Category Archives: Race Reflections

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“25 Or 6 To 4”

The internet is a wondrous thing, every day some fresh delight is discovered on the screen. A few weeks or so ago, I had this excellent piece in from our old friend Janos Wimpffen, the Sage of Seattle. It describes a true “back our roots” endeavour, the Thunderhill 25. Enjoy…………..

Never Flagging

Never Flagging

Welcome to the ultimate “run what you brung” endurance race. Set in the desert hills just above the Sacramento Valley and about 100 miles north and east of the Bay Area, this 2.86-mile rolling 15-turn course has hosted this wacky twice round the clock + 1 hour club event since 2003, and a 12-hour variation before that. It has grown in stature since then, adding a smattering of quasi-works entries and a growing list of pro drivers. However, it has done so without ever compromising a casual feel that is the antithesis of Daytona and Le Mans. Press credentials?—you don’t need no stinking press credentials, show up, sign the release, and wander the paddock. Got a team to enter? Wad up some coat hangers into a roll bar and bring your car, we’ll find a class for it. Well ok, it’s not that casual, but you get the idea.

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The race is sanctioned by NASA, not the people who run the Space Station, but rather the National Auto Sport Association, a growing group that has given the rather stuffy SCCA a competitive run with a mix of track days, timed runs, and wheel-to-wheel series across numerous regional divisions. The Thunderhill 25 is the club’s centerpiece event. The track’s California location means that even with an early December date, mild weather can be expected. Such was not the case with the 2013 edition. A lingering cold front hung over the west coast, bringing heavy rain to the more southerly San Joaquin Valley, snow in the surrounding Mendocino hills, and very cold but clear weather in and around the nearby town of Willows. The long December night assured hours run at or below freezing temperatures.

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The 60-car entry was divided into six classes. The fastest, ESR, consisted of two Suzuki powered Radicals, a supremely fast Wolf-Ford, a Norma-BMW, a Spec Racer Ford, a Mazda powered special, and two strange homemade tubeframe open cars built around BMW components—sort of a FrankenBMW mated with the old Cannibal of WSC days.

Big Name, Big Hope. The extremely fast but highly fragile sports-racers have rarely survived long at Thunderhill. The addition little Al and even littler Al was not enough for the Wolf as its engine went out while fighting for the lead.

Big Name, Big Hope. The extremely fast but highly fragile sports-racers have rarely survived long at Thunderhill. The addition little Al and even littler Al was not enough for the Wolf as its engine went out while fighting for the lead.

While rising star Ivan Bellarosa was the fast man in the No. 52 Wolf, and ultimately set the pole time, two of his teammates represented one of the most famous families in American motor racing—Al Unser, Jr., and his son, Al III. The Norma had Randy Pobst, Michael Valiante, and Brian Frisselle on the roster while the other Davidson Racing entry, a Ford powered coupe called the DR, had Burt Frisselle and Mark Wilkins, names familiar to most sports car fans.
The DR was actually in the ES class which consisted of a mix of closed top prototypes, proper GTs, and the hottest of the touring car brigade. Burt Frisselle put the No. 16 DR Eagle on the class pole, followed by another American iron V8 car, the Superlite SLC with Michael Skeen leading the charge. Next up was the No. 00 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup entered jointly by Award Motorsports and all-around GT man Pierre Ehret. They were defending champions and were crewed by several people fresh from Flying Lizard Motorsports. Tyler McQuarrie, Memo Gidley, Vic Rice and Lizard crew chief Tommy Sadler were among the drivers.

Early Christmas Present. It was a low key family and friends affair, made festive for the season. The Bay Area based Acura overcame some wheel and suspension issues to finish a fine second in a very competitive class.

Early Christmas Present. It was a low key family and friends affair, made festive for the season. The Bay Area based Acura overcame some wheel and suspension issues to finish a fine second in a very competitive class.

ES was a most spectacular mix of cars. Three older Porsches and a pair of BMWs represented the more conventional entries. Lexus USA made a foray into endurance racing with an IS F while an Audi TT RS from German based Rotek Racing was one of several international entries at the 2013 race. Another car from far flung regions was the No. 11 Seat Leon Supercopa of the Aussie-Kiwi consortium, Motorsport Services. They have been regulars at such 24 races as Dubai and Barcelona. SCCA World Challenge entrants GMG brought an Audi R8 LMS to round out the most competitive cars in the ES class. To this must be added an only at Thunderhill entry, the No. 66 Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck. It is actually a 13-year old tubeframe chassis built for short track ovals and gradually modified to run reasonably well on road courses. Another oddity was an ancient Mazda RX-3, running an early 1980s vintage high-end 12A two-rotor motor. A Panoz Esperante and another V8 powered prototype coupe, the DP look-alike Factory Five, completed the class.

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The contents of the remaining classes were a bit closer to normal, although there too the Thunderhill quirkiness could be seen. The starters in the E0 class were all BMW sedans with a Mustang Boss 302 tossed in for good measure. Several Acuras, Lexus, and a Honda S2000 populated E1. Strangest in this group was another car built for ovals, a tubeframe Camaro. The strongest factory presence was also in E1 where three Mazda 6 diesels were in the mix. These were stock production cars unlike the SpeedSource built cars that ran in Grand-Am during 2013. Mazdaspeed billed it as two dealer cars versus a single factory entry. They also had an express target of going the distance on one set of tires. As a result their lap times were as conservative as one could imagine. The drivers tended to only use the top two gears, enabling the diesel’s fine torque to gain momentum.

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There were four privateer Mazdas in the E2 class. These include two later generation Miatas and two rotary powered cars, an RX-8 and a RX-7. Another international entry garnered considerable attention. It was the Spoon Racing Honda CR-Z hybrid. The crew came mostly from Japan’s endurance series, Super Taikyu and had veteran Naoki Hattori as the lead driver plus Japanese drifting champion Daijiro Yoshihara learning how not to slide a car. Mazda Miatas are historically the single most popular model at the Thunderhill 25 Hours and all but one of the nine starters in the E3 class was a popular MX-5. The outlier was a Honda Fit.

Thunderhills Indeed. The Fantasy Junction Acura heads downhill on the back portion of the course. Despite some cloudy periods, there was no natural thunder in the cold, dry hills.

Thunderhills Indeed. The Fantasy Junction Acura heads downhill on the back portion of the course. Despite some cloudy periods, there was no natural thunder in the cold, dry hills.

The weekend schedule had open testing on Thursday and a long free practice session on Friday. During these periods there were any number of extra cars circulating. Most of the Miata teams had spare cars while cars from the western regional Radical series were employed to give extra seat time to their team drivers.

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A single 30-minute qualifying period the night before the race decided the grid. It took place into sunset so that relatively few teams took it seriously for speed as they were mostly intent on night time settings. A good set of headlights are supremely important at Thunderhill as when the sun goes down the desert is well and truly dark—and very, very cold.

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Bellarosa’s time in the Wolf of 1:37.662 was not only the fastest overall, but nearly 5 seconds clear of all rivals. Burt Frisselle in the Davidson Racing DR also had nearly the same gap on his ES class rivals, the Superlite being second fastest. The fastest “production” car was in tenth overall, the No. 86 tubeframe Camaro driven by California oval track man, Mike David. The Fantasy Junction racing Acura of Spencer Trenery was nearly nine seconds back, second in the E1 class. The remaining three classes had much narrower gaps between first and second. The Pure Performance BMW of Brett Strom edged a similar M3, while the newest of the rotaries, the Team RDR Mazda RX-8 of Dennis Holloway edged the No. 7 BMW in E2. Somewhat predictably, the closest contest was in the near-spec E3 class where the No. 05 Miata of Sonny Watanasirisuk was less than a second ahead of the identical No. 35 Spare Parts Racing Mazda.
One pre-race favorite that missed qualifying was the No. 08 Audi R8 LMS. Drew Regitz backed into a wall early during practice. The damage at first seemed severe but a long thrash revealed that only some suspension components and bodywork needed replacing on the left rear. Alex Welch was able to make the start from the back of the grid.

More or Less Equals.  Three V8-powered prototypes lead a trio of Porsches, representing the top of the grid at the start. Behind them is the eventual class winning Radical and the overall winning Audi.

More or Less Equals. Three V8-powered prototypes lead a trio of Porsches, representing the top of the grid at the start. Behind them is the eventual class winning Radical and the overall winning Audi.

A relatively balmy 41 degrees F greeted the starting field. The 11:00 o’clock starting procedure is a bit unusual in that in consists of one pace lap that returns via pit lane, then another standard formation lap, and finally the green flag. Even before the start there was trouble with the Norma. Brian Frisselle brought it in with an oil leak. Several more stops ensued before the engine expired. Another quick runner, Mike David in the Camaro, also became a chronic early pit caller. Their clutch linkage problems would be solved after some delays.
It has become somewhat axiomatic at Thunderhill that the prototypes will run clear of the production cars in the early going but then fade and retire before yielding to production type cars. At least one of these predictions nearly came true in the opening lap when Ivan Bellarosa spun at Turn 1 of Lap 1—a near repeat of a year earlier.

Extreme Endurance Spirit. The PTG (yes, that PTG) entered Factory Five quasi-DP looking prototype caught fire on the four lap of the race. Any sane team would have gone home and warmed up. But at Thunderhill sanity parks at the gate and the team spent over 20 hours rebuilding the car, finishing the race just a tad behind the leaders.

Extreme Endurance Spirit. The PTG (yes, that PTG) entered Factory Five quasi-DP looking prototype caught fire on the four lap of the race. Any sane team would have gone home and warmed up. But at Thunderhill sanity parks at the gate and the team spent over 20 hours rebuilding the car, finishing the race just a tad behind the leaders.

The Wolf recovered at the tail of the field while Mike Skeen slipped by into the lead with the Superlite. However, he either couldn’t or didn’t hold off a charge by Burt Frisselle and on lap 4 the No. 16 DR took the lead. Less than 8 minutes in came the first full-course caution. Another prototype, the No. 4 Factory Five of Davy Jones started an internal barbecue in the engine compartment at Turn 10. Incredibly, the team attempted to rebuild the car, awaiting a new engine to be shipped in from Stockton while rewiring most of the rear portion of the car. They returned to the race at 10:30 on Sunday, meaning that their third lap clocked in at about 22-1/2 hours—a true zombie effort.
Almost simultaneous to the fire, Ryan O’Connor ground to a halt with the Retro Racing RX-3. It was towed in for the first of two engine changes to its little rotary—tows and motor changes are allowed in NASA space. By the way, their team is retro in more ways than one. The team’s strategy guru is Jerry Hull, who in the early 80s was the crew chief for IMSA GTU champion Dave Kent’s Racing Beat Mazda team.

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Two cars effectively started the race 30 minutes late, the throttle challenged No. 86 Camaro and the No. 44 BMW E46 of V. j. Mirzayan which was unable to fire up on the grid. The team was clueless as to why, but suddenly it started running like nothing happened, until later it died as if it never ran—the mysteries of auto electronics. Cooling system problems would eventually kill the car—ironic given the frigid weather.

Winter becomes Eclectic. These were just two of the weirder entrires. The open top pseudo BMW was one of two similar homebuilt cars—completed only a week or so before the race. The Silverado pickup led for many hours in 2012. Neither car finished.

Winter becomes Eclectic. These were just two of the weirder entrires. The open top pseudo BMW was one of two similar homebuilt cars—completed only a week or so before the race. The Silverado pickup led for many hours in 2012. Neither car finished.

Two cars were genuine non-starters, both with engine maladies. The No. 19 Lang Racing BMW M3 team went home while several of the drivers from the No. 21 N1 Racing Lexus IS300 switched to the team’s No. 79 IS250
Malcolm Niall pitted the Down Under Seat early on. The team would henceforth have a mostly backsliding race of good charges interspersed with long stops. It was a somewhat better saga for Alex Welch in the Audi R8. It was generally forward progress from the back of the field, with several minor delays along the way. The most remarkable recovery was by the Wolf, up to second overall by the 40 minute mark.

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Bellarosa remained on a tear and took back the lead on Lap 19 after turning in a fast round of 1:39.660. He remained in first through to the end of his scheduled stint, handing over to team owner Miles Jackson. This handed the lead back to the Superlite, which was driven in succession by Darrell Anderson, Tim R. Bell, and Chris Durbin.

The Frostbite 25. Keeping warm was the main priority all weekend. The Facotry 48 Radical strikes a pose during practice. It finished second in the sports-racing class, with only three of seven starters making it to the flag.

The Frostbite 25. Keeping warm was the main priority all weekend. The Facotry 48 Radical strikes a pose during practice. It finished second in the sports-racing class, with only three of seven starters making it to the flag.

Another prototype, the No. 48 Radical began a series of unscheduled stops, compounded with the first of several penalty box visits for passing under the yellow. NASA rules are quite strict about transgressions with each subsequent violation incurring ever longer sentences. It became routine by about the 4-5 hour mark to see cars held for as long as 10 minutes at the end of pit lane.
The No. 22 may have been an ersatz BMW, but it suffered from a problem very typically associated with the rear-wheel drive marque, a broken differential. It would later stop with the same problem during the night hours. A more standard BMW, the No. 33 Bavarian Tuning Motorsport M3 of Billy Maher had terminal misfire problems, completing only a handful of laps across several hours. There was much discouragement within the Fresch Motorsport team (No. 32 BMW 325is). One driver was a no-show and they were unable to close negotiations with two other drivers to join them. With only Thomas Lepper and Jarrett Freeman, Jr. left on the roster, they completed a few stints and then packed up.

ALMS Memory Lane. Here’s a tribute to Don Panoz. Thanks for bringing us 15 years of some of America’s finest sports car racing. Like this Esperanate, it was not always perfect, but it was fun.

ALMS Memory Lane. Here’s a tribute to Don Panoz. Thanks for bringing us 15 years of some of America’s finest sports car racing. Like this Esperanate, it was not always perfect, but it was fun.

The Panoz became another paddock dweller, replacing the clutch slave cylinder. They also fell afoul of the circuit’s strict noise limitation (a frequent issue for several V8 powered cars).
The No. 16 DR began a long series of woes, including a broken exhaust, a split c.v. joint, and a collapse of the rear wing assembly. It then began to regularly toss alternator belts. Well into the night the Davidson Racing team finally threw in the towel, with both of their entries (the Norma was the other) meeting their maker.

Old Time GT Racing. A tube frame Camaro is dicing with the Flying Lizard run Porsche. No. 86 was a short-track racer converted to road courses and was fast in between long bouts of endless problems. The Pierre Ehret driven Porsche was the 2012 winner and led again for several hours before retiring at half-distance with a broken gearbox.

Old Time GT Racing. A tube frame Camaro is dicing with the Flying Lizard run Porsche. No. 86 was a short-track racer converted to road courses and was fast in between long bouts of endless problems. The Pierre Ehret driven Porsche was the 2012 winner and led again for several hours before retiring at half-distance with a broken gearbox.

The No. 68 Mazda Miata had but two listed drivers, Bill Brown and Tony Heyer. They are Thunderhill 25 perennials and epitomize the wackiness of the race. The team’s “strategy” is to race till sunset, and then head into town for a leisurely steak dinner. Then after a nightcap it was time to curl up at the motel. Refreshed following a shower, the ultra-civilized duo saunter back to the track in the hills an hour or so before sunrise and finish the race. Brown noted, “We usually finish mid-pack without really trying.” This year was a bit different. The wheel hub broke out on the course and the team realized that repairs may require them to miss their dinner reservations. They knew their priorities, a convivial supper and slumber took precedence over continuing in the race.
Three short safety car periods came in succession before 15:00, six hours elapsed time. Each was for retrieving various stranded cars. Al Unser, Jr. took over the leading Wolf just before 15:00 and immediately following the last of these neutralizations set the race’s fast lap at 1:37.789. The legend hadn’t lost his touch.

One Less. The Mazda Miata MX-5 is the single most popular production based racer in the world and they made up a good percentage of the entry at Thunderhill. Slow but reliable—well, ok, not this one.

One Less. The Mazda Miata MX-5 is the single most popular production based racer in the world and they made up a good percentage of the entry at Thunderhill. Slow but reliable—well, ok, not this one.

The friendly intra-Mazdaspeed contest swung in favor of the two dealer cars when the No. 70 factory entry had to be towed back with left front damage after the crew failed to properly torque the wheel—self-inflicted wound there. The team lost a half-hour making repairs. Others with delays were the No. 03 Superlite (short-ish pit penalty) and the No. 74 BMW which stopped on course with electrical issues. Almost unnoticed, the No. 24 Audi TT began a slow climb past other production cars and the various troubled prototypes. The No. 9 factory Lexus also climbed through the standings, but a little less steadily with several unscheduled stops, including a puncture and a slow return to the pits. The Seat’s climb was interrupted by some continuing electrical issues.
The Wolf came in for what seemed to be a routine stop just before the late autumn sun began to dip. In the desert, when the sun drops it is like turning off a light switch. Darkness comes rapidly. This was a problem for the Wolf as their headlights, bright at first, dimmed as rapidly as the sky. Its electrics were clearly not recharging and the team had to make several visits back to the garage area to make repairs. This passed the lead back to the No. 03 Superlite.
The E1 class turned towards the various Acuras in the field although the No. 5 Fantasy Junction RSX-S did not share in this joy as they were replacing part of the clutch assembly.

Frankenbimmer.  For those tired of look-alike GT3 race grids, come to Thunderhill. Only here will you see weird things such as BMW based car built over the Thanksgiving day weekend. Yes, the homely Acura ran better.

Frankenbimmer. For those tired of look-alike GT3 race grids, come to Thunderhill. Only here will you see weird things such as BMW based car built over the Thanksgiving day weekend. Yes, the homely Acura ran better.

A main contender for overall honors, the No. 00 Porsche, had a setback when Anthony Lazzaro backed into a tire wall and the team lost about 20 minutes doing bodywork. Having bog stock production cars in the field results in some rather mundane maladies. Such was the case with the No. 62 E0 class BMW 330 of Melhill Racing. They had a leaky dipstick tube. An important E1 class runner, the No. 79 Lexus, lost time with weak front brakes. One of the lesser Porsches, the No. 29 TruSpeed entry (another ALMS based team) had a broken stub axle.
The first safety car interruption in over four hours occurred at 19:20. It was a rather serious matter when Dan Riley’s No. 20 RX-7 was clipped by another car, spun, and was then t-boned. Riley reported some neck pain and the turn marshals took extra care removing him from the heavily damaged Mazda. During this long 50-minute interruption there was a light moment in the garages. The No. 07 Mazda Miata had a broken clutch pedal and a neighboring crew offered a spare from one of the seemingly dozens of spare Miatas scattered in the paddock. The team finished installing it just as the owner of the donor car arrived on the scene, screaming that he hadn’t permitted the loan and wanted it back on the spot. A mechanic for No. 07 happened to be face down / feet up under the dash making the switch. He wrestled the borrowed part back out and brandished it back to the owner with comments appropriate to the momentary absence of sportsmanship in the otherwise friendly club race.
Another short full-course caution at 21:04 was needed to retrieve the No. 48 Radical which had a small engine fire. It was towed back in and after a rapid 30 minute garage call a new Hayabusa-Suzuki was installed. Three more short neutralizations took place before midnight, all for minor stalls and course blockages. At the top the Superlite continued unabated. They built up a three-lap lead which was frozen in place for most of the night hours. This was an apt metaphor, given that temperatures had fallen well below freezing (18 F and windy, brrr).

Early Race Traffic

Early Race Traffic

Positions remained steady state for several hours, which is endurance racing journalist speak for saying that finding a warm spot to take a nap was in order. The most important retirement during this period was the No. 00 Porsche—broken gearbox. They had earlier made repairs to it, but later problems proved terminal. The No. 52 Wolf had a very good run, recovering to second overall. The No. 24 Audi TT RS climbed to third thanks to a continued mostly untroubled run, only a few self-inflicted penalties costing them time. The No. 08 Audi R8 LMS also rose, hovering around fourth before again making a lengthy stop. There were four notably consistent runs; the No. 83 Barrett Racing Porsche, the heretofore unheralded No. 38 Radical, the No. 27 Honda Research West Acura, and the No. 18 Mustang. All made it into the top ten by dint of thus far untroubled runs. The No. 9 Lexus also returned to this fold after earlier problems with a c.v. boot. But the most remarkable of all was the No. 05 Mazda Miata. The 949 Racing team not only led the E3 class but was in exalted 10th overall at 04:00. The Silverado pick-up had led this race in 2012 but their 2013 race was far more troubled. They spent much of the night period replacing the gearbox.

Blue Lite Special. The Superlite thoroughly dominated the first half of the race. Too bad for them that it wasn’t 12 hours in length.

Blue Lite Special. The Superlite thoroughly dominated the first half of the race. Too bad for them that it wasn’t 12 hours in length.

There were two significant pre-dawn neutralizations. The first, at 04:05—10th full-course caution of the race, occurred when the Wolf was hit and then had a brake failure. Even more importantly, at 05:10 the Superlite came to stop with a catastrophic steering failure. Chris Durbin struggled to bring the car back to the pits but had to pull off course. Suddenly, the car which had been leading overall since sunset was forced to retire.

Yin and Yang. The Rotek Audi TT emerged in front when the prototypes wilted, and then never looked back. Late in the race it is putting one of 77 extra laps on the RJ Racing Miata—winner of the nearly all-Miata E3 class.

Yin and Yang. The Rotek Audi TT emerged in front when the prototypes wilted, and then never looked back. Late in the race it is putting one of 77 extra laps on the RJ Racing Miata—winner of the nearly all-Miata E3 class.

In proper Thunderhill style, we now had a production car in the lead. It was almost as if the Rotek Racing Audi refused to move into first as it incurred yet another penalty and soon after inheriting the top spot it spun briefly before recovering. The American-British-German driving contingent was now poised to add another gem to Audi’s growing endurance racing crown. Rob Huff had started the race, followed in turn by Kevin Gleason, Jeff Altenberg, Roland Pritzker, and Rob Holland, with Christian Miller holding back as reserve driver.
The Wolf was again in recovery mode and was by far the fastest car on track, albeit 14 laps down. However, at 06:25, its Ford engine exploded after being hit at Turn 1 and this time it was not a case of crying wolf for the No. 52 team. It was well and truly gone.

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With the first glimmers of light in the east, this was the situation in the top 10:
1st overall, 1st ES, #24, Rotek Racing, Audi TT RS
2nd overall, 2nd ES, #83, Barrett Racing, Porsche, a massive 23 laps down
3rd overall, 1st ESR, #38, Radical West Racing, Radical, -6 laps
4th overall, 3rd ES, #08, GMG Racing, Audi R8 LMS, -5 laps
5th overall, 4th ES, #9, Lexus USA, Lexus IS F, -11 laps
6th overall, 1st E0, #18, Don’t Crash Racing, Ford Mustang Boss 302, -2 laps
7th overall, 1st E1, #27, Honda Research West, Acura ILX, -1 lap
8th overall, 1st E3, #05, 949 Racing, Mazda Miata, -3 laps
9th overall, 2nd E1, #5, Fantasy Junction, Acura RSX-S, -4 laps
10th overall, 2nd ESR, #48, Factory 48, GTM, -1 lap

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The top E2 class car was the No. 78 Sector Purple Racing Miata in 15th overall. To complete the then current podium standings in the various classes, the third place ESR car was down in 30th overall, the No. 49 CSR Performance Spec Racer Ford—another car lately making longish stops. The second place car in E0 was in 13th overall, the No. 62 Melhill Racing BMW 330. There was a close fight for third in class between the No. 31 El Diablo Motorsport BMW M3 and the No. 67 Pure Performance BMW E46, the two circulating in 18th and 19th overall, respectively. The third place car in E1was in 12th overall, the best of the Mazdaspeed diesels, the No. 55 dealer car. The last two podium spots in E2 were occupied by the No. 74 AAF Racing BMW 325i in 21st overall and five spots further back was the No. 34 Mazda RX-8 of Team RDR.

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The No. 31 El Diablo Motorsports BMW M3 was the leader in E0 for about the first half of the race and set the fast lap in the class. They were overhauled by the Mustang during the night and slipped to fourth behind the No. 62 Melhill Racing BMW 330 and the No. 67 Puer Performance BMW E46. These two BMWs swapped 3rd and 4th, and later 2nd and 3rd in class several times.

Late Entries. No, the tow trucks are not competitors. Then again, at Thunderhill you never know.

Late Entries. No, the tow trucks are not competitors. Then again, at Thunderhill you never know.

The Fantasy Junction Acura led the E1 class in the opening hours. The top spot was briefly taken by the No. 56 Mazda 6 diesel, before the No. 27 Honda Research West Acura ILX took over and headed the class into the morning. The No. 5 Fantasy Junction team recovered to second in class, ahead of the two dealer Mazdas, with the No. 25 Honda Research West Acura sometimes splitting the diesels.

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The leader in E2 for the first half of the race was the No. 34 Team RDR Mazda RX-8. The No. 78 Sector PurpleMiata was second for most of that time before taking the helm of the class during the 13th hour. The No. 74 AAF Racing BMW 325i swapped second in class several times with the two Mazdas. The Japanese Honda hybrid has been unable to rise above fourth in class.

There had been three leaders in the E3 class, all Miatas as the lone Honda has not been fit to make it into the top five. The No. 35 Spare Parts Racing entry started by Hernan Palermo was the first on top, later passed by the No. 07 Pacific Throttle House Mazda. The No. 05 949 Racing MX-5 had been consistently the fastest and did not relinquish the lead after the fifth hour. The No. 23 RJ Racing Miata had a clumsy start but rose to second in class within a few hours.

Coming and Going. While the nearly 3-mile circuit expands over several sets of hills there are also several locations where different sections are in close view. Links allow for various shorter course configurations. The Mazda was one of two Mazdaspeed run cars staffed by drivers representing their national dealer network. If finished second among the three stock 6 diesels.

Coming and Going. While the nearly 3-mile circuit expands over several sets of hills there are also several locations where different sections are in close view. Links allow for various shorter course configurations. The Mazda was one of two Mazdaspeed run cars staffed by drivers representing their national dealer network. If finished second among the three stock 6 diesels.

Sunrise brought little warmth as a north wind kicked in along with the orange disc in the east. At least the dreaded fog was absent. Times did begin to tumble a bit with the improved visibility. The No. 69 Race Epic Porsche was at last running cleanly after having been rebuilt following numerous shunts. The No. 05 Mazda had a long stop but was able to retain its lead in E3 as well as its good overall placing.

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It now came time for some of the overall spots to swap around, thanks to inherently faster cars running well and moving forward from lower spots. For example, the No. 48 Factory Five GTM slipped ahead of the No. 27 Acura.
Heading into the final three hours some 35 cars were still circulating, all relatively healthy although of course many were delayed. The latest to hit problems was the No. 07 Mazda which spun luridly at Turn 1 and required a tow (but not a general caution) to pull it out. There was some important drama earlier when the No. 83 Barrett Racing Porsche stopped on track for a brief period. They did not lose second place overall but the gap to the third place Audi R8 LMS narrowed considerably. Then at almost exactly 09:00 it became an Audi 1-2 when the much faster GMG entry passed the 997 GT3 Cup. This culminated an excellent comeback by the No. 08 entry.

Important Presence. The number 9 Lexus IS F was one of several factory backed entries at this year’s race, signalling the event’s growing importance. They finished fourth in class, a few spots ahead of the Porsche it is trailing at the moment.

Important Presence. The number 9 Lexus IS F was one of several factory backed entries at this year’s race, signalling the event’s growing importance. They finished fourth in class, a few spots ahead of the Porsche it is trailing at the moment.

With only a bit more than two hours to go there was a change in the E3 class lead. Sadly the long-time great run of the No. 05 949 Racing Miata was stalled and this allowed the No. 23 Mazda of RJ Racing to move to the top. That gap widened to four laps. This left the E2 class battle as the last competitive contest. At 10:00 there was only one lap separating the leaders, No. 78 Sector Purple Racing Mazda from the No. 74 AAF BMW.
The Barrett Porsche again picked up the pace and GMG Audi made another long stop, allowing second place overall to flip again. The top three cars were all in the ES class with the top ESR in 4th. In terms of drivers, here are the class leaders going into the final hour:
ESR, #38, Radical West Racing, Radical: Ryan Carpenter / Todd Slusher / Anthony Bullock / Scott Atchison / Randy Carpenter
E0, #18, Luxury: Don’t Crash Racing, Ford Mustang: Thomas Martin II / Thomas Martin III / Brian Zander / Tom A. Brown
E1, #27, Honda Research West, Acura ILX: Sage Marie / Lee Niffenegger / Matthew Staal / Scott Nicol / Michael Tsay
E3, #23, RJ Racing, Mazda Miata: Rob Gibson / John Gibson / Roger Eagleton / Gary Browne / Jamie Florence
E2, #78, Sector Purple Racing, Mazda Miata: Kyle Watkins / Robert W. Ames / Daniel Williams / Glen Conser

Good Bet Gone Bad. The GMG R8 had all the ingredients of being a favorite; a professional team, a a model and global brand associated with numerous victories, a good driver line-up, and uneven competition. Things began to go awry soon after practiced started. After a huge shunt the crew worked hard to make the grid a day later. It had a roller-coaster of a race, charging to the front before a litany of problems laid it low—ending with the gearbox expiring within sight of the flag and a likely third place finish.

Good Bet Gone Bad. The GMG R8 had all the ingredients of being a favorite; a professional team, a a model and global brand associated with numerous victories, a good driver line-up, and uneven competition. Things began to go awry soon after practiced started. After a huge shunt the crew worked hard to make the grid a day later. It had a roller-coaster of a race, charging to the front before a litany of problems laid it low—ending with the gearbox expiring within sight of the flag and a likely third place finish.

There were last minute dramas when the engine started smoking on the No. 62 Melhill / TFB Racing BMW. Its third in the E0 class was not in threat because of the large gap to fourth, but it did bring about one last full-course caution, the 13th of the race. Sector Purple stretched their lead over 949 Racing and thus solidified the E3 victory. As if they needed more cushion, the overall leading Audi stretched the gap to over 30 laps at the finish. There was enough green running at the end for the ESR class winning Radical to creep into third overall, ahead of the Audi R8. Indeed the GMG entry’s gearbox failed with minutes to go and it was pushed across the line.

Detritus. It’s a classic endurance racing scene. The winner charges through a battlefield of debris. Seen across the Sacramento River valley are the distant foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.

Detritus. It’s a classic endurance racing scene. The winner charges through a battlefield of debris. Seen across the Sacramento River valley are the distant foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.

The victory was another feather in Audi’s cap, even if it came from a private team in a TT RS. For Thunderhill and NASA it was another step towards creating an ever higher profile event.

A Podium?

A Podium?

(The amended results show that the second place 949 Racing Mazda Miata in E3 has been disqualified for mounting improper parts. Of course, in this class the Mazda 1-2-3 is still retained)

Janos Wimpffen, January 2014

Eye of the Storm

2001 Rolex 24

Another image of the 333 SP, this time shot during the 2001 Rolex 24. I wrote a while back about this race and had this to say about this fabulous car.

Perhaps the Ferrari 333 SP of Risi Competizione was the most popular choice for the top step of the podium at the race’s end. A hotshot team running the car, a driver line up that consisted of Ralf Kelleners, David Brabham, Eric van de Poele and Allan McNish plus the beautiful, sonorous Ferrari seemed to be the obvious selection. McNish has had his eye on a Rolex since winning his class in 1998 at Daytona, the year before the watches were awarded to all class winners not just the overall victors. Of course we are all too gentlemanly to ever mention this small omission in his career, maybe this would be his best chance to get hold of one the fabled timepieces. Fastest lap in practice of 1:41.118, if not in Qualifying, seemed to support the argument. 

2001 Rolex 24

The race was run in conditions more often found at the Nürburgring than Daytona Beach, cold and grey to start then a deluge, most unlike Florida as we Brits imagine it to be sunny all the time.

More thoughts from the past…………

Most of the photographers showed good sense and stayed either in the warm, dry Benny Khan Media Centre or hid under awnings in the pits. Me? Well, Regis Lefebure and I headed out to the back straight, where we spent several hours trying make some sort of acceptable images in the murk. I reckon he got better results than I.

In this sort of dull stuff it is almost impossible to turn Chicken Shit into Chicken Salad. The 2001 Rolex 24 was a personal landmark for me, it was the last race that I shot entirely on film. By the time I crossed the Atlantic again to shoot the ALMS season opener at Texas I had acquired a Canon D30. Digital had arrived, that genie had escaped and things would be very different. Photographers would go on to be software operators, mind you the crap ones would still be crap.

2001 Rolex 24

On track things took their usual course, hard racing and hard luck.

Out at the head of the race #12 and #16 continued to swap the lead. Then Risi Competizione took their turn on the wheel of hard fortune. Out on the back straight McNish lost a front wheel due to lug nut seizing. Fixing this problem cost five laps and probably the race. This diagnosis was confirmed a few hours later, just before dawn. During a routine pit stop it was noticed the oil temperature was rising rapidly, it was suspected that head gasket had failed in the V12. The Ferrari was reluctantly retired, another leader down and no Rolex for McNish.

The race was a cold miserable affair, only the performance of the Corvette team gave any kind of pleasure, they were, and still are, a class act.

One pleasing aspect is that the top picture ran as a double page spread in European Car, I have to say it was a satisfying way to say farewell to exclusively shooting film.

John Brooks, November 2013

 

 

Banditti of the Plains

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As promised in the last post, I have a story to tell regarding chassis 288 from Tom Walkinshaw Racing, it was put together by Kerry Morse a few years back when we ran SportsCarPros together. Typical of Kerry’s work, it is too good to molder in the archives of a dormant website. Why now? Well the car was one of the stars of the Retromobile on the Hall & Hall stand, more on that topic later.

Kerry and I both have a personal connection to the story and 288. I was shooting with Keith and Mark Sutton at the time and had introduced them to Castrol, which led to work with Jaguar and Silk Cut, so we were busy at Le Mans in 1990. If you have five minutes visit their archive HERE you will soon lose an hour or two with all the amazing photography. It is with their permission that I use these images. Kerry’s connection is that he arranged the purchase of this car for a client a few years back. Plus we both hold Tony Dowe in high regard, this is really his tale……………

John Brooks, February 2013

There are winners and there are WINNERS. Tony Dowe obviously belongs to that
second group of selected individuals. John Brooks and I want to thank Tony for all his efforts over the years of getting great performances from the teams he has been involved with. He makes our job a lot more interesting. What was it that mean old Ron Dennis once said to a gathered group of hacks. I think it was something along the lines of “ We make the history, you only report it”. Tony Dowe has made and continues to make history.

Kerry Morse, February 2005

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What it takes… Tony Dowe on winning at Le Mans with Jaguar

I worked for Tom Walkinshaw Racing from 1987 until 1998 as Managing Director of TWR USA. During this period one of my “duties” was to supply a couple of cars as part of the massive TWR/Jaguar effort at Le Mans. Unfortunately it was always made clear, never by Tom Walkinshaw of course, that the “American” cars were only there to support the real effort that was run from Kiddlington. Obviously this became a bit “second hand” and so after being the supporting act in 1988 and 1989 I gave some serious thought as to how to:

a) Win the race
b) Circumvent the restrictions placed on my U.S. team because of the supporting role we were expected to play.

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The Rules of the Game
Let me say here that you should only undertake such an action if you’re sure that you can carry it off! Because to achieve anything less than the win is to open one’s self up for a very long period looking for a new job! Of course, if you win, then most of your sins are forgiven!

I always felt that TWR USA were a better race team than the UK team for no other reason than by the time Le Mans came around we had done a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a couple of sprint races. The Group “C” team had probably only done a single race and some testing. We were very sharp by 1990. We had finished 1st and 2nd at the Daytona 24 Hours that year, 1990, and had had such a better team we had each car race each other the whole 24 hours. It was a fantastic race.

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TWR USA also had a couple of very good engineers, Ian Reed, recently head of development at Penske, and Dave Benbow, recently with Prodrive. Ian and Dave were very good in there respective areas. Both were and are lateral thinkers and complemented each other very well. Ian was, as now, very good with the suspension and we were running dampers, for example, that were much ahead of the ones used by the UK team. We had briefly used a pair on the rear of the car in 1989 when Davy Jones led the race in the early stages. The biggest problem that had to be overcome was that, along with most of the other team cars, we were only allowed a single engine for both practice and the race. The only team car that had a qualifying engine was the one that was lead by Martin Brundle.

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As we were now running the V-6 turbo cars on a regular basis in the IMSA series, we were able to take one of our V-12 cars out of the mix and prepare it with a lot of love and care. We used chassis 288, which had won our first ever IMSA race in the USA back at the 1988 Daytona 24 Hours. The lead mechanic was Winston Bush, still in Indianapolis, and he did a super job of building a car to the exact same specification as the UK cars!

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Dowe Chemicals
Now we get to the interesting bit!

The week before we had to leave for Le Mans we were racing at Lime Rock Park. Super place and made better when John Nielsen and Price Cobb won with a turbo car for the first time, exactly a year after we had début of the first TWR Jaguar turbo. There to see the car win was the head of TWR engines, Allen Scott. Allen is now back in New Zealand enjoying his retirement and rallying a Mazda. After the race we had a super night at a very nice local restaurant run by an English guy called Terry. Lots of drink, etc. After the meal I took Allen to one side and asked him why “my” car could not have a qualifying engine for Le Mans? Allen, now very “mellow” told me to use common sense, “It’s just not going to happen”.

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I then asked what would happen if we had a mis-fire at the end of qualifying that
could not be found. Allen said, “obviously there would be spare engines for such
an eventuality.” Allen was booked on a flight from Kennedy the next morning back
to the UK. I then played the trump card. I produced an envelope from inside my
jacket and told Allen that inside was a ticket for the next morning’s Concorde flight
to London. It was his if he found a problem with our engine after Le Mans qualifying. After a moment of hesitation Allen looked around and then took the envelope and put it in his jacket pocket. The game was on! Only Ian Reed was aware of what I was planning. And he was like a kid when I told him the bait had been taken. The now finished “vanilla” 288 chassis was sent to the UK for painting and, I suppose inspection to see that we had built the car to the decreed spec.

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We then set about putting together a “care package” of our IMSA “goodies” for fitting when we got to Le Mans. We had different roll bars, front and rear. Different shock absorbers front and rear. But the biggest item were some very special one piece (Billet) brake calipers that Ian had designed and we had built here in Atlanta. They were made to accept a much thicker brake pad than standard, Performance Friction made the pads for us. So now we could also go further than the UK cousins without a pad change. We had also had “Rabbit” (A legendary fabricator who still lives in the Georgia mountains) build us some really trick pad changing tools. The gearbox was built with a limited slip differential. This was quite different from the UK cars because the thinking was that with a “spool” fitted if a drive shaft failed you could get back to the pits! Well, unbeknown to the guys in England, we had Kenny Hill of Metalore (they now make most of the F1 world’s hubs/drive shafts and axles) make us some super strong F1 type drive shafts.

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Can you hear me Major Tom ?
One further item that would prove very useful was the use of the American radios.
Every year we had gone to Le Mans the circuit length meant that the European radios supplied by a guy called “Crackly Ken”. They usually gave up when the cars left the pits! The last thing that we had changed at TWR USA was the rear wing. With the additions of the chicanes along the Mulsanne straight, Le Mans was now the same aero level as Daytona, things were just going our way.

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Lock, stock and two smoking barrels…
So now the fun started.

We started practice with “just a few bits” changed, radios etc, so there was not much notice taken of what we were doing. There was a bit more interest when the brakes went on and the roll bars were changed, but at the early morning meetings the comments were mainly directed towards us in the manner of “So what silly things have the you Americans changed now?”
Roger Silman, the UK Team Manager, was more concerned with why Jan Lammers could not match Brundle’s practice times. He did not like drivers, or anyone else for that matter, to think for themselves about how the race should be run. I’m sure that Tom had some idea of what we were doing as he was a regular visitor to IMSA races and was aware of our development items, but he never said anything to me about what we were up to.

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Our driver lineup was pretty good, “Big” John Nielsen, Price Cobb and Eliseo Salazar. Obviously John and Price knew what we had fitted and were very happy because it brought the car to the same specification as they had been used to racing. Unfortunately after the end of practice, guess what? Allan Scott found the “mis-fire” and we had to change engines! Another hurdle crossed, because if Allan had gone back on the “deal” then the whole plan would have probably sunk out of sight!

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Friday’s pre race preparation brought to light another small problem. The gearbox “dog rings” were being used by one of the drivers in a way that was too heavy on the gear changes. As we had lots of experience of John and Price it was obvious that Eliseo was the problem. I went and found Julian Randles, then of Spice Engineering, who Eliseo drove for sometimes in IMSA and had a “discussion” about his experiences with Eliseo and his use of the gearbox. Julian confirmed that Eliseo’s style of gear changing was quite heavy on the dog rings. I had a long day of thinking about how to deal with this problem, and it was a problem, because with a dog box we were going to probably lose 3rd and maybe 4th gear if history was any guide.

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I went to dinner with Tom, his lady Martine, and a guy from Jaguar who I honestly can’t remember who he was. During dinner I told Tom of my concerns and suggested that it might be a good strategy if I kept Eliseo out of the car for as long as possible in order to keep a seat free should one of the other “favourite “drivers had a problem. Tom agreed and so at our race morning briefing I told the drivers that we were going to use “Big John” and Price through the evening and night until Sunday morning, when Eliseo would be “fresh” for the remainder of the race.

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Sex Pistols and the holiday on the grid
Race day: Just as we parked the car on the “dummy” grid, JJ found a small fuel leak from one of the fuel pump unions… Now, as it is today, there can be no work done on the car on the dummy grid. So what were we to do?

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Well one of our XJR-12 design features was that the whole fuel system, pumps, filters etc, were mounted in the left-hand side pod on quick release clips. So it would only take moments to change them. The problem was how to make the change with the whole ACO “police” walking up and down the grid!

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Fortunately we had made some very nice mock leather “pouches” to protect the spare pump assemblies in. While the whole team posed in front of the car with, what else, the Hawaiian Tropic girls, JJ slid inside and changed the leaking pump assembly for a new one! Honestly! I think that in another life JJ would have made a great David Copperfield.

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The numbers added up for a very Goodyear…
The race its-self was quite easy.

One of the big race advantages we had was that having run at Daytona we knew that the “standard” 480 compound rear Goodyear tires would not double stint on the Jaguars at Le Mans. So back in February at Daytona we had run a much harder 600 compound tire during the heat of the day. When we arrived at Le Mans I found that Goodyear Europe had no 600 compound tires available! Our tire guy for this event was the great American Airlines guy, Kenny Szymanski. I called back to the States and had 10 sets of 600 compound tires shipped in without anyone knowing, thanks to Ken Moore of Rapid Movements. Kenny S. did his bit by removing the tire coding from each tire and hiding the tires inside the old pit tunnels.

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When we started double stinting the tires and beating the UK team “hands down” in the pits, I had a very “uptight” meeting with Tom as to what was going on!!! I had to come clean as to what was going on and we were forced into giving some of our rear tires to Brundle’s car. All of this while trying to run the race! One of the other “fun” bits happened around 10:00 PM. A car had caught fire at the Porsche curves and the ACO had put out the Safety Car. John Nielsen had just been in for fuel a couple of laps earlier and he called in and told me it would take a bit of time to clean up. Just like we would over here. Good US radios at work. I called him straight into the pits to top off the fuel, as you would! Boy, did that move unleash a load of trouble. I had Tom right in my face about giving up track position. Obviously the UK team cars continued running around under a caution flag while we topped off the car, so they then had to pit under a green when we went back to racing! About an hour later we went into the lead after everyone else had had to pit for fuel, etc under a green. This was a lead we never gave up.

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Big Bad John
The next bit of drama was that Price was slowly dehydrating, remember, these cars had no power steering, little ventilation and no drink bottles, and over 5000 lbs. of downforce in those days. So during the middle of the night we had to ask “Big John” to triple stint (!!) while Price recovered. A star then, still a star now. Then the Brundle car, which had been fighting a slow water leak, finally called it a day. Tom came and asked me if I thought the car would be able to last until the finish (!) You can imagine my reply.

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TW took Eliseo off our team and told him he was not going to drive and he was putting Brundle in instead. You can imagine how heartbroken Eliseo was with this decision. So around 8:00 am Brundle got in the car.

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The Mechanics of the Isle of Sodor
The only thing we now had to deal with was the 3rd gear had decided it had enough of the chicanes and gave up. This meant that the drivers had to change from 2nd to 4th, not a great problem, but enough to get some very dirty looks from TW! The final drama was a couple of stops from the end we had a scheduled brake pad change and JJ (John Jackson, our regular chief mechanic, ex Williams F1) found a couple of caliper pistons leaking! So we had to change one of our mega expensive calipers. Now they were a bit tight on the studs, so Pete “Hodge” (Peter Hodgkinson, a New Zealander and now the new car build manager at BAR) took a very big hammer to our beautiful machined caliper to quickly remove it! Job done and not too much time lost.

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Then politics started to take over. The “Management” wanted to have the UK team suddenly involved so they would look part of the effort. No way.

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The Day of the Jackal
So we won. Very satisfying.

Le Mans 24 Hour Race

Mike Dale, then MD of Jaguar North America and a true racer, had supported us all the way and was terrific as the laps wound down. Our car was the only chassis that had won both the 24 hours of Daytona and Le Mans as far as I’m aware of. Now it was lots of celebrating. I remember taking TW back to the airport and he told me I had “done good” I then had to find my way back to the chateau where we were staying. Now that was a trip. I was so tired, and a bit the worse for Champagne. I can’t remember how many times I went off the road. And all the while driving Tom’s personal Jaguar.

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The next morning we went back to the circuit to see the car and it was very emotional for us when we untapped the engine cover and lifted the rear deck off. Never lifted it in the whole race. A couple of weeks later the whole team who had been at Le Mans went to New Jersey and had dinner with Mike Dale and Bob Burden, another super Jaguar person, in a small restaurant a few miles from the Jaguar Headquarters. Very nice.

There are very few people that knew of the lengths that we had all gone to get this result, so this is the first time I’ve told the whole story. Thanks to all of the “villains” that took part, it is something to tell the kids when you grow up. I hope that we will be forgiven, but only ever do this if you are sure your going to win.

Tony Dowe, February 2005

The Inauguration

2000 Rolex 24

It’s late January and a familiar yearning comes over me, there is a 24 Hour race about to happen but I am on the other side of the Atlantic. There are, of course, good reasons for this, mainly financial, as revenues fall and costs rise, so my current involvement with the Rolex 24 is confined to looking back over the years……………….

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Now undisputed master of motorsport in North America, NASCAR entered the endurance arena just over a decade ago setting up the Grand-Am organisation to sanction and run its blue riband endurance event, the Daytona 24 Hours. This was of course the 2000 edition of Rolex 24 Hours held at Daytona International Speedway.

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For most observers the first race was one of the high points in the whole story of Grand-Am, starting the project at the top level. There were big battles everywhere, in the various prototype and GT classes but nothing was more keenly anticipated than the fight in the GTO category between the Dodge Vipers and the Chevvy Corvettes.

2000 Rolex 24

Two full factory outfits pitted three French ORECA run Viper GTS-Rs against two American Pratt & Miller C5-Rs, each with top line drivers, it was a Detroit Heavyweight Championship of the World Contest. An automotive “Thrilla in Manila” – Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy/Donohue/Amorin/Archer/Belloc/Duez versus Fellows/Bell/Kneifel/Pilgim/Collins/Freon – enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

2000 Rolex 24

That would be more than enough excitement for most races but there was more. After a gap of some 50 years Cadillac was back in competition running a Riley & Scott built prototype with victory at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans the aim. Why, did this conservative brand feel the need to return to the tracks? While other automotive brands were at that time heading towards nostalgic retro-style designs like the Beetle, the Mini and Thunderbird, Cadillac had decided to march to a different drummer. Under the rallying cry “Art & Science” the brand was launched on a path to develop their range to be the equal in every respect of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

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Another point of view expressed to me at the time was that Cadillac had to change and aim at a younger market, their existing customer base was dying off………..and fast.

2000 Rolex 24

The 2000 Rolex 24 also witnessed the debut of the customer version of the Porsche 911 GT3-R, there were 23 examples that would take the Green Flag at the Rolex, all that dot.com money was burning holes in pockets, or so we speculated. The GT3-R would be the car that would carry GT Racing forward around the world for the next few years. It had the first water cooled engine in a Porsche 911 based racing model.

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Another GT3-R was in the hands of of the youngest driver in the race, 17 year old Gunnar Jeannette and the oldest, Paul Newman. Newman was utterly charming as long as you confined the talk to racing, when at the tracks he just wanted to be another driver and not the movie superstar. Newman won the GTO Daytona 24 title on his last attempt in 1995 and he said at the time, “When we won it in 1995, when I was seventy, well, I’ll give it another five years and come back again.” When asked why he would enter such a grueling contest of speed and endurance, the 75 year old actor responded, “Just for the hell of it.”

2000 Rolex 24

There were five classes of cars that were eligible to run in the 2000 Rolex 24, two prototype and three GT. The prototype rules were based on John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup and had SRP and SRP 2 categories depending on power, engine size and budget. One of the most popular models with the fans was the Ferrari 333 SP, here the Risi Competizione example with Allan McNish on a busman’s holiday from Audi duties. There were three       333 SPs on the grid, the howl of the 4 litre V12 was worth going a long way to hear.

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The Ferraris were outnumbered by six Riley & Scott MKlll powered by either Ford and Chevrolet V8 engines. This is the Philip Creighton Motorsports entry.

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Also making a first appearance was Johansson Matthews Reynard 2KQ Judd. This advanced customer programme was a new departure for the world’s biggest race car constructor. The year before Reynard had acquired Riley & Scott who, aside from providing the MKlll cars, also built and ran the Cadillac programme. A tangled web.

2000 Rolex 24

The prototype scene was finely balanced in 2000, the workhorses of the past five or six years, the Rileys and the Ferraris, were getting long in the tooth but were expected run reliably at the notoriously tough combined infield and banking layout of Daytona International Speedway. Both models had success in the past and would form the foundation of plans to run combined Grand-Am events with the Sports Racing World Cup. The plan was for John Mangoletsi to bring the cream of European prototype racing over to create a set of world class events. A truly Cunning Plan.

2000 Rolex 24

However in the background, however was the the American Le Mans Series, running to Le Mans rules, that allowed full factory participation, specifically outlawed in SRWC land. Well, not so much outlawed as price capped. The top class of the category, SRP, had an on the track price limit of $640,000 including engine, SRP 2 was pegged at $201,000. The logic being that no constructor such as Lola or Reynard would sell cars at a loss, however, a manufacturer like Cadillac could just factor any excess cost into their overall project budget and still sell cars under the price limit to any customers well heeled enough to afford them.

2000 Rolex 24

After a promising first season in 1999, the ALMS was set to expand with Audi due to bring their latest car, the R8, to the tracks of North America to take on BMW and Panoz. Would that prove to be a bigger draw than watching privateers in Grand-Am? The attractions of keeping onside with the ACO, organisers of Le Mans, and the halo effect of the top class factory battle meant that both Viper and Vette would direct their attention to the ALMS.

2000 Rolex 24

Mention of the SR2 class? Well only the Pilbeam of Martin Henderson turned up, a bit disappointing but given that these cars were not originally intended or engineered to survive 24 hour races it was not a surprise.

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There were three GT classes, GTO translating roughly to the Le Mans LM GTS class. Top of the list were three Chrysler Vipers from ORECA, full factory supported entries. Based on the Viper GTS the GTS-R was one of the most successful GT cars in history. Oreca had achieved back to back domination during 1998 and 1999, winning the FIA GT Championship, and taking class wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours plus the American Le Mans Series Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles in ‘99. The French team were going to be very difficult to beat.

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The Viper had first appeared on the tracks back in 1994, powered by a V10 8 litre engine, which not surprisingly produced power and torque in abundance. The chassis had originally been massaged and built by our old friends, Reynard, but by this stage in the project, Oreca had taken things in house.

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The main competition would be two Corvette C5-Rs run by Pratt & Miller on behalf of General Motors. During the 1999 season the Vettes had gradually got closer to the Viper squad, going into the Floridian classic they were quietly confident of coming out on top. The Corvette, first raced in 1999 at the Rolex 24, had 7 litres of Detroit V8 muscle to propel them along, it would be a mighty contest.

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But if some disaster befell the factory squads then the out-gunned but still fearsome Porsche 911 GT2 would be around to pick up the pieces but that outcome was not expected.

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The second rank of GTs, GTU was expected to be a walk over for the phalanx of new Porsches but they would face determined opposition from the successful PTG BMW M3 squad, previous class winners at the Rolex.

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The ‘Run What You Brung’ brigade were catered for in the A-GT class. They were tube framed, home built specials, regarded by the leading lights as mobile chicanes and not expected to feature in the grand scheme of things.

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Practice and qualifying dragged on through Thursday and Friday, giving everyone a chance to get back into the groove after the winter break and especially to get used to running in close proximity with 79 other cars.

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Traffic on the banking was manageable but on the infield and at the Bus Stop chicane at NASCAR Three great care had to be taken to avoid problems arising out of speed differentials between the quick guys and the not so quick.

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During the night sessions the problem was even more acute. Somehow the drivers sorted it all out.

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Meanwhile down in the garage areas the teams were racing against the clock to prepare their cars for the struggle ahead. Here Dick Barbour and Tony Dowe try to fettle what was widely regarded as the leading Porsche GT3-R.

The European teams are always pleased to find the strict curfew regulations enforced at Daytona International Speedway meant no all-nighters, no matter what Sociopaths who tend to run teams wanted. The Shark Lounge had its siren call……………

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Pole position went to James Weaver in the old faithful #20 Riley & Scott MKlll Ford who rattled round in 1:41.002. Actually the Dyson team entered their No. 20 car as being Lincoln powered. The team’s Ford engines were prepared by Lozano Brothers Racing Engines. “We’re just trying to work with our engine builders and engine developers to see what we can create, and maybe we’ll create something,” said team owner Rob Dyson. “You never know.”

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This was trying tempt the Ford owned brand to come and fight with their American rival, Cadillac. Perhaps Dyson should have painted that car black with gold piping and called it a Cartier Town Car………white walled Goodyear slicks please for P Diddy Weaver……….Yo!

Dyson had run one of the new Reynards at the early January test sessions at Daytona but reverted to their Rileys for the race itself. “We were planning to have two Reynards,” said Dyson. “Due to a number of problems, we were not able to get even one chassis working. Right after our test here we had to make the decision to run the Riley and Scott. Our objective is to win races. We just felt that we had a better chance of winning the race with the Riley & Scott rather than the Reynard. This is the Super Bowl of sports car racing. This is a race where we’ve been fortunate to win it, and that’s our objective this time.”

“We’ve got high hopes for the Reynard, I think any new car takes three or four months to get sorted out. I think Cadillac need a little more time as do Reynard,” Weaver added.
The Ferrari of Alex Caffi was second on the grid just a tad slower than Master James. A battle royal was in prospect.

2000 Rolex 24

The Italian, nicknamed “The Disco Kid” during his F1 days was typically lyrical about his prospects, “This is a big event, I raced in Formula One, the top of racing cars, but this is a beautiful day in my life because Daytona is very famous, also in Europe. Especially in Italy, nobody forgets the finish of the three Ferraris in the late sixties. This is one of the most famous races and I’m very happy to be here.” A local newspaper reporter’s dream.

2000 Rolex 24

Also pretty content with the way things were panning out was the Reynard team, lining up fourth on the grid. They were confident of being on the race pace and felt that they could be dark horses in the hunt for victory.

2000 Rolex 24

The lead Cadillac was one place down on the Reynard, it was clear that there was plenty of work to do on these elegant cars.

2000 Rolex 24

GTO pole and first blood to Ron Fellows and the Corvette with a lap of 1:45.889. Ron, one of the smartest drivers you will ever meet, was pleased. “This is our first pole with the Corvette so we’re pretty happy. We really didn’t do much since the test. We found a pretty good set up there. This morning we made one little change to the back and off we went to qualify. Right at the end of the second set of tires, I had a perfectly clear lap. The guys sent me out exactly at the right time. I was able to maximize the grip we had with the tires for one or two laps right at the end.”

Corvette 1, Viper 0 but still all to play for.

Fellows was still realistic about the race, “We’re still the underdogs here at the Rolex 24, these guys have won two straight Le Mans’ titles and we’re still chasing them. But we’ve got the package together to race for 24 hours. It’ll be a long race and the fastest car doesn’t necessarily always win, anything can happen. You’ve got to be smart with so many cars. It really won’t thin out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The biggest thing is traffic, just staying out of trouble.”

Prophetic words, indeed.

2000 Rolex 24

1:52.028 was good enough to secure pole in GTU class with Dirk Müller on qualifying duties for Dick Barbour Racing’s GT3-R. The loudspeakers were ringing out Friday at 6.30pm telling the faithful all to leave “The World Centre for Motorsport” for the day and head off to get rested in preparation for the race day. What would the Green Flag bring?

2000 Rolex 24

Saturday morning and the Sun punched its way West across the Atlantic, for those of us with business at Daytona International Speedway it was time stop admiring the colours over the ocean and head to the track. The weather was forecast to remain dry but it would get cold, even by European standards.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three clear contests in prospect, SR1 prototypes would head the field and all things being equal win the race. GTO would be a vicious bar brawl between the Detroit duo but if the boys up front did not watch it the Viper-Vette combo could get close, a podium for the fast and reliable GTs was a distinct possibility. GTU was almost certainly a Porsche walkover, numbers and speed would see to that.

2000 Rolex 24
There were, and possibly still are, two schools of thought about how to approach competing in the Rolex 24 Hours. The question is simply, is this a race or an endurance? Flat out racing or stroke it round looking after the car and hope to finish?

Some driven by bitter experience favour the latter approach.

2000 Rolex 24

Take Mike Brockman, Paul Newman’s teammate in 1995, who was back to help his friend attempt to win again. “I’ve done this race a lot of times, I led it once for 13 hours, unfortunately it was the first 13 hours. It took me 15 attempts before I won it, and that was in 1995. Jack Roush, who we drove for in 1995 said it best, we were talking in the morning before the race, and we were talking about race strategy, he said, ‘there will be no racing here until the sun comes up, and not until I say so. ‘If we make it, and the sun comes up, and we’re still alive, then we’ll talk about racing.'”

Well that’s one way of going about things.

2000 Rolex 24

The other strategy is go flat out and devil take the hindmost.

James Weaver, who was as hard and fast a driver as ever graced the tracks, expressed it this way.

“The top sports cars, they’re more than strong enough to race flat out for 24 hours. There’s not much you can do to nurse one of these cars along. If you’ve got a good driver in it, you might as well drive it as fast as you can because you won’t break it. When you’ve got to race against people like Alex (Caffi), they’re going to be going flat out, we’ll take the fight to them, and they’ll be coming after us. It’s just a question of, don’t get too hot headed in traffic. That’s always the game here.”

2000 Rolex 24
Anyhow all the planning in the world usually goes out the window as soon as the Green Flag drops and the field of prototypes were soon flat out on the banking. The initial pace was set by the Lista Ferrari 333SP driven hard as ever by Didier Theys. Almost from the start one of the main contenders for victory, the Risi Ferrari, ran into problems, Caffi spinning to the back of the field on lap 2, then within the hour there were transmission issues and fitting a new gearbox was the time consuming cure. Scratch one top prototype from the race.

2000 Rolex 24

With 79 cars starting the race, traffic, and how the leaders manage it, was always going to be a major factor. Given the disparity in speed and performance between the classes especially into the braking zones it was vital that the top drivers balance out ultimate pace with due circumspection. The best drivers really embrace the challenge of threading their way through the maze of cars in front of them.

Once again, James Weaver, explains things in his own, unique way. “Personally, the traffic element at Daytona, I find tremendously exciting and a real challenge. It’s like a high-speed video game or racing back from the pub through Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. It’s just tremendously exciting. You try to judge all the closing speeds, what the other guy is going to do, see if you can recognize the helmet, determine who it is. When a car goes off line in front of you, you see if it’s throwing up dust, so you can tell if you can go off line. There are a thousand and one tricks you can do to make the race work for you.”

2000 Rolex 24

The battle raged up front between the Lista Ferrari and the Lola Ford of Konrad Motorsports with the evergreen Jan Lammers leading the charge. This conflict continued for the first three hours until an oil leak delayed the #31 car. The #20 Dyson Riley & Scott took up the challenge shadowed by the leading Cadillac.
The gradual erosion of the lead prototypes propelled the GTO class battle into the the top ten positions overall. The #3 Covette of Ron Fellows, Justin Bell and Chris Kneifel pushing the #91 Viper of Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominic Dupuy very hard and in case they stumbled there were the three support cars from the the Detroit duo in close attendance.

2000 Rolex 24

The only sign of weakness in the ORECA camp was that Olivier Beretta was ill with the after effects of chicken pox, which meant that Wendlinger in particular would have to take up the slack. He rose to the occasion in a champion’s style.

2000 Rolex 24
GTU was, as predicted, a walk over for the Porsche 911 GT3-R armada with the head of the pack being the Barbour Racing example with Lucas Luhr, Bob Wollek and Dirk Müller behind the wheel.

2000 Rolex 24
Around 6.00pm, just before sunset the leader slowed up with smoke coming from the engine bay. The Lista Ferrari limped back to the pits but their race was run.

“We had an air box fire,” said team manager Kevin Doran. “It’s kind of a documented problem with the Ferraris. It’s happened six or eight times before with different teams. It happened to us once before, at Portland last year. In a downshift deceleration mode you get an over-run of fuel in the air box, and for some odd reason, you get a backfire out of an air trumpet, and it ignites it, and all that excess fuel burns, and it takes out the injection wiring harness.”

The engine had ingested some of the debris so even re-wiring would be in vain as there was damage to the pistons. Didier Theys reflected on a race win that had got away. “The engine caught fire. We had a backfire and the backfire burned the wire harness, it melted a couple of trumpets, it even melted one of the butterflies. Too much fuel was going into the engine. I don’t know what happened. We’ve had one problem like this in the past, but that was after a pit stop. When you do a pit stop and you don’t clean up the engine properly, too much fuel goes into the engine and it starts to burn.”

2000 Rolex 24
The misfortune that had struck the Ferraris meant that the #20 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford of James Weaver, Rob Dyson, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Max Papis assumed the lead but the big surprise was the pace of the #5 Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

Indeed at the 6 hour point the #5 car was at the head of the field with a 30 second advantage over the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott but it was not to last. A series of problems with transmission, brakes and suspension blunted the Cadillac challenge, but the team just kept repairing the cars and sending them back out, retirement was not even contemplated.

2000 Rolex 24

The head of the field was not the only place that problems were found. Porsche was having something of a nightmare with their new GT3-Rs. Water pumps and consequently engines were failing and in numbers. This was not the way that Porsche does things, “Excellence was Expected” was something of a company motto right from the early days, so to introduce the first water cooled 911 based racer and then have water pump failures caused red faces throughout the paddock.

Bob Wollek summed up the situation ” There was no warning, no light, no temperature going up, it just went ‘BANG’ on the straight.”

2000 Rolex 24

The explanation was simple enough, sand that had been used in the engine block casting process had not been fully cleaned out and the residue was clogging the water pumps causing them to seize and then the engines to fail. In short order entries from Dick Barbour Racing, Larbre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of engine problems. Not good.

2000 Rolex 24

During the long hours of darkness the race stabilised with the Dyson Riley & Scott having a ten lap lead over the chasing pack of Vipers and Vettes.

2000 Rolex 24
The 2000 Rolex 24 was run under unusually cold conditions with the temperature hovering just above freezing for most of the night. This put extra strain on the already exhausted crews who would take whatever rest they could between pitstops.

2000 Rolex 24

A routine pit stop for the leader, EFR out, Rob Dyson in. Behind the Dyson car and the factory Vipers and Vettes the privateer Chamberlain Vipers ran strongly, moving into the top ten overall as the Porsches failed.

2000 Rolex 24

The Corvette #3 ran flat out to keep up the pressure on the leading Vipers but could not quite close the gap. Here Justin Bell heads out for another stint in the dark.

2000 Rolex 24

Around 3.00am point the race changed course again. The #20 was 13 laps up on the #93 Viper but trouble was on the way as the leader started to slow. A pitstop to investigate led to the team removing the valve covers in order to find what has become a persistent but slight misfire. No broken rockers or valve springs were discovered but the restriction in pace and the unscheduled time spent in the pits cut the lead over the pack of GTO cars to 8 laps.

2000 Rolex 24

Another strong performer was the #6 Cadillac of Butch Leitzinger, Franck Lagorce and Andy Wallace. Early race problems had dropped them down the order to 69th but by 5.00am they were up to second place overall. They were seven laps down on the Dyson lead car and were scrapping with #91 and #93 Vipers. Then problems with the gearbox meant a complete change of transmission which cost them around 30 laps and any chance of victory for Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

The sun came up to a sick Riley & Scott up against a charging pack of Vipers and a lone Vette, would Dyson make it to the finish line and score a second win in the Rolex 24 Hours?

2000 Rolex 24

GTU class was firmly in the grasp of the G&W Motorsports GT3-R but shortly after 18 hours they too suffered the dreaded Porsche engine failure. Uwe Alzen was not happy, “We were more than 10 laps ahead and the car was running perfectly. The only problems we had were with a broken seat and something wrong with the jacking system.”

2000 Rolex 24
A surprise at sunrise was to see the Johansson Matthews Reynard still running. Four gearbox changes plus numerous other repairs had seen the crew exhaust themselves. However the warming rays of the Sun gave fresh hope to the survivors still running.

2000 Rolex 24

For the Dyson team the agony continued as the leading Viper and Vette chipped away at their lead till they slipped behind with just two hours of the race to go. The team could see this fate coming as they lost around ten seconds a lap to the GTO pursuers. Rob Dyson was philosophical about the situation, “Specifically, what happened was an exhaust valve had a crack in it starting about one in the morning. We had a high-speed misfire that was due to a crack in an exhaust valve, and those things don’t heal themselves.”
#91 held an advantage over #3 of around a lap but Pratt & Miller were not done yet. There would be a sprint to the finish.

2000 Rolex 24

The #3 Corvette got back on to the lead lap with an aggressive pit strategy and was really pushing in the final hour. Ron Fellows rung the neck out of the Vette but Karl Wendlinger was up to the task in hand and was 32.7 seconds in front when the Chequered Flag dropped at 1.00pm Sunday. Victory, the closest margin in the race’s history, for Viper and Oreca.

2000 Rolex 24

The team had remained calm even during the late onslaught from the #3, “Before I left the pits for the last half hour of the race, I knew the Corvette could be very fast, and that Ron Fellows was a very fast driver,” said Wendlinger. “But I also knew that throughout the race we’d learned how fast our car could run, and that we could win the race with the pace we’d set.”

2000 Rolex 24
Celebrations then in Victory Lane for the French team and much later in the Shark Lounge………………….Hughes de Chaunac, Team Principal of Oreca, was ecstatic, “It is hard to imagine you can win a 24-hour race by 36 seconds. The entire Oreca team did a fantastic job all weekend, Dodge gave us a tremendous racecar and it was our job to perform. The Corvette proved to be a tremendous challenge to the Viper and we respect their programme. It sets up an epic battle for when we race Le Mans.”

2000 Rolex 24

Beaten by the narrowest of margins, the Corvette team was disappointed but rightly proud of their performance, it was the first of many such displays in the following seasons.

2000 Rolex 24

Surviving the carnage in the Porsche GTU ranks was the Haberthur 911 GT3-R driven by Fabio Babini, Luca Drudi, Gabrio Rosa and Fabio Rosa. They finished 8th overall and were worthy class winners.

2000 Rolex 24
Adding to joy in the Dodge camp was the top ten finish for two of the customer cars run by Chamberlain Motorsport.

2000 Rolex 24

The top brass at Chrysler were very pleased, John Fernandez, Director of Engineering and Speciality Vehicles, had this to say. “This is a historical moment. An outright win in one of the world’s most prestigious endurance races by a production-based car like the Dodge Viper GTS-R is rare and hard-earned. In fact, the Dodge Viper GTS-R – now a Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour race winner – is remarkably like the Vipers that you can buy from your neighborhood Dodge Dealer. Not only does it look the same, but it uses the same basic engine, chassis, transmission and suspension. If push came to shove and we needed to, we could have gone out to the Viper Owners’ Club Parking Paddock in the Infield and swapped parts with our customers’ cars. The only significant differences are a full roll cage for safety, a carbon fiber body (versus composite plastic bodywork on the street cars), a dry-sump engine and racing slicks. But having a great production car to start with gives us the edge on the track. And conversely, having a great racing car makes our street cars better.”

2000 Rolex 24
Grand-Am had kicked off their existence and what a way to start.

Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson and his team were overjoyed with the first event, ” The Rolex 24 at Daytona was not just a great first race for Grand-Am, it was an outstanding motorsport event by any basis of judgement.”

Those of us who had shivered our way through the cold Floridian night would agree whole heartedly. Grand-Am was on its way.

John Brooks, January 2013

A Case of the Benz

2013 Dubai 24

The eighth edition of the Dubai 24 Hours took place last weekend. The event has matured nicely and even in these financially perilous times could boast 81 starters, someone must be doing something right.

At dawn we have a brace of SLS coupés, with the Jones’ example on its way to a fine fifth place overall. More from the race during this week.

John Brooks, January 2013

Full of Eastern Promise

The attention of the endurance sportscar world  has been rightly focused out East this weekend, to the majestic Fuji Speedway, nestling in the shadow of Mount Fuji. My mind drifts back to the last century and the previous FIA sportscar race in Japan, the enticingly titled Pokka Sweat 1000 Kilometres.

Sweat was indeed much in evidence during that event, run in baking hot conditions with nasty August in Japan humidity, a photographer’s lot was not a happy one. Another whose lot was less than joyous during that era was Porsche AG, as the AMG Mercedes steamroller beat them like a gong for the whole of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Suzuka was no exception and the lead CLK LM, with favoured son Bernd Schneider and his side kick Mark Webber in the cockpit, won easily by two laps.

The AMG pair were aided in this convincing victory by the blunder in the early part of the race by one of their team mates, Ricardo Zonta. Zonta was duelling for second spot with the Porsche 911 GT1 98 of Allan McNish (who else?) and used one of the GT2 Porsches driven by Claudia Hürtgen to assist with late braking, the result when the dust cleared was that all three cars were beached in the gravel trap. To add insult to injury the marshals got Zonta on his way first, leaving an incandescent McNish to wait his turn. The race was over as a contest, barring misfortunes for #1 AMG.

The incident cost the Porsches a couple of laps and Zonta later received a drive through penalty for his misjudgement, though this did nothing to restore the time lost by McNish.

While the Wee Scot was matching Schneider’s lap times before the incident it required something of a leap of faith to imagine that this could be maintained by Yannick Dalmas and Stéphane Ortelli over the 1000 kilometres. In the end the lead Porsche finished a lap down on the #2 Merc to grab the final step on the podium.

The second entry from Weissach suffered a number of misfortunes that first blunted, then eventually ended their challenge for the podium. Mid-race Bob Wollek had contact with a slower car in the chicane and drove the short distance into the pits against the flow of traffic to check the damage. As I wrote at the time, this eccentric piece of driving incurred the ire of the Stewards who awarded him a three minute Stop and Go penalty. That observation incurred the ire of “Brilliant Bob” when he later read it and he threatened the magazine with legal action, even by his standards he was especially touchy that summer.
Jörg Müller finished the day for #8, when once again there was contact with another car in the final chicane. This time it was Geoff Lees in Thomas Bscher’s McLaren F1 GTR who was hit by the Porsche, both crews enjoyed an early bath, Nul Points Reykjavik.

The rest of the GT1 field had a pretty nondescript afternoon, the Persson Mercedes CLK GTR pair showing their 1997 pedigree, finished 4th and 7th, while the singleton DAMS Panoz thundered round to 5th. The Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 98 duo could only manage 6th and 8th.

The GT1 category had a fin de siècle feel in the heat and humidity of Japan that year, exaggerated by the rumours that the FIA GT Championship, 1999 style, would be for GT2 cars only. Having invested heavily in this form of competition, Mercedes Benz were keen to go racing somewhere other than Le Mans in the following season. A month or two later we were all dragooned into a press conference in beautiful downtown Miami-Homestead Speedway. Stéphane Ratel was at his charismatic and visionary best, revealing the proposed FIA International Prototype Championship that would pit Mercedes against Porsche and possibly Toyota, Nissan and Audi. The factory contingent would be padded out by a motley crew of GT1/GT2 survivors and prototype inductees who would be press ganged in from the newly formed International Sports Racing Series. The problem was that there were not enough of the true believers, heretics and cynics were found at every turn.

Mango’s Barmy Army in the ISRS may have earned their title many times over, but even daft as they were, they would not fancy a regular drubbing from the Silver Arrows, no matter how good or guaranteed the start money was. Look at how AMG annhilated the Porsche Werks effort in ’98, the score ended up at 10-0 in Stuttgart’s favour. Porsche’s Le Mans prototype project was about to be  killed off by Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking, the CEO, who preferred to invest the cash in Porsche’s new light truck range, the Cayenne. Those of us with true grit gave him the raspberry at the time but he had the last laugh when the multitudes with questionable taste queued round the block to pay full price for this odd vision of a Porsche. PT Barnum really knew what he was talking about. Toyota had another cunning plan in mind in their quest to spend riches of Croesus on mediocre motorsport, go to Formula One. Nissan fired TWR after Le Mans 1998 and then realised that they were bust in all but name, so motorsport went out the window. Audi were in no hurry to tangle with their German rivals, reasoning that they had much to learn about the sport of driving long distances fast. So the IPC was a dead duck almost from the start and then the newly formed ALMS became the potential target for AMG and Mercedes. The aviation disasters at La Sarthe the following June extinguished that dream.

All of which meant that the GT2 battle was under increased scrutiny, as this was our probable future. The contest, such as it was, had three elements Chrysler Vipers versus the factory blessed Roock Porsche 911 GT2 and Cor Euser in his fierce Marcos LM 600.

The reality was that the 911 GT2 was beyond any further significant development, the Marcos was quick with the fearless Euser at the wheel, less so when the money men were in the hot seat and the Oreca run Chryslers were an absolutely better package than anything else.

At the start Cor did his usual thing jumped into the lead, irritating the Viper pair, but it was just a matter of time and so it proved with #51 just edging out #52 to give Chrysler a 1-2. Zonta’s indiscretion stuffed the lead Roock 911’s race and behind that it was just a gaggle of GT2 Porsches making up the numbers.

A few locals had rocked up to excite those who enjoy diversity on the entry list. The Kunimitsu Takahashi Honda NSX-S was actually faster than the Vipers in Qualifying, a result, no doubt, of a collaboration with Dome, but the engine blew early in the race.

The other respectable performance, speed-wise, from the Japanese contingent was the Toyota Supra LM that was also quicker over one lap than the Oreca entries, but it struggled to make an impact during the race.

In the end home grown honours were taken by a rather plodding Nissan Sylvia.

From the adrenaline climb that GT Racing had enjoyed from 1995 to 1997, the 1998 season was flat and rather expensive. It could not continue, especially as no one was keen to take on AMG Mercedes, and the North American market was about to offer exciting opportunities, the first Petit Le Mans was just round the corner. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

John Brooks, October 2012

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in the West

American Gothic
Much trepidation over WTCC’s first USA visit.  Would we be subjected to another European export that can’t survive the crossing, a steaming helping of tripes a la mode de Caen — the chance to watch old men grinding the tires off of a gaggle of front-drive shit-box SEAT Leons that Americans have likely never even heard of?

Un-American

Sunday, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd turned-up at the raceway in Sonoma to see what it was all about — and the racing was quite entertaining.  I had to scratch my head about the made-for-television format of two 13 lappers with lots of dead-time before, between, and after, but the open grid for pre-race festivities and plenty of tradin’ paint appeared to keep the youthful throng happy enough.

Trading Paint

In this age we’ve become accustomed to their short attention spans — sailing’s America’s Cup World Series was on San Francisco Bay earlier in the month, and Cup defender tech-billionaire Larry Ellison exchanged traditional blue blazer yachting’s endless hours of tacking duels for an explosion of fixed-wing catamarans contesting a series of brief high-tech dinghy races.

Future Ford

The micro-burst races of the WTCC follow a similar tack in attempting to present our old-school sport to an X-Games audience.  WTCC’s sprint-race format has the advantage of keeping the field from stringing-out, while the reverse grid assures that there is plenty of action during the brief moments during which millennial attention-spans can accept stimulation.  It’s all over before the next round of Tweets can come through.

Witness Protection Programme

Of course, I can’t imagine that the tires of a front-driver would hold-up to any more than the required 13 tours, so it works out rather well for teams trying to compete in cars employing on this unfortunate layout.  The speeds, handling, and size of the WTCC cars is quite well-suited to the Sonoma circuit.  Real racing, real teams, real drivers, well presented and organized.

G ‘n T

If the shotgun wedding of ALMS and GrandAm can be interpreted as evidence that the manufacturers are heading back to racing what they really sell, this series presents a fine showcase for the sort of car that the newly-pauperized 99-Percent are actually buying today.  Why, even Morse showed-up in a press-fleet Kia Forte rather than his accustomed Panamera Hybrid or Bentley Flying Spur.
David Soares, October 2012

A New Dawn?

When considering the merger/buyout of ALMS by NASCAR folks tend to dismiss the idea of Grand-Am having any dealings with factory teams.

Well cast your mind back to the beginning, the 2000 Rolex 24 and the first race for the new sanctioning body. Full factory efforts from Dodge, Corvette and Cadillac………..

John Brooks, September 2012

Nϋrburgring Natters Two

Our Special Correspondent has been over to Germany for the Nürburgring 24 Hours. As usual he kept his eyes open and his ears pinned back, here is some of the knowledge he acquired on the trip.

The 2012 Nürburgring 24 Hours

In their reports of this wonderful race the general motoring press tend to mention the winners and the main contenders and tell us very little else. But there were 169 cars in this year’s race, so here is a brief selection of some of the other cars that took part:

The weather was in fact nice and warm in the early afternoon on the Sunday so this Porsche had no real need for extra ventilation! A replacement door was indeed fitted shortly after this picture was taken and the Frikadelli Racing Team car went on to be the highest placed Porsche at the finish, taking a well deserved 6th overall. The factory Porsche drivers were not so lucky this year, suffering all sorts of problems.

Three of the McLaren MP4 12C cars started the race, this Gembella Team car having no less than Nick Heidfeld and three times winner Klaus Ludwig on the driving strength. Alas, none of the cars survived into the Sunday, falling victims to accidents.

And this Ford GT did not last the race either!

The Peugeot RCZs are regulars at the Nürburgring 24 Hours these days. Although its team-mate failed to finish this year, this car went on to win its class. They are assembled by Magna Steyr in Austria.

Aston Martin are also regulars in this race and last year they ran their two new prototype Zagato cars, nicknamed “Zig” and “Zag”. This year they brought along just “Zig” which ran steadily into 26th place and 2nd in class. Here it is seen with a backcloth of the famous Nürburg Schloss.

Toyota love to use the 24 Hour race as a workout for their forthcoming and new models – for them it provides the best test session they can have. The Lexus LFA was here as usual, winning its class, but we also saw the new GT86 cars, Toyota’s rear-wheel driven sporting car developed in conjunction with Subaru whose flat-four engine powers it:

This car won its class.

Hyundai adopt a similar attitude. Here is their Genesis Coupé which finished 105th.

Jaguar saloons are not new to success in endurance races at the Nürburgring. In the 1962 12 Hours and 1963 12 Hours on the Nordschleife, Peter Lindner drove his 3.8 Jaguar Mk 2 saloon to victory, first with Peter Nöcker and secondly with Hans-Joachim Walter (European Rally Champion). This was the longest event held at the Nürburgring  at the time – the 24 Hours did not start until 1970.

This Jaguar XF saloon therefore carries on a Jaguar tradition and it not only won its class but was the first diesel car to finish the race. Privately entered by Carvell Motorsport, it had a 3-litre V6 diesel and completed 109 laps finishing 92nd.

One of the attractive features of endurance racing is that the teams are invariably reluctant to give up if there is the slightest chance of keeping the car going. Having received a considerable mauling, this BMW 135D managed to reach the finish scoring 2nd in the diesel class.

This Ford Fiesta, clearly proud of its heritage and managing to hide its ravaged nearside bodywork from the crowds in the main stands, finished 110th and 2nd in its class.

TAILPIECE

The no. 11 Manthey Porsche, one of the original favourites and crewed by three former winners, had a troubled race and suffered the indignity at the end of being towed away after being rammed just before the finishing line by a Renault Clio.

David Blumlein, May 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Full Monte

The Nurburgring 24 Hours was, as ever, a proper race. The stars get their due recognition but just important are the supporting cast, so just before we turn our attention towards La Sarthe here is a full roll call, including two who did not make the start.

Mainly my work, but gaps generously filled by David Blumlein, David Lord, Peter May and David Stephens.

John Brooks, May 2012