Category Archives: Notes from the Cellar

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Storm and a Teacup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, August 2019

Italian Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, August 2019

Photography courtesy of Gary Harman and De Tomaso Automobili

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, August 2019

Sunday Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Brooks, July 2019

Parisian Cat Walk

The 2019 edition of the Rétromobile was well up to the high standards that we have come to expect from this French Classic. It has become something of a must attend event for those of us who ply our trade in this arena, being the first serious event of the year adds a taste of optimism to encourage us, no matter how misplaced this rush of blood ultimately turns out to be.

So to whet the appetite I am flagging up a few delights, some familiar, some less so. I will have a few other posts to produce in the next few days in between the doing the paying stuff…….

Arriving on Tuesday evening I barely made any progress past the Peter Auto stand, ambushed by various gangsters that I am acquainted with, all of us keen to catch up on gossip, rumour and the occasional fact……one of the cars on the Peter Auto stand was very familiar, on old friend from a couple of decades gone, McLaren F1 GTR, #24R. Originally a factory Schnitzer car for the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours, it then turned up in the Gulf/Davidoff team for a few races in that year. It was driven by Thomas Bscher and John Nielsen till the Dane royally stuffed it in Practice at Suzuka at the end of summer. Once refettled Steve O’Rourke acquired it for his British GT campaign and then achieved a fantastic fourth place overall in the ’98 edition of the French classic……….the stuff of dreams.

More memories were to be found round the corner on Gergor Fisken’s stand, always a source of truly classic cars in every sense of the word. True to form Fiskens had on display a cornucopia of automotive goodness, including one gem that really struck a personal chord. My first attendance endurance race was the 1971 Brands Hatch 1000Kms, it proved to be a slippery slope, which is how and why you are reading this doggerel. So it was quite something to encounter the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 that Henri Pescarolo and Andrea de Adamich drove to record a memorable victory that over the Gulf Porsche 917s, the first international success for the Italian marque for 20 years.

I reflected on the 1971 season, and its impact of my young self, some time ago HERE – while it has been largely downhill on the personal front since those heady days, the T33 still looks stunning.

Artcurial run the auction based at the Rétromobile and they always come up with much that is stunning, 2019 was no exception to this rule. The Serenissima Spyder was captivating, another treasure from Count Volpi’s outfit and, even more appealing, exactly as it ran at Le Mans in 1966.

The timing of its competition career was unfortunate as it was crushed along with the rest of the field by the Detroit bulldozer that was Ford’s GT effort at Le Mans that year featuring no less that 15 GT40s on the grid. No matter, the patina and graceful design are timeless, who ever acquired this exquisite car has won a motoring lottery.

Also at Artcurial was this headline grabbing Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring which went under the hammer for a pretty respectable €16.4 million, quite understandable when considering this beautiful creation.

One of just five examples built and with an almost complete history, it is a slice of motoring royalty……….one can dream…………

On a completely different scale in every sense of the word was this giant Berliet T100, at the time of its introduction the largest truck in the world……it dwarfed everything else at Rétromobile.


Even this Panzer MK IV had to yield to the Berliet………………….

Another French star on the boards was the WM P88, holder of the top speed record down the Mulsanne Straight, posting 407kph in 1988…………….


Back into the 21st Century is the Maserati MC12 Corsa that was to be found at Girado’s impressive stand. The Corsa was the track day version of the MC12 for those who wished to emulate the performance of the wildly successful GT1 racecar.

The Corsa had a claimed 745bhp from the V12 6.0 litre engine, shared with the Ferrari Enzo. Only 12 examples of the Corsa were built, making it ultra desirable as if it needed any further enhancement.

Another extremely stylish and rare Italian that was to be found in Paris was a concept car that appeared at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the Lamborghini 400 GT Flying Star II.

This striking shooting-brake displays all the confidence of the mid-60s and was based on a 400 GT platform. Its other very significant attribute is being in the final wave of creativity from Carrozzeria Touring which was experiencing financial difficulties at that time. The stunning Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Touring described above was also part of the history of that venerable styling house. As to the Flying Star, it is very much a case of what might have been……………..

The final initial glance at 2019’s excellence at the Rétromobile is another one off Italian, another Lamborghini, this time from the house of Bertone. It is hard to see how one might improve on the visual impact of the Miura but the P400 Roadster makes a convincing attempt. There are subtle differences to the ‘standard’ car, the angle of the windscreen was lowered, a spoiler was added at the rear and the exhaust was re-routed.

After a number of decades of almost neglect this piece of automotive art was restored to its original very cool blue metallic livery. In Paris it graced the Kidston display, formed exclusively of Lamborghinis, mainly Miuras. What a fantastic collection…….

More from Rétromobile later this week………….

John Brooks February 2018

The Land that Time Forgot

For over a quarter of a century Patrick Peter has been one of most successful promoters in motor sport, rivalling his former partner in crime at BPR, Stéphane Ratel.

The Le Mans Classic, Tour Auto and Chantilly Arts & Elegance are all world class motoring events that Peter has created but even he had to admit defeat some 20 years ago when he attempted to get the GTR Euroseries off the ground.

The wildly successful BPR-run Global Endurance Series for GTs splintered in late 1996 under pressure from the FIA aka Bernie and Max on the topic of TV rights. It also suffered from conflicts of opinion that the ruling trio had with each other on the future direction of their partnership, I tried to document that turbulence back at the time. http://www.doubledeclutch.com/?p=10162

The net result in 1997 was the FIA GT Championship, a partnership between Stéphane Ratel and Bernie Ecclestone. It was wildly successful in its first season but under the surface it had already laid the ingredients for its own destruction by allowing Mercedes-Benz to drive a coach and horses through the homologation protocols as understood by the other manufacturers. The GT1 class of the Championship collapsed at the end of 1998. The FIA GT Championship only just survived to run the GT2 cars again for the following season without the factory teams, Chrysler Viper excepted. It was a lesson that Stéphane never forgot, keep the manufacturers under control, support the gentlemen drivers.

Patrick Peter launched the French GT Series in 1997 and that was taken over the following year by the Stéphane Ratel Organisation. So Peter then attempted to promote a European GT contest in the spirit and style of the early BPR days, the GTR Euroseries. In the end five rounds were held; Jarama, Paul Ricard, Misano, Nürburgring and Spa. The grids were considerably smaller than expected and Peter admitted defeat after the Belgian event held in late July.

There were quite a number of positive aspects to the series, the conviviality of the paddock was in contrast to the “korporate kulture” that AMG-Mercedes in particular brought to the FIA GT Championship, I know which one I preferred. The GTR grids were largely a collection of Porsches of varying vintages and performance, GT2, Cup Cars etc. The first round in Spain was won by the McLaren F1 GTR of Thomas Bscher and Geoff Lees, it would prove to be the penultimate international victory for the F1 GTR.

The following race held at Le Castellet would also be a landmark for one of those ascending the top step of the podium. This being the final international victory for the irrepressible Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams, one of the most popular figures in British motor sport for over half a century. He shared the win with Maxwell Beaverbrook and Geoff Lister in the former’s Porsche 911 GT2 EVO.

A proposed double header with John Mangoletsi’s ISRS to be run at Brno foundered when the Czech circuit’s pit and paddock facilities were not rebuilt in time. Mango’s Barmy Army went anyway, GTR Euroseries headed for the Adriatic and Misano. The contest would be shared with the anaemic Italian GT series and for reasons that were not clear then or now the Enzo Calderari/Lilian Bryner Ferrari 333 SP was also allowed to race….six seconds a lap faster than the GTs…..it looked and sounded great till the oil pump failed early in the proceedings.

The contest had two elements, the four hours GTR event (Silver Cup) and the Italian GT round at six hours (Gold Cup). Only 15 GTs joined the yellow Ferrari on the grid for a 18.00 start, it would prove to be a long evening. On the positive front Nigel Smith (a good bloke) won the race with Michel Ligonnet (another good guy) and Ruggero Grassi (no idea) in the Seikel 911 GT2.

Next outing, at Nürburgring, was a low point for the season, only 10 entries showed up. The spoils going to the Freisinger 911 GT2 (what else?) of Wolfgang Kaufmann and Michel Ligonnet.

GTR Euroseries was not only contested by Porsches, other exotica ran such as the Maserati Ghibli with none other than Arturo Merzario behind the wheel with co-drivers Simone Manzini and Luca Polmonari . However Art was the one in the stetson puffing on a Marlboro, plus ça change………….

Adding colour and a good old V8 rumble to proceedings at all of the races was Cor Euser’s Marcos LM600 that he generally shared with Herman Buurman.

At the next round, held at Francorchamps as a support race to the 25 hour VW Fun Cup (!), the Ford GT40 impostor aka the VBM 4000 GTC made a welcome appearance. The race was won by the same pair that had triumphed in Germany, which made it three wins out of five for Ligonnet. Perhaps the indignity of ceding numero uno status to dozens of imitation Beetles was the final straw but round five at was the end of the road for the GTR Euroseries. Why had this concept not worked as expected?

As with most enterprises timing is all important and 1998 was not the year to launch such a series, however appealing it might be to the gentlemen drivers seeking sanctuary from getting knocked around by the GT1 factory-pro brigade in the FIA GT. In ’94 and ’95 BPR rode the crest of a wave, the re-birth of GT Racing, after the destruction of Group C and the impracticalities of Group B regulations. There was a genuine enthusiasm for the competition which was underpinned by the realisation that how the game was played mattered as much as the result. Friday night dinners at the circuits for competitors and media reinforced this camaraderie. Barth, Peter and Ratel were pioneers in many respects, for example taking their merry band to Zhuhai in late 1994 for the first ever motor race in The People’s Republic of China. The fact was that there was no alternative to BPR on this side of the Atlantic, outside of the Le Mans 24 Hours, if endurance motor sport tickled your fancy.

Four years on and the landscape in endurance sportscar racing in Europe had changed out of all recognition. For their second season FIA GT Championship retained most of its supporters in the GT2 class from 1997. Those like Ray Bellm, Rocky Agusta, Alfonso de Orléans-Borbón, and the aforementioned husband and wife team of Enzo Calderari and Lilian Bryner, who had chosen to jump ship headed to prototype racing in the ISRS rather than buy a dated GT2 Porsche.

The new French GT series that Peter had created had up to 40 cars on the grid, a fair number of which he might have expected to follow him around Europe. Instead the French teams enjoyed the comforts of racing at home, here supporting the Dijon round of the FIA GT Championship.

Porsche and Ferrari were also a problem. Neither had a new GT racer available. At that point in time that would be a serious obstacle to the success of a GT race series. Porsche Motorsport were still chasing the head of the field in their 911 GT1 98 and their plan was to build a prototype to continue their astonishing run of successes at La Sarthe. Wendelin Wiedeking had different ideas and as CEO the boss always has the last say. He spent the money on developing the Cayenne, highly profitable but……. let’s leave it at that. Porsche would build the wildly successful 911 GT3 R, based on the 996 model, but it would not be until the 2000 season that 64 examples would be sold.

Ferrari only had eyes for Formula One at the turn of the century and had yet to realise that a handy profit could be accrued by getting Michelotto to develop and build Ferrari GTs, that programme would also begin in 2000 with the 360 Modena. For many of those who can afford such a hobby only driving a Ferrari will do, Maranello Madness you might say…….

The basic soundness of the GTR Euroseries concept has been validated later by the success of the International GT Open. Devised by ex- endurance racer Jesús Pareja it took advantage of the plentiful supply of GT2 and, later, GT3 cars to ensure a healthy grid. The timing was right.

One benefit that came as a result of the end of GTR adventure was it gave Patrick Peter the time for the eventual creation of the Le Mans Classic, without any doubt one of the greatest celebrations of motoring competition and car culture on the planet. Clouds and Silver Linings come to mind………

Finally may I wish the loyal readers of this site a happy and healthy 2019.

John Brooks, December 2018

A Celebration of Rob Walker

Dorking is a quiet market town located in a very attractive part of Surrey’s North Downs, local landmarks include Box Hill and Denbies Vineyard. For those of us with inclination to burn petrol at speed Dorking will forever be associated with R.R.C. Walker Racing that was located at the Pippbrook Garage in the heart of this community.

Robert Ramsay Campbell Walker was born on August 14th 1917, so staging the Rob Walker Centenary Festival  in October 2018 seems a little odd, perhaps too much time spent at Denbies…….but I digress and I must say that the organisers did a first class job in honouring this sometimes overlooked, but hugely influential, figure in post-War British motor sport.

The numerous spectators that witnessed the demonstration of old racers around the closed streets were given a raucous display. Robbie Walker was on hand to enjoy this fine tribute to his father.

Another son representing a famous father, was David Brabham, a top flight sportscar driver and Le Mans winner in his own right. Sir Jack Brabham was one of three Formula One World Champions who drove for Walker, the other pair were Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill.

However it is the relationship and deep friendship between Rob Walker and Sir Stirling Moss that the team is arguably most famous for. In the period from 1958 to 1961 Stirling scored seven Grand Prix wins for the team, most notably in 1961 at Monte Carlo and the Nürburgring, seeing off the more powerful Ferrari squad through sheer talent and determination. Regrettably Sir Stirling’s health is not up to public appearances at present so his absence left a big gap that the organisers filled admirably in a most appropriate fashion.

Moss was rightly famous and revered as a Grand Prix star, indisputably the leader of the pack after Fangio retired. However his exploits in endurance racing are just as notable. The ’55 Mille Miglia triumph in the Mercedes-Benz is legendary as are the Nürburgring 1000kms wins in ’58 and ’59 for Aston Martin. In 1960 Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood driving a Ferrari 250 GT SWB #2119, an achievement in itself but staggering when one considers that it was two months and one day after his horrific accident at Spa in the Belgian Grand Prix. Doctors forecast a minimum recovery period of six months but Moss was able to recuperate way faster than that. It later emerged that he had tuned in the Ferrari’s radio to hear the commentary of Raymond Baxter as rattled off the laps. This beautiful Ferrari is now the proud possession of one Ross Brawn, a real enthusiast.

Almost exactly a year later and Moss was back at Goodwood in another 250 GT SWB, this time #2735. Frankly the opposition was not the strongest and consisted of another 250 GT SWB, driven by Mike Parkes and three Essex Racing Team Aston Martin DB4 GTs, two of which were Zagato-bodied and driven by Roy Salvadori and Jim Clark. The third was an ordinary DB4 GT in the hands of Innes Ireland. Moss won with ease in the end after a crash in practice, there was no word as to whether he turned on the radio………..

These Ferraris are amongst the most elegant of all GT cars…………and here there were a brace – Bellissimo!

The weather was kind and a great time was had by all who attended, let’s hope that this event becomes a tradition……………in the meantime enjoy another stunning portfolio of photos from Simon – Bellissimo indeed!

John Brooks November 2018

Escorting at Brands Hatch

The Ford Escort, star of track and rally stage, has hit half a century of competition. How appropriate then that Brands Hatch was the venue a month or two back for a celebration of this yeoman of the track and street.

Of course in a virtually dry summer there would be downpours during some of the action, but lurid angles and consummate car control are the bread and butter of the touring car brigade.

Back in 1968 I had just been following the sport for about a year, not been to a race, that came in 1970. However I would devour Motor Sport, Motor Racing and Autocar with the fervour of a new convert. There was an exciting world of speed brought to life by the likes of Eoin Young, Michael Cotton, Denis Jenkinson and Innes Ireland to name but a few. That year the BTCC title was taken by Frank Gardner in the Escort that is shown above and for the enthusiastic crowd that braved the rain the demonstration laps of XOO349F were a highlight of the HSCC meeting.

Our local star, Simon Hildrew, was on hand to capture the spirit of this episode of time travel to the ’70s, the land of The Sweeney, The Three-Day Week, Punk and some very dubious taste in fashion – Never Mind the Bollocks indeed.

John Brooks November 2018

Monterey Magic

Autumn or Fall as the locals would say is a very agreeable time to be in California’s Monterey Peninsula. This weekend the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge will reach its climax after a season of classic endurance GT races. SRO has history at the fantastic Laguna Seca track dating back to its earliest days. Some 20 years ago the final round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship, was held at Laguna Seca. In the top GT1 class it was scheduled to be a classic encounter between the veteran champion, Klaus Ludwig and the bright star emerging to ascendancy, Bernd Schneider. Yes of course they had co-drivers, Ricardo Zonta and Mark Webber, but despite the obvious talent and potential of that pair all eyes were on the two Germans of different generations. Schneider had taken the title in 1997 and had looked favourite to repeat this for most of the 1998 season.

What added spice to the contest was that they were both driving for the AMG Mercedes team, for the majority of the season in the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM. Approaching the decisive race, the score sheet showed Ludwig and Zonta ahead of their rivals by four points, the margin between first and second place on track. However, Schneider and Webber had racked up five wins to four, so if the points tally was equal after Laguna Seca they would be champions on the basis of more race wins. It was a case of the winner takes it all and second place would be nowhere.

The GT2 class was a complete contrast to this close contest in GT1.  The Oreca Chrysler Viper team dominated proceedings, winning eight out of the nine rounds already run. Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy had grabbed the Drivers’ Title with seven victories, Monterey was expected to be more of the same. Could either the Roock Racing Porsches or Cor Euser’s Marcos challenge the Viper’s hegemony?

1998 was an almost perfect season for the AMG Mercedes squad. The only hiccup had come during the Le Mans 24 Hours when both cars went out early after suffering engine failure. A seal in the power-steering hydraulic pump failed and that trivial fault fatally damaged the engine. It was a most un-Mercedes moment as otherwise they were in a different league to their closest and only serious competitor, Porsche AG’s 911 GT1 98.

In reality the Porsche was only a threat at certain kinds of circuits where the disadvantage of their turbocharged engines as regulated under the FIA GT1 rules package was not a factor. And even then, it was almost always Allan McNish who was able to challenge the Mercedes duo, we would grow accustomed to the electric pace of the Scot in the following decade, but it was something of an eye opener in 1998.

Adding even more spice to the contest was the announcement by Ludwig that he would retire from motor sport after the race in Monterey. His career had included three victories at Le Mans and five DTM titles, could he add the FIA GT Championship to the list? Klaus certainly was motivated, and said before the race, “Laguna Seca is one of the tracks I love the best. It’s a demanding track and an exciting track – the Corkscrew, in Europe, impossible! To win there would be very special for me.”

Ludwig was not the only one departing the GT scene, Ricardo Zonta was bound for Formula One, another Brazilian on the conveyor-belt of talent that started with Emmerson Fittipaldi and continued through Piquet, Senna, Barrichello and Massa amongst many others.

However, there was still a Championship to be decided. Most Europeans like myself imagine that California is a place of sunshine and beaches, blondes and brunettes of either sex, all tanned, forever young. So, it was something of a shock arriving at the track in anticipation of Saturday Morning’s Qualifying session to conditions usually found at the Nürburgring or Spa, torrential rain. The first session was stopped after 15 minutes as a river of mud was blocking the Corkscrew, not quite how I imagined the weather would be on the West Coast.

The afternoon’s conditions were much better and the advantage swung Ludwig’s way courtesy of Zonta. The Brazilian’s pole position lap of 1m16.154s was 0.434 seconds faster than Schneider’s best.  Afterwards Ricardo explained. “My qualifying lap was really good but not without a problem. Because I experienced a little brake balance problem, I got off-line in the last corner where it was a little wet. That might have cost me some time.”

In GT2 the Viper effort was reduced to one car after David Donohue crashed out on Friday. He hit the wall hard as a result of brake failure, the car caught fire and was too badly damaged for any immediate repair.

Class Pole was grabbed by a very determined Stéphane Ortelli in his Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2 with a 1:24.851 lap, less than a tenth of second advantage over Cor Euser’s Marcos LM 600 who was fractions faster than Beretta’s Viper. This could be a race to match the GT1 battle, or so we hoped.

After the traditional end-of-term drivers’ photo Klaus was presented with a lump of the track as a memento of his final race, it seemed a very Californian thing to do.

AMG Mercedes had the front row to themselves, who would emerge from Turn One in the lead, Schneider or Ludwig? Everyone held their breath but in the end the veteran got the best start and quickly pulled away from his rival.

In any case Bernd had his mirrors full of a Porsche with McNish making a nuisance of himself, even passing the Mercedes after a few laps.

GT2 also saw a fierce tussle for the lead in opening laps before the natural order of things asserted itself with Beretta grabbing the lead. Two of the major challengers to the all-conquering Viper both retired with gearbox failure after just seven laps, that was the end of Jan Lammers in the Konrad Porsche and also Claudia Hürtgen in the 911 she shared with Ortelli. A few laps later and the Marcos was out. Also with transmission woes.

Ludwig had his own dramas to contend with while negotiating his way through the traffic. William Langhorne in the Stadler GT2 Porsche was having a spirited contest with Michel Neugarten in his Elf Haberthur example, swapping positions round the sweeping track. The American was fully concentrating on the car in front so did not see Ludwig dive underneath him at Turn Three. The result was a heavy side impact that nearly put Klaus off the tarmac but somehow, he gathered himself together and raced on at full speed. Langhorne crashed out the following lap at the Corkscrew, something broke he maintained.

Schneider also got rid of the McNish problem around this point, the clutch failed on the Porsche stranding the Scot out on the far side of the circuit. It would be a straight fight for victory for the #1 and #2 Mercedes. Schneider then dived into the pits, fuel only, no fresh Bridgestones.

A lap later Ludwig was in, then out of the car, Zonta taking new rubber. He managed to stall the CLK-LM as he left the pits, all of which gave a handy advantage back to Schneider.

Bernd was looking certain to take the title but then lost a load of time stuck behind Jörg Müller in the other factory Porsche 911 GT1 98. Müller was determined to not go a lap down on the leader, hoping that the deployment of a Safety Car would give him the chance to catch up to the front. Eventually Müller ran wide at the first turn, allowing Schneider to pass, though he was furious at his fellow German. The gap was around the 12 second mark but this might not be enough to guarantee victory.

The second stints ended and into the pits came Schneider to hand over to his Aussie co-driver who also received a new set of tyres. This would put Webber behind Zonta on the road as it was expected that his stop would be a fuel only affair and so it proved. The AMG Mercedes management had anxious moments after both of their cars left the pits for the final time. Both fell off the track at Turn Three where oil had been deposited by a back marker, both cars just missed hitting the wall by a fraction, it could have been a disaster.

Zonta had a lead of 16 seconds but Webber got his head down and chipped away taking a second here, a second there. The #8 Porsche intervened again, this time it was Uwe Alzen’s turn to hold up the #1 Mercedes for a lap or two. Eventually Weber dived down the inside at the first turn and once again the was contact as the Porsche was muscled out of the way but he was through and the chase was back on.

Webber posted a time of 1:19.094, setting a new GT record, would it be enough? The gap came down to ten seconds but the time ran out for the chasing Mercedes and Zonta crossed the line 10.8 seconds ahead – Ludwig and Zonta were Champions, the fairy tale had come true.

There was no fairy tale in GT2, in fact the whole affair was something of a damp squib. The race was a walk over for Beretta and Lamy, who scored their eight class win of the season, ending up over a lap in front of the second Roock Racing 911 GT2, driven by Bruno Eichmann and Mike Hezemans. The final spot on the podium want to another 911 GT2, driven by Michael Trunk and Bernhard Müller.

Schneider showed grace in defeat, he is, and always was, a class act. “Failing to win the title after 10 races by just 10 seconds shows how tough we raced for the Drivers’ Championship this season. Although Mark and I didn’t manage to win the Championship, I’m glad for the team. Congratulations to my old friend Klaus, who deserves to end his career as Champion.”

Mark later reflected on the result in his excellent autobiography ‘Aussie Grit’. “So, the end result was second place in the FIA GT Championship by a margin of eight points. My disappointment was tempered by happiness for Klaus, since that was his last year in racing, but I also felt it had been a little unfair on Bernd. His partner came from Formula Ford and F3, whereas Ricardo arrived as the new F3000 champion to partner Klaus and was already getting test drives in Formula 1. I could go toe-to-toe with them most times but sometimes I struggled, partly because it was Bernd’s car, basically, and he had it set up as he wanted it, and partly through sheer lack of experience.” Zonta had this to say after the race.   “This was a real tough title fight. I had to give it my all to keep the gap to Mark Webber wide enough to make it. The fact that we both went off because of oil on the track shows how close to the limit we were. I’m really happy about the title and that I could win it together with Klaus.”

The retiring Champion had the last word. “I’m extremely happy about the Championship. This was a sensational achievement by the team, and my co-driver Ricardo is the best I could have asked for. I want to thank especially Norbert Haug and Hans Werner Aufrecht, who brought me back to AMG Mercedes.”

Of course, the old stager did not ride off into the sunset, the lure of motor racing proved too strong. In June 1999 Klaus scored a third win in the Nürburgring 24 Hours driving a Zakspeed Viper. In 2000 Ludwig raced a full season in the revived DTM, scoring a pair of wins at Sachsenring in his Mercedes. Now at the age of 50 he decided to retire as a professional driver. Then, being Klaus, he raced on for a few more years just for fun, notably finishing second overall in the 2006 Nürburgring 24 Hours. It was a helluva career………….

John Brooks, October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Fifty

The sharp ones amongst you (that’s everyone who visits this site) who read the Festival of Speed piece  will have noticed a great gap in the words and pictures. No Porsche……….

1948 not only saw the arrival of Lotus and Land Rover, but also the powerhouse now know as Porsche AG came into existence. To celebrate 70 years of “Excellence was Expected”  Porsche pushed out the boat or more appropriately The Carrera at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and what a party there was!

As one might expect the centrepiece was the sculpture or should that be installation in front of Goodwood House, the work of Gerry Judah.

It is one of the signature displays at each Festival of Speed and this year’s effort did not disappoint. The 917 reminded me of a famous shot from the 1970 Le Mans 24, with Mike Hailwood’s Gulf 917 being hoisted by a crane from the track after ‘Mike the Bike’ lost control in the wet and crashed out of the race and the JW Automotive team………..no way to treat a 917.

 

Down to earth is how you would describe the 356 ‘No.1’ Roadster, that started the journey that we saluted some 70 years on. Porsche shows great respect for its heritage, not all automobile manufacturers are so clever.

I am not convinced that the term Mission Statement was popular back in 1948 but here we have the original thoughts from Ferry Porsche, pretty much sums up the company ever since.

Another giant step for Porsche was the introduction of the 911 and the oldest example that Porsche owns, 57th off the production line in 1964, was also on the Hill.

One Porsche that never saw the light of day was the LMP 2000 that was destined to succeed the 911 GT1 98 as Porsche’s challenger for further honours at Le Mans.

It ran but a few tests before the whole project was cancelled by the Board in favour of spending the budget developing the Cayenne. This was the first that LMP 2000 had ever appeared in public.

There were many familiar faces in the phalanx of Porsches on display. The 2003 911 GT3 RS that had beaten the top class cars to score an outright win at the 2003 Spa 24 Hours (how very Retro-Porsche!) was a welcome sight.

By any standards the Porsche at 70 event within an event at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed was rip-roaring success, here’s to another 70 years. In the meantime enjoy the sensations captured by Simon Hildrew.

John Brooks, September 2018