Monthly Archives: January 2011

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Because He Is Worth It

Stephane Ratel

Most of you will familiar with the authority on Sports Car and Endurance Racing, DailySportsCar.com

I suspect that you also know that it is subscription site.

What you may not know is that some current items are free to view. The huge archive is similarly available.

Today DSC runs a free piece that should be read by anyone with an interest in this side of the sport. Stephane Ratel, one of the saviours of endurance racing in the mid-90s and Chairman of SRO, gives an extensive interview.

Hot Stuff

He gives his verdict on the first year of the FIA GT1 World Championship and where he sees its future.

You can see it HERE

Do it now.

John Brooks, January 2011

New Millennium, Sir? Part Three

Running on Rails

The engine failure of the #12 Ferrari appeared to hand victory to the #16 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford. As daylight broke they had a 23 lap advantage over the #2 Corvette, OK there were seven hours to go but this was Dyson we were considering. That should have been enough but there were worried expressions in the Dyson pit. It was reported that #16 took on water to counteract overheating at their first pit stop some 16 hours previously. During the night the problem went the other way as it emerged that the engine of #16 was running at 120 degrees not the normal 200. Something was amiss and even a crew chief as experienced as Dyson’s Pat Smith was unable to figure out a quick fix. Could they hold on?

A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

The other Dyson car, #20 lost two hours having the input shaft to the transmission replaced, so was out of contention.

Up Front

Third overall was the GT Class leader, Jet Motorsports BMW M3. They were 3 laps up with five hours to go when the engine failed after an oil leak, another car gone.

Both Of The Crowd Were Entertained

The miserable conditions continued, making everyone rather grumpy, just wishing for this damn race to be finished. Even at Corvette things got a little tense. Well known and sometimes respected writer, Andrew Cotton, popped his head into the Pratt & Miller pit to catch up with Andy Pilgrim and file some copy for the Daily Telegraph. There were a couple of off duty local cops acting “security” for Dale Senior and one decided that Andrew’s presence was superfluous and told him to get lost. Like any Brit abroad, Andrew ignored the cop and tried to help matters by declaring that he was not interested in Senior and only wanted to speak to Pilgrim. The next step was that Andrew was threatened with arrest if he did not leave immediately, a plain dereliction of duty. The cop should have tasered and cuffed him there and then for ignoring an instruction from an Officer of the Law. It would not have happened in Sheriff Bill Gillespie’s time.

Of course when this incident reached the ears of GM PR, they had a collective heart attack, but all was eventually smoothed over, the Telegraph got their copy and Andrew, I think, got a free breakfast.

The Cruel Sea

As the race trundled on #16 extended the gap to #2 Corvette to 28 laps. Then at around 9.30am and with less than 4 hours to go, the call came. Butch Leitzinger parked the Riley & Scott at the East Horseshoe with an engine failure. I remember seeing the crew as they struggled to come to terms with this cruel fate, it was hard to witness, like there had been a death in the family. Rob Dyson could only say “I am not sure I want to come back to this place”. He did.

Double Dutch

The Rolex is about more than the struggle for the lead, each team has its own story to tell. Cor Euser brought a brace of Marcos from Holland, both got to the finish.

GT1?

Embracing the original “Run what you Brung” philosophy was the Canadian Porsche 911 GT1 entry, it ended up third in class.

Rocket Ron

The clocked ticked on, eventually it was 1.00pm, the race was run and we all gave thanks. The #2 Corvette had scored an unlikely win, but fully deserved none the less. It was the early stages of what would turn out to be long series of wins for the Pratt & Miller team. Anyone interested in reading more about this should consider THIS. The disappointment of seeing good guys like Weaver, Brabs and Nishy robbed of their races was offset by the celebrations of the Corvette guys, who could resist such passion?

Lightning Performance

The decimation of the prototypes promoted the White Lightning Racing Porsche 996 GT3R,  driven by Christian Menzel, Lucus Luhr, Mike Fitzgerald, Randy Pobst, to second place overall.

GT Winners

They were also GT class winners.

Manfred’s Wagen

Third overall were Wolfgang Kaufmann, Cyril Chateau and Lance Stewart in the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3RS. Another great result.

The Final Podium

Next up was the crew of #3 who scored second place in GTS. Hard to imagine back then that this was Dale Earnhardt Snr.’s final podium. He would be fatally injured two weeks later on the final lap of the Daytona 500. His plans to leave NASCAR and come into endurance racing never came to fruition but had he lived the shape of Le Mans and the ALMS in the following years would have been very different.

L’Intimidateur

This would have become a familiar sight.

Downing’s delight

In the end the SRP1 class went to the Kudzu Mazda, here advertising the HANS system that owner/driver Jim Downing was advocating to all. Had Earnhardt been wearing one of these devices in the 500 he might well of survived his accident. They are mandatory now.

Archangel Motorsport

SRP 2 was won by Archangel Motorsport.

Hamilton Safe Motorsports

The final class winner was Hamilton Safe Motorsports who came out on top in AGT.

Champions All.

24 Hour races at Daytona International Speedway are regarded as amongst the toughest around, any of the 310 drivers who competed at the 2001 edition would have agreed and so would their crews. So the celebrations go on into the night, it is a Daytona tradition.

John Brooks, January 2011

New Millennium, Sir? Part Two

Daytona Dawn

Saturday 3rd February 2001, the 39th edition of the Rolex 24 Hours got underway with the usual pomp and ceremony. The first few hours saw a few cars fall by the wayside but most of the 79 starters were still circulating. Then came the rain.

There is some sort of expectation from those who stay back in Europe while the Rolex 24 takes place, that the whole affair is conducted in Miami South Beach conditions. My experience has been somewhat different, 2000’s race was absolutely freezing, below zero when the wind chill was factored in.  2001 was marginally warmer but the rain was horrible. It was cold, wet and dark prematurely.

Rally Cross?

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.

NASCAR 4

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.

Racing in the Rain

The switch from analogue to digital robbed the Daytona Infield spectators of the Grand Prix that would take place at the end of each track session. The Pro and not so Pro photographers would lumber towards their vehicles, jump in and try to beat the others to the Tunnel at NASCAR 4 and across West International Speedway Boulevard to the photo processors, Speedway Photo as I recall. Their service was magic, unlike most of the nonsense that we used to endure back then. The quicker you got to the store, the higher up the queue you would be, though what we were hoping to achieve by this is not clear. Even a small scanned image would takes ages to transmit down those 14.4k phone connections and broadband had not reached the Speedway yet. Still it all seemed very important to us. It showed our competitive spirit, ‘How the West was Won’ sorta thing.

First of Many

The dubious honour of being the first retirement fell to the TRV Motorsports outfit, five minutes into the race.

Unique

The Crawford had transmission problems and despite replacing the entire mechanism, they too fell out early in the race.

Intersport Lola

The Intersport Lola led during the first hour but hit clutch problems, dropping them down the order. It was a rough Rolex baptism for 17 year old Clint Field.

A Big Target

Another early leader, the Robinson Racing Riley & Scott was yet one more prototype to have problems, losing an hour behind the Wall trying to sort an engine malady.

The Old One Two

So as the light faded it was the Risi Ferrari and the Weaver Riley & Scott scrapping for the lead with #20 Dyson car and the Champion Lola hanging on…………then came #2 Corvette, this one would run and run.

Mad Mike

Of course it was not only the front runners that were suffering in the poor conditions. My old pal, Mike Youles, was having his own brand of problems in the race. PK Sport had only just taken delivery of the 996 GT3 R and were not prepared for the copious amounts of rain. Somehow water was all over the inside of the screen, so Mike drove along trying to work out where he was by looking out the side windows.

I’m Sorry, I’ll Feel That Again

In addition to this he was driving double and triple stints as co-driver Geoff Lister was unwell. Of course Mike took it all in his stride, “Racing by Braille” he called it at the time. with a big grin on his face. Utter madness but very PK Sport we all agreed.

Hot Laps?

Even the Corvettes were having some difficulties. Dale Junior was sent out for his first stint as the conditions got worse, this was not great timing from the team, as he said at the time.

“When I went out there in the car it was a little slick. I spun out a few times trying to get going. The track’s drying up a lot and it’s really gotten quick. Hopefully we can get buckled down here and catch up.” “I asked them if I could do a double, but they said later on man, save your strength. I’m ready to go when they are.” “I had zero experience in the wet. I’ve never driven on it, so I was out there learning. But the track dried pretty quick and I felt pretty comfortable and fell into a good rhythm.” “They kind of saved me from sending me out earlier because it was raining pretty bad. When I got to get out there the track was relatively dry, so I was OK. (On his first lap) The tires were so cold, and your adrenaline’s pumping, and I kind of screwed up. But once I settled down, I felt good.”

Junior had further problems when a half shaft failed, there was a mistake in communication and the whole transmission unit was changed but the #3 was soon back on track only losing around 30 minutes.

The next top runner to hit the rocks was the Champion Lola Porsche, a sudden drop in oil pressure causing engine failure.

The 24 hours of pounding around the Daytona International Speedway is regarded as being as tough as any other similar contest, and that is when the weather is good. The conditions that prevailed in 2001 meant that most folk were clinging on, hoping to see daylight.


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 Speedway

The darkness went on and on, as long in Florida as it is short at La Sarthe.

Final Part of this tale of misfortune and endeavour tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011



Retro Gatorade Step?

The Victory Lane Roll

2003 saw the introduction of the Daytona Prototypes to the Rolex 24. Well, as their SRP 1 and 2 ancestors had found out in 2000 and 2001, any hint of delays due to mechanical problems will let the GT mob in. They are like a pack of hyenas relentlessly hunting.

So it was not a huge surprise to see a Porsche coming out on top, it’s what they do.

And of course it would not be Victory Lane without a crowd of clueless guys in bright shirts milling about purposelessly, oblivious to the TV and photographers trying to get a shot. Traditions are traditions after all.

John Brooks, January 2011

New Millennium, Sir? Part One.

Horologists celebrate!As with most things that the last lot in power (the Blair/Brown Cabal) here in the UK touched, the Millennium Celebrations got screwed up. The Dome became a byword for the kind of badly executed, wildly over budget, grandiose gesture projects that were supposed to keep us all dazzled. Fiddling while Rome burned, they even got the date wrong, as us Gregorians reckon that the new era starts in 2001 not 2000. Whatever.

In many ways the first major motor sport event of this Millennium, the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours, marked a more significant point than the 2000 edition held the previous January. Sure that had kicked off the Grand-Am set of races, and with a bang, but as those of us who have been around the tracks a while will tell you, organisations and their acronyms come and go. Yes, there had been a major battle between the factory teams of Viper and Corvette, eclipsing the supposedly faster prototypes, even the debuting Cadillac, but if Grand-Am represented anything it was not factory based competition.

As if to emphasise this point, by the start of 2001 both Dodge and Cadillac were gone, leaving Corvette’s team, Pratt & Miller, to try and beat the faster hoards of prototypes.

The Intimidator

The big news from the Corvette camp was that NASCAR superstar, Dale Earnhardt Snr. was joining the line up in the #3 car (what else?). And that his son, Dale Jnr. would be with him plus regulars, Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins. The #2 Vette would be the insiders’ favourite though, whatever the fans thought, the combination of Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell, Franck Freon and Chris Kneifel would be amongst the best in the field.

Despite the lack of experience in driving endurance cars (or in the rain or at night) Earnhardt applied himself to the task in hand, really impressing his fellow drivers and the whole team.

That should have surprised no one, sportsmen do not reach the Olympian heights that Senior had over many years in NASCAR, without being both bright and hard working.

Andy P and Junior

The process of adjustment to the new scene was greatly helped by the advice and friendship shown to the stars by Andy Pilgrim and Chris Kneifel, who talked through the areas of concern like the completely alien braking processes, the driving at night, the running in the rain. In return Earnhardt was able to bring his intimate knowledge of the Daytona banking to assist his team to be even quicker along the famous pavement.

E Additives

Another big change from the NASCAR environment was that of being part of a squad of drivers but the Father and Son combo adjusted well to this aspect. I was on the fringe of the team due to friendly GM PR guy who kept me appraised of any happenings. He even introduced me to Dale, who considering our relative status, was extremely gracious, not a reaction I always encounter from some in the game.

Night Time in the Switching Yard

The attention of the media was focused on #3, this was, after all, the heartland of NASCAR and Senior was their transcendent Super Star. This left the crew of #2 to get on quietly with preparations for the battle with the prototypes in the search for overall victory. There were stories at the time of Senior’s ambitions to race with Corvette in the following years, especially at Le Mans, he was a serious racer. I wrote about this later HERE

Red Line

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 without parting with actual cash. Fastest lap in practice of 1:41.118, if not in Qualifying, seemed to support the argument.

What Might Have Been

Another notable contender was the Porsche powered Champion Racing Lola B2K/10.  Bob Wollek, Hurley Haywood, Dorsey Schroeder and Sascha Maassen would bring experience and speed to job in hand. The standard of the Champion Racing outfit was top line and with some assistance from Weissach this was more than a dark horse.

EFR on a charge

There were two Dyson Racing Riley & Scott Mklll Fords, that were always contenders for victory when they entered a race. They had won the Floridian classic two years earlier and were looking for a repeat performance.

Saint Crispin’s Day?

Any team that could count on the talents of James Weaver, especially if joined by Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger, was going to be there or thereabouts. No Question.

So the question would be could the faster prototypes run reliably enough to beat the Corvette pair? Or would there be a repeat of the 2000 race that fell into the hands of the GT1 machines?

Lap One and Carnage

Weaver got the jump on Jon Field’s Intersport Lola at the start and as the competitors made their way into the infield all hell broke loose. Norman Simon in the Bob Akin Motorsports Riley & Scott pirouetted, he reckoned he was tapped into the spin, others felt that too much aggression on cold tyres a more likely explanation.

Grosse Scheisse!

Ron Fellows nearly ran his Corvette into Broward County trying avoid any possibility of contact, it was no way to start a 24 Hour race.

Master James

The race settled down after the indiscretions of the first lap, Weaver leads from Kelleners and Field and others all took spells in front during the opening stint.

Grand-Am was itself about to embrace a period of change, trying to find a formula that would give their competitors stability of rules and some form of cost capping to try and rein in budgets and keep both the ACO and FIA at bay. In 1999 the Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson, had formed an alliance with John Mangoletsi and the European based Sports Racing World Cup with a plan for to run two races in 2000 with a combined grid of prototypes. Problem was that most of Mango’s Barmy Army, as we were affectionately known, did not want, nor could afford, to race on two continents. So only a handful of SRWC entries made the trip to Daytona and Road America that summer, so the concept was quietly dropped.

Grand-Am did not want to allow in the likes of Audi and similar factory teams to race in their series, they would destroy the opposition and lead to a dependence on their revenue streams, just ask the ALMS how that one worked out. However the technology that they and other manufacturers had introduced to prototype and GT competition could not be unlearned. The likes of Lola and Riley & Scott were forced by the demands of customers who wanted to race at Le Mans to follow in the escalation of technology and, of course, budget. It is around this time that the concept of the Daytona Prototypes began to appear in the thinking of the Grand-Am top brass as the answer to the conundrum. The final designs were still some time away but it was clear that Grand-Am and its showcase 24 hour race would operate to different rules and specifications to the rest of endurance racing. With the financial muscle of NASCAR and its allies behind the project, in particular Sun Trust Bank, this was possible.

Class Acts

Dale Earnhardt Snr. was not the only star to be seen at Daytona that year. Paul Newman or simply PLN when racing, was an enthusiastic part of the Gunnar Racing Porsche team.

All The Stars Come Out At Night

Unfortunately the 911 GT1’s performance did not match its looks and the elegant GT was an early retirement.

Disappointment

Another getting an early bath was the Saleen of Paul Gentilozzi, a suspension failure led to retirement. The GTS category was thinning out.

Part two of this Retrospective tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011

Shiny Bauble

Even without the flying antics, the Mercedes Benz CLR was an attention grabber. The low lines, the purity of the livery, the whole Mercedes Benzness of it all.

Permission to Land?

The disaster of the 1999 Le Mans meant the end of the sportscar programme for the company. Imagine how things might have turned out for the ALMS if Mercedes, Porsche and Toyota had joined BMW and Audi in North America in 1999 and 2000. Even NASCAR might have been worried.

John Brooks, January 2011

Aston Martin Vanquish S

A chance to visit the Isle of Man is not to be missed, the insane, majestic Tourist Trophy course is to be cherished.

Slippery Slope?

The weapon of choice was an Aston Martin Vanquish S. This particular example was third last car built at the Newport Pagnell factory, a last link with history.

The Museum in the photo is also gone, closed as a result of the toxic presence of asbestos.

Happy days.

John Brooks, January 2011

Sands of Time – Uno

Caravanserai

For the past five years the Motosports’ world has been kick-started into life each January by the Dubai 24 Hours. The event has grown in scale and stature with the organisers taking good care of their customers, that is evident by the 84 cars that took the flag this year to commence the long pound round in the sand.

For those of us from the UK, we must be doubly thankful that attendance of the race in the United Arab Emirates gives us the perfect excuse to miss the Autosport Show held at the ghastly NEC. That alone is worth the price of the flight.

All the Sizes, All the Colours

The Dutch organisers, Creventic, have taken full advantage of the popularity and accessability of the GT3 and GT4 classes. They have also learned from the VLN and Nurburgring 24 Hours to try and accommodate a mix of GT and Touring cars. Some are factory efforts in all but name while many are genuine privateer teams who show great resourcefulness in taking on that most challenging of motorsport tasks, racing non-stop  for 24 hours.

Dutch and German Silver Arrows

Creventic have also been assisted in their mission by Grand-Am taking the Daytona 24 Hours on a different route from the rest of the endurance world. Right now the GT2-3-4 cars do not comply with Grand-Am rules and therefore cannot race at the Rolex, though Grand-Am’s management are having a good look at that issue. They may be too late. The traditional trip to Florida in January from Europe has largely become a thing of the past for racers. The delights of travelling to and from the USA as a Non-Citizen are not to be discounted either. Customers will vote with their feet.

Container Line

The containers were lined up behind the pits, disgorged of their contents. The mechanics twirled their spanners, the fitters from Dunlop inflated the tyres and we were all ready to go racing.

Three Stooges?

All, except one team. Lotus had been straining to finish their GT4 Evora, so planned to fly it out to the Middle East on the Monday night. They must have booked CrapAir as the precious cargo was unloaded from the aeroplane before take off, leaving the Anglo-Italian driver line up twiddling their thumbs. Here Johnny Mowlem and the Mansell brothers head back to Jumeira Beach.

Flat Out

Then the news from DXB was better, the car was in the UAE and once the Customs formalities had been observed the car arrived at the track.  The bad news was that it was Thursday evening by this time, with the event starting on Friday afternoon. A few laps in the Warm Up for JM and Stefano D’Aste were the sum of the running for this new car. Now for a 24 Hour race.

Lotus Position

The view for Johnny at the start was some 83 other cars between him and the front. He described the scene in a piece on the authoritative sportscar and endurance racing website DailySportsCar

“So for the race itself I was right at the back of the grid – and it was a BIG grid.  The rules say that you can’t overtake before you pass the start line and I reckon I was at least 6 corners from there when I got the call that the race had started – The race leaders must have been at least two thirds of a lap ahead by the time I had actually gone over the start finish line!”

 

Rub of the Green

“That said, the car was excellent and I could make pretty good progress – the rules dictate that you have to pit for a driver change every 2 hours but by an hour and a half I’d managed to get by the Aston Martin of Hancock, Kane, Masaood and Kapadia to take the class lead. We then pitted 20 minutes later from 30th place –  so 55 cars passed in a stint – that’s probably a record for me, but to be honest the car was so good it made my job very easy!”

 

Podium Celebrations

It was a mega-stint by any standards and set the tone for the whole race. Three driveshaft failures caused by an exhaust manifold overheating a CV joint delayed the Evora but getting a podium in the competitive SP3 class was a fantastic result and just reward for all the hard work. It was the best possible advert for the GT4 Lotus.

More from Dubai tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011