combined a real paying job with the weekend vice of shooting races as a member of the media. I had witnessed the final stages of Ayrton Senna’s pre-F1 career, watched with awe as Group C flowered and was eventually destroyed by dark forces and followed the re-birth of endurance racing in the ’90s. I was hooked.

Now it was time to leave behind the comfortable existence of a monthly salary, an chunky bonus most years and a new BMW 7 or 8 series every four to six months. I was going to be a full time motorsport photographer following in the footsteps of those guys I knew in F1 who had made it to the Majors. They were doing very well, better than me or so they would have you believe. What they did not tell me was the the bit about the pain and penury, the uncertainty of where the next job or cheque would come from and the sheer grind of endless travelling for a living. All this while trying to keep clients and the bank manager happy.

No matter, I was gung-ho on my way to Daytona. My flight and a fee were being paid for by the charming Laurence Pearce of Lister Cars fame, it was always going to be like this I told myself…………roaming the planet on someone else’s dollar, creating art………Terry Donovan eat your heart out………..

I had shot in the USA the previous year when following the FIA GT circus to Sebring and Laguna Seca, now I was about to find out how things were really done in America.

The 1998 Rolex 24  was a race run in a time of great upheaval and transition, both on and off the track. On a broader scale the world was shifting on its axis from analogue to digital, the new-fangled internet and email was here to stay, and old farts like me would have to get used to it, embrace it even, Dot-Com was the buzz word on everyone’s lips. A new century beckoned and a totally unjustified optimism was all around, as if we had all bought into Donald Fagan’s vision:

A just machine to make big decisions,
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision,
We’ll be clean when their work is done,
We’ll be eternally free, yes, and eternally young

On the tracks the world was also going through a revolution, especially in the rarefied arena of endurance racing in North America. In the post-Andy Evans era, Daytona in 1998 was the first battleground in the looming conflict between the traditional powers, aka the France family, and the new broom, Don Panoz, controller of three tracks, and his plans for sportscar racing in North America that would evolve into the American Le Mans Series. We all know how that turned out in the end.

For a foot-soldier such as I this all seemed remote, all I could see was the beautiful Florida sunshine, a real contrast to the grey, soggy conditions back home. At the track there was the amazing banking, there were also a lot of fences and gates to negotiate and even more security guards to deal with, all dressed in blue, seemingly  with an agenda all of their own.

On track the cars were something of a throwback, the favourites for victory came from the various Ferrari 333 SP teams or the Ford-powered Dyson Racing Riley & Scott MK III pair. These fine cars would have been nowhere if faced by the top practitioners in Europe such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK LM or the Toyota GT-One who were in a different league of performance and, of course, budget.

Indeed from the European scene three Porsche 911 GT1s, a brace of Panoz GTR-1s and a Lister Storm GTL were on the Rolex 24 GT1 entry list creating a problem for the local officials who wished for the top step of the podium to be the property of the prototype class, cunningly renamed Can-Am. What relationship these cars had with the Group 7 legends of yesteryear was unclear but it made the PR guys feel warm and everyone pretended that it was absolutely logical.

Another PR canard doing the rounds at the race was the insistence that the 1998 Rolex 24 would be a re-run of the Ford v Ferrari battles of the ’60s, Phil Space and his mates in the old press rooms would have been proud. Like the Can-Am non-connection no one was fooled but we were all too polite to mention it.

Perhaps the whole paddock that year would have wanted to see Gianpiero “Momo” Moretti finally achieve a win at Daytona. He had first raced the 24 Hours at the tri-oval in the 1970 edition driving a Ferrari 512S no less. 28 years and fourteen attempts later he knew that time was against him but 1998 was as good an opportunity as ever. As Momo put it at the time, “With all the money I have spent at Daytona I could have bought a thousand Rolexes easily, but I wanted to win this race.”

His Ferrari 333 SP was run by the vastly experienced Kevin Doran and he had a stellar line-up with Mauro Baldi, Arie Luyendyk and Didier Theys, it was now or never.

Joining Momo on the grid, though a few rows back was another driver who had raced in the 1970 Daytona 24 Hours, Brian Redman. Back then Redman was a key part of the JW Automotive squad and the 1970 race was eagerly anticipated as it would see the first full contest between the Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. Brian achieved the bizarre feat of finishing both first and second in that race as he drove the winning car of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen for a couple of stints while waiting for his own 917 to have its clutch replaced. The Finn was placed on the naughty step for ignoring team orders to slow down while enjoying a huge lead, his punishment was to witness Redman pounding round in his car.

In 1998 Redman joined 1990-Le Mans winner Price Cobb in a Porsche 993 Carrera RSR but there would be no fairy-tale for the veteran Brit, a broken gearbox on Saturday brought his career in 24 hour races to an end.

 

Opposition in Can-Am Ferrari ranks came principally from the Scandia Racing example crewed by Yannick Dalmas, Bob Wollek Max Papis and Ron Fellows. Dalmas took pole with a 1:39.195 lap, just shy of 130 mph average speed, this was a serious effort at winning outright.

Doyle-Risi Racing had left their 1996 Daytona-winning Oldsmobile-powered Riley & Scott behind in favour of a 333 SP, backing up Wayne Taylor behind the wheel were Fermin Velez and Eric van de Poele, another serious contender for overall victory.

There were arguably five serious Riley & Scott contenders, all Ford powered. Two from Rob Dyson’s crack outfit based at Poughkeepsie. #16 for James Weaver, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Dorsey Schroeder as well as the Guv’nor, seen here at the wheel.

In #20 Rob was joined by Butch Leitzinger, John Paul Jr., and Perry McCarthy. Rob was keen to repeat his Daytona triumph of the previous year, his cars were always in contention down in Florida, in 1998 they started from 4th and 5th places.

Henry Camferdam enlisted Scott Schubot and Johnny O’Connell in his R & S MKIII, they started at a respectable sixth spot.

Michael Colucci ran a pair of Rileys in association with turkey-magnate Jim Matthews. Matthews was partnered in #39 by the ‘dream team’ of multiple champions Derek Bell and Hurley Haywood plus David Murry.

#36 had Eliseo Salazar, Jim Pace and Barry Waddell on driving duty with Matthews hedging his bets as an entry in both cars.

Back at the turn of the century some frankly weird contraptions would show up and ‘race’ at Daytona during the 24 Hours. This pioneering spirit was very much in the ‘run what you brung’ tradition and is somewhat missed in these politically and corporately correct times. In 1998 the Chevrolet Cannibal was oddball of the year, in fact there grounds for thinking that it would be oddball of any year.

1998 also saw the Mosler Raptor take to the tracks, designed it would appear by Captain Nemo, with the distinctive split screen. At home at Turn Three or 20,000 leagues under the sea…………….

Other left field entries would include the Keiler KII which was a development of a Chevron B71. Powered by the ubiquitous Ford V8 it was a good example of the can-do engineering spirit that ran through the North American racing scene in the last decade of the century.

As mentioned earlier the GT1 class should have provided stiff opposition to the leading prototypes. However the powers that be decided that a Can-Am car would triumph, so the regulations were changed, not for the first, or the last, time in Volusia County. The Panoz pair with an all-star line up of Eric Bernard, David Brabham and Jamie Davies in #99 and Andy Wallace, Scott Pruett, Doc Bundy with 1987 World Champion, Raul Boesel, in #5 should have been rattling the Ferraris and the Dyson squad in the speed stakes. However………….

The Porsche 911 GT1 trio should also have been there or there abouts, but USRRC, no doubt under instructions from above, had other ideas. Ballast was added and there were smaller restrictors if the GT1 had carbon brakes or electronic engine management – hello the computer age! – the final cut was reducing the fuel tank size from 100 to 80 litres to match the Can-Am cars. It was all a bit farcical and it fuelled the rivalry between Panoz and what was to become Grand-Am. The ‘not invented here’ attitude was alive and flourishing.

There was the usual pre-race ballyhoo, speeches, songs, prayers and parades. Former heroes rumbled round the track at a dignified pace, provoking this cop to bellow incomprehensible instructions to move which were largely drowned out by the engine noises, this despite being in a place that was allowed by our passes……….my way or the highway…………..it was easier to leave than try and argue.

 

A full grid of 74 cars took the start under blue skies. As I have learned with 24 Hour races, and the Rolex in particular, everyone heads off for the first corner with optimism in their hearts but it does not take long for the cracks to appear in even the best racers. One by one the favourites are hobbled to a greater or lesser degree, Daytona International Speedway has a deserved and hard earned reputation for being cruel to the aspirations of racers and their teams, the 1998 Rolex 24 would be no exception to this rule.

The race ran to plan for the leaders till the second hour. A Full Course Caution was spotted by Andy Wallace in the Panoz as he headed into Nascar Four and he lifted off just as James Weaver’s R & S was following him a full pelt, the resulting collision effectively ended both cars chances though both plugged away after extensive repairs, neither was running at the finish.

Doyle-Risi was next to stumble. First a pit official waved Eric van de Poele out of the pits even though the exit was closed, then the mistake was compounded by neglecting to inform Race Control, a two lap penalty was the consequence. Shortly after night fell the Belgian crashed out at the West Horseshoe, knocking out both himself and the Ferrari from the race.

The lead was taken on by the Scandia Ferrari with the #20 Dyson car giving chase. Around 04.00 on Sunday advantage switched to the latter as the 333 SP suffered first a sticking throttle, then the transmission caught fire, another leading contender was out.

This left Dyson on target for a successive victory but the Racing Gods had other ideas. The engine started to give concern and with about three hours to go matters came to a head with the car being forced into the pits while smoking and leaking fluids………..another dream dashed.

While Dyson were suffering despair the Moretti Ferrari was now in a lead that it would not surrender. Momo took the final stint, he had earned that right the hard way.

There were emotional scenes on the podium, a dream had come true, Momo had his Rolex. The Italian veteran would have an Annus Mirabilis in 1998 taking victory at both the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Watkins Glen Six Hours, throw in a top ten finish at Le Mans and it was time to leave the stage.

What of the other places? In spite of the best efforts of the USRRC to slow the GT1 entries they were there at the Chequered Flag, surviving the carnage that had engulfed the Can-Am runners. The Porsche 911 GT1 Evo of Rohr Motorsport finished second some eight laps down on the winner.

This was despite an all-star driver line up, almost an embarrassment of riches: Allan McNish, Jörg Müller, Danny Sullivan, Uwe Alzen and Dirk Müller enjoy the applause but no Rolex watches despite the podium and the class win, still rankles with a Wee Scot or so I am told. Not that any of us ever remind him, oh no sireee…………

Third spot was occupied by another Porsche 911 GT1, the Larbre Compétiton entry of Christophe Bouchut, Andre Ahrle, Patrice Goueslard and Carl Rosenblad………….a top class effort, much as we have come to expect from Jack Leconte’s outfit.

Porsche also took GT2 honours with the evergreen Franz Konrad guiding his squadron of gentlemen drivers to victory in the 911 GT2. Toni Seiler, Wido Rössler, Peter Kitchak and Angelo Zadra all did their bit in this fine result.

The final class winners were PTG and their BMW M3. Bill Auberlen, Boris Said, Peter Cunningham and Marc Duez climbed the top step of their podium at ‘The World Center of Racing’ to receive their trophies, no false modesty at DIS.

The eternally youthful Bill will line up for the factory BMW outfit this weekend, as will his fellow class winner from 1998, Dirk Müller. Dirk will be hoping that his Ford overcomes Munich’s finest.

What did I learn from the experience of my first Rolex? Well like most Europeans who go racing to North America I had the idea that we were more professional in Europe, with our F1, our Le Mans, our traditions. I soon realised that was complete bollocks, the driving, engineering and every other aspect of motor sport on that side of the Atlantic was the equal of anything over here. Just look at the record of Penske, Pratt & Miller, Chip Ganassi and see the facts as they are.

If some of the officialdom was dodgy or the decisions were difficult to understand then consider some of the horror stories perpetrated over here. If security was inclined to make things up on the hoof, then recall dealing with Belgian police, the CRS or any of the private security firms now involved……….I rest my case. It certainly opened my eyes and made my decision to follow the ALMS in the early years a certainty.

Did I learn anything else? Well don’t go drinking with Julian Bailey in an airport bar, we almost missed the flight home as we got well refreshed. We picked up the last call and boarded the plane to jeers of those who knew us, I think I slept well that flight. It was the first chapter in a grand adventure…………..maybe I am due a new one soon.

 

John Brooks, January 2018