Monthly Archives: August 2011

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GT-R GT3 – Return of Godzilla

The Blancpain Endurance Series round held at Magny Cours last weekend saw the debut of yet another brand to join this class, Nissan.

Power and Glory

This GT-R has a proper V6 Turbo engine, not the pick up truck V8 that is found in the current GT1 racer.  JR Motorsport were understandably modest in their expectations, billing their maiden appearance as a public test session.

New Kids On The Block

The GT-R, driven by David Brabham and Richard Westbrook, had a dream debut finishing 8th overall. To put that into context, one only has to contrast that result with the two retirements suffered by the other new boys, McLaren. GT3 is an intensively competitive arena but it is clear that the established brands will be pushed hard by the newcomers.

GT3 in 2012 just became even more interesting.

John Brooks, August 2011

Reflections on Spa 24 Hours 2011

The Spa 24 Hour race is only a year younger than the more famous Le Mans 24 Hours. Yet this splendid Belgian event, first run in 1924, has built up a wonderful tradition with its entry lists including a variety of interesting marques that have never graced its French counterpart.

It has not been run quite so consistently over the years, the Belgian club, the R.A.C.B., lacking the mighty resources of the A.C.O. ; there was a notable gap from 1949 until (1953 excepted) its resumption fifteen years later and that thanks to the initiative of that worthy journalist-cum-driver Paul Frère.

In 1964 it became a Touring Car event, and no less hotly contested for that, and has embraced the GT category since 2001 ; this year the entry was more straightforward : GT3 and GT4. For many years the race included the award of the Coupe du Roi, effectively a team prize donated originally to the Club by King Albert in 1912. Manufacturers were naturally very keen to win this prestigious trophy, sometimes entering teams for this sole purpose such as Delage in 1931 who, when one of their cars hit a tree, withdrew the other two and went home!

Sadly in more recent times this trophy has been cast aside – the Spa 24 Hours has lost something of its prestige as a result Nevertheless it remains a big event – 62 starters this year – and generates an atmosphere all of its own, especially by night with headlights winding their way through the dark forested valley lit up only by the spectacular fireworks at around 11 p.m. And the circuit allows little chance for the drivers to relax particularly with the frequent risk of rain for which the Ardennes, like its extension in the Eifel region of Germany, is so well-known.

This year’s race is memorable for Audi winning at last and for this being the first 24 hour success for the R8 LMS. Like Porsche the company has been content to leave the car in the hands of good professional private teams but until now the model never quite made it in the big 24 hour races. The factory gave greater backing this year, hence the presence of Audi Sport chief, Dr Ulrich. Let us not forget that the R8 LMS had its first ever race win here at Spa in the first of two Belgian GT events during the weekend of the Spa 1,000 km race in May 2009. Such “firsts” prompt the memory to recall that Peugeot achieved the French marque’s first success in a 24 hour race when it won the 1926 Spa event with its sleeve-valve 18cv Sport model.

Top Dog

 

 

No less than seven of the new Mercédès SLS  AMG GT3 s started the race and of special interest was the car no. 35 which eventually finished in third position overall. Although run by the Black Falcon team it was painted red as a tribute to the 40th anniversary of AMG’s first entry in this race in 1971. They used the car that came to be known as the “Röte Sau” (red pig) and was a 300 SEL saloon with a 6.8-litre version of the V-8 to be found in the big Mercédès 600 Saloon. Carrying the number 35 it finished 2nd overall just 3 laps behind the winning Ford Capri driven by Hans Heyer (father of Kenneth Heyer, one of the drivers of the red SLS) and Clemens Schickentanz.

This over-weight saloon was on show in the race paddock for all to admire – it turned out 420 b.h.p., it had a 4-speed automatic gearbox, disc brakes all round and air suspension! Not surprisingly the heavy machine was somewhat handicapped by having to refuel frequently and by its tyres which wore out rather too rapidly, but it represents history for Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach (AMG) which grew to become the in-house sporting arm of Mercédès Benz. Interestingly, Mercédès themselves also had their first 24 hour race success when one of the two SSK cars entered won the 1931 Spa 24 Hours.

Klassic

 

 

AMG

The McLaren MP4-12C  had of course made its race début three weeks earlier at Spa when the British GT cars had two rounds of their Championship at the Belgian circuit but it was exciting to find three of the very new cars on the grid for the 24 Hour race. Fate was not exactly kind to them: the no.59 slammed violently into the barriers just below La Source after a coming-together with the GT4 BMW M3 in the early laps and the no.58 decided to catch fire coming away from the Les Combes corners on the highest part of the circuit later on the Saturday evening.

Fire Drill

 

 

 

 

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

The remaining car no.60 did reach the finish albeit in a lowly 25th position but don’t forget that these are completely new cars with their own completely new engines.

Soul Survivor

 

 

The GT4 class had just four runners after a Porsche had been withdrawn. The little Lotus Evora had things its own way for a long time until its engine sadly cried enough creating an internal fire and when the Aston Martin Vantage retired the BMW M3 had to play second fiddle to the Nissan 350Z which eventually scooped the category.

Class Leader

 

 

 

 

 

 

GT4

David Blumlein, August 2011

 

The Land of Lost Content

Fifteen years ago today I was in Japan, covering the Pokka 1000 kilometers at a baking hot Suzuka circuit.

Jan da Man

1996 was the time of the BPR Global Endurance Series, McLaren F1 GTR against Ferrari F40 against Lotus Esprit with an armada of Porsche 911s to make up the numbers. It was also the end of that era, as the Porsche 911 GT1 would appear at the next round and the game would be over for the cars mentioned………a gun to a knife fight.

JJ

Ray Bellm was chasing the driver’s title with his regular partner, James Weaver, but for the long distance Japanese event they were joined by Finnish ace, JJ Lehto. The 1995 Le Mans winner had raced with the Gulf McLaren outfit earlier at Le Mans and was widely regarded as one of the fastest drivers in the endurance arena.

I See it Shining Plain

Although in the long term it means little in an endurance race, competitive instincts rise to the surface during Qualifying, Suzuka 1996 was no exception.  Jan Lammers, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and especially JJ Lehto had designs on pole position. I was shooting the session out on the inside of the exit of turn seven, behind the pits. The cars would pop into view having climbed up from the lowest point of the track, with little ground effect the GT1 machines were more than a little wayward. Naturally JJ was a bit wilder than most and on his last lap I was convinced that I had caught him mid corner. Back then, no autofocus, no digital, just rolls of Provia. Somehow that shot came out and that moment stayed with me. Strange to say that I was looking through the archives for something this morning, there it was. A bit of research in Time and Two Seats and there is was 24th August 1996, exactly fifteen years ago.

Of course I did not realise it at the time but it truly was The Land of Lost Content. Ask JJ.

John Brooks, August 2011

 

 

Imola Investigata

The Imola circuit, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, is best known for the Formula 1 races that have been held in the past, particularly the San Marino Grands Prix, world championship events named after the local republic which gave Italy the chance to have two grands prix each season on her soil. But Imola is not a stranger to sports car races, the very first four-wheeled race held there being for cars with two seats.

In fact the first three Imola Grands Prix were for sports cars. It was in June 1954 that Imola hosted a race for two-litre sports racers. This was at the time when there was intense rivalry between Maserati and Ferrari, be it in the world of Formula 1 or even in the 2000 c.c. sports category. In the latter Maserati had been gaining the upper hand with its attractive A6GCS 2000, having already succeeded in the Giro di Sicilia, the 6-Hours of Bari, at Naples and in the Targa Florio. But Ferrari had hit back in the all-important Mille Miglia when one of its new Mondial models came second overall in the hands of Vittorio, the oldest of the racing Marzotto brothers, beaten only by Ascari’s D24 Lancia. The Mondial was Ferrari’s contender for the hotly contested two-litre class and was based on the Type 500 Formula 2 double championship winning Grand Prix four-cylinder car of 1952/53.

The Ferrari factory sent two Mondials to Imola for that first car race, both having Scaglietti bodies based on some ideas of Dino Ferrari with unusually small front grilles. That competent and versatile Italian Umberto Maglioli drove one to victory and Robert Manzon took fastest lap in the other before retiring; Luigi Musso could only manage third for Maserati that day.

Forza

 

 

Cesare Perdisa took revenge for Maserati in the following year while in 1956 the chief race at Imola was for sports cars up to 1500 c.c. This resulted in a win for Eugenio Castellotti in an OSCA despite strong competition from three Team Lotus Elevens.

We jump ahead some sixteen years and find the beautiful Ferrari 312P sports racer winning a non-championship race at Imola – Merzario obliged with team-mate Ickx in second place.

By 1974 Ferrari had abandoned sports car racing officially to devote all its racing energies to the world of Formula One and Maserati, suffering changes of ownership, had long since ceased to be a force in sports car racing. Into this breach stepped temporarily the V12 Matras and for the first time we find the French blue displacing Italian red with the Matra MS670C winning in the hands of Pescarolo and Larrousse.

Imola went on to hold further World Sports Car rounds and Italian honour was upheld with Brambilla’s win in 1977 with the Alfa Romeo T33SC/12 and Fabi and Heyer’s success in the Lancia LC2/83 six years later. But we had to wait until 2004 before the old protagonists set to again on this circuit.

The context was the FIA GT Championship and it was at Imola that Maserati gave its new MC12 its racing début. Although the new cars from Modena were not yet eligible for points, they nevertheless finished on the road in second and third positions leading home three Ferrari 550 Maranellos – it was quite like former times! Yet to be fair to Ferrari their cars scooped enough points (technically 2nd, 3rd and 4th) to give the BMS Scuderia Italia squad the GT Teams title.

Trident Returns

 

 

And so to 2011 and the Bleu France invades again, Peugeot fending off Audi. No more of the big Maseratis but the red of Maranello is happily at Imola once more in the GT section and the pace-setting 458 Italia winning the Pro GT category. And there were works blessed Lotuses there again.

Red Line Moment

 

 

 

 

 

There's a Red House over yonder......

 

 

David Blumlein, August 2011

 

WHAT IS A RACE CAR AND WHAT ISN’T – OR DO YOU REALLY OWN A FERRARI?

 

Some Restoration Needed

 

 

As someone fast approaching my seventh decade, when I began my involvement in motorsport old, obsolete race cars were either left to rot out back of one’s shop, or even dismantled and cut up to provide parts for their successors. They were not, in any sense, venerated for their past accomplishments.

Today that has all changed. Not only are they accorded the status once reserved for human beings who affected history, they now enjoy the mantle of being art objects, right along side the paintings of Rembrandt and Picasso. They also share one other thing with these masterpieces: the prices they command in the marketplace.  And, therein can be found controversy.

Unlike a Rembrandt or a Picasso, race cars, old and new, are “tools,” that were never intended to become cherished collector items. Over the course of time they were changed, or even duplicated as necessity dictated.  Until the European Union came into existence, motorsport was a universe filled with, and controlled by the paperwork needed to travel from one European country to the next.

For example, if a car was destroyed, its replacement, or replacements if it was wrecked again, more often than not would be given the same chassis number, so it conformed to the paperwork. Thus, there might be two or three examples of the same vehicle to have been created over the course of its original career. Moreover, if that career was lengthy, more than likely it would be modified for the sake of competitiveness. After all, it was “a tool.”

The effect of this has been to play havoc in authenticating what now are considered investments, rather than living memories. Some companies, such as Porsche have been “collector friendly” when comes to the process, others, such as Ferrari, have been much less so.

The latter, for example has established a “classics” department, which for money will bless one’s prize as being a “real” member of the breed. Of course, to attain that entrance one has to meet the standards set by the Italian manufacturer, which until recently had a strict policy that a car must be exactly as it was when it left the factory to qualify. And, oh yes, only Ferrari’s classic department could right any uncovered flaws. The problem of course in Ferrari’s case is that so many of its sports racers achieved their fame, and thus their current value in guises that were distinctly non factory in character. The unique “250 Drogo created “Bread Van,” which started life as an undistinguished 250 Short Wheelbase Berlinetta which falls into this category is a perfect example of the insanity of that position.

Happily, the Italian firm as backed off, and now acknowledges the existence of these modified Ferraris, accepting their preservation “as is,” if in somewhat grudging fashion. If one talks to Ferrari, the company will claim only the highest motives in trying to maintain the firm’s good name and prevent “fakes” from reaching the marketplace.

Certainly, there is more than just a little legitimacy to that posture. However, there is likewise some who would suggest that there are financial incentives as well. Keep in mind that a Ferrari 250 GTO, a beautiful sensual coupe, originally produced to give the company the edge in the GTs production arena in the early 1960’s, now sells for as much as $29 million, and you get the point.

However, there is a larger picture here. Simply put, shouldn’t one worry less about the specific heritage of a particular GTO, and more about using it for something much nearer to its original intended purpose: i.e. driving fast? The vintage and historic world has become much more about wealth and egos than about enjoying history.

Ferrari talks about “replica” bodies and other non original components/ Of course, a preserved race car that is thirty, forty or fifty years old are going to contain new pieces because they were built for “the moment” and not “the ages.” Tube frames wear out, engines blow up, suspensions develop cracks, and bodywork is a fleeting” proposition at best. The bottom line is if your ego demands a Rembrandt like purchase, then buy a Rembrandt, and leave the tools alone.

What Ferrari, and others have done maybe wrong, but the vintage and historic community has let them do it. It is time for all involved to take a more reasoned attitude, and enjoy that they have been blessed with.

Bill Oursler, August 2011

 

MERGERS and ACQUISITIONS

Motorsports has its own language, just as does the other endeavors of mankind. So why, then, am I having to learn and deal with the language of the financial world when it comes to racing? The obvious answer, of course, is money: the ingredient without which neither motorsport, nor the rest of the planet would function, or even exist.

Anyone want to sit on my boat?

 

 

Clearly, the basis for Formula One is more greed than sport; a fact that might sadden and frustrate F1’s fans and true believers, but reality nevertheless. The sandbox that is sports car racing is perhaps less obviously based on greed. However, it too is financially driven these days as manufacturers increasingly are turning to it as a viable marketing tool not only to promote what is built now, but the technologies of the future which will reshape not only the sport, but the automotive industry itself.

Heavy Metal

 

America, where Detroit continues to try and rebound from the monetary crisis of 2008, there is less emphasis on performance than there has been in the past, the U.S. public more concerned with gas mileage than horsepower. Nevertheless, the real issue facing the Michigan-based manufacturers is their size and influence within the industry itself. With Chrysler now owned by Fiat, and General Motors having been forced to cut its brands down to just three to survive; only Ford remains a true global automotive powerhouse. However, there’s no need to worry for there is another global giant building up a head of steam in Europe, name Volkswagen.

Flying Start

 

Conceived by Hitler to provide Beetles to the German masses, the Volkswagen Group now embraces such prestigious brands as Bugatti, Porsche, Audi and Bentley, not to mention Lamborghini in its portfolio. And, it is this wealth which, friends and neighbors, leads us to the motorsports dilemma now facing VAG.

Racing Green?

 

 

Although the Italian nameplate has not won Le Mans’ Holy Grail, the other four marques have. Moreover, three of the remaining four could be in the running to do so again. However, those notorious bean counters are unlikely to allow Audi, Bentley and Porsche to compete for the same prize at the Sarthe, much less run against each other for a whole season. So, who goes where? That is the unanswered question.

When We Were Kings

 

 

Normally, it would be an interesting, maybe even a somewhat humorous discussion. However, in this case the future of the sports car competition universe could well hang in the balance. The reason for that is simple: the retrenchment by many of the participants on which the enclosed bodywork set of depended, particularly among the Japanese car makers, has drastically reduced the number of potential players down to just a few.

Vive La France

 

 

For the moment, only Peugeot appears committed to the sports car scene, with BMW perhaps moving to join the French manufacturer.  Two other likely candidates, Mercedes and Renault, are far more focused on F1, and will probably remain so. That leaves VAG’s Audi, Bentley and Porsche camps as the only resources for the two seat scene to draw on. But, what about Ferrari, you say? The Italians, in this case, likewise appear to want make F1 the mainstay of their motorsports efforts, providing only privateers oriented GTs machinery for the sports car arena.

Jump for Joy

 

 

So, who gets the brass ring at VAG? Is it Porsche, which needs, and has announced it will run a prototype at Le Mans in 2014; or will it be Audi, which, has, with the exception of 2003 and 2009, the latter occasion marking Peugeot’s only 24-Hour triumph in this century so far, has dominated at the Sarthe since the year 2000?  And, what about Bentley, which took the top prize at Le Mans in 2003, and which now, perhaps is ready to jump back into the fray? While it would be a tremendous boost to see all three fight it out, as we would put it in America, “it just ain’t going to happen folks.”

Wild Things Run Fast

 

 

Closing matters let me again introduce another possible scenario. Assuming that Porsche will take the lead at Le Mans, and assuming that Audi will continue in the German Touring Car Championship and with the R8 programs, could the be-ringed brand then follow Mercedes into F-1?  Perhaps? However, perhaps not. What if Bentley became VAG’s Formula One standard bearer and Audi returned to a rejuvenated rally arena where it could demonstrate the new automotive technologies now being developed just as it did with four-wheel-drive in the form of the Quattro during the first part of the 1980’s?

Some would suggest that all this is outlandish thinking on an old fart’s part. But, then again old farts have been known to occasionally get it right. In this case it is a case of “pays your money: takes your choice.”

Bill Oursler, August 2011

 

 

Everything Must Go!

The internet site Ebay has many strange things for sale but I spotted this today and it just made me shake my head. Not really what you would expect to find.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1968-Lotus-56-STP-Indy-wedge-car-/150646273609?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item231337b649#ht_2208wt_958

Lotus 56

The bit I most liked was the transport costs……Will deliver for $2 a mile round trip.

$1,500,000 asking price and they expect a delivery charge………………

Hill at Hethel

It is a very cool car though.

John Brooks, August 2011

 

 

Classical Gas

Silverstone Classic

Is biggest necessarily best?


The organisers of this year’s Silverstone Classic were proudly boasting that theirs was the biggest race meeting ever. With nigh on 1,000 contestants and 800 cars taking part they were probably right. Add to that something like 7,000 classic cars on site, almost 1,000 of which were E-Type Jaguars. But can you have too much of a good thing?

Some 80,000 fans descended upon the circuit, contributing to huge traffic jams building-up on the A43, entry into the circuit being slow as all those classics needed to be directed to their allotted parking area in what was a very crowded site. Not all of them made it that far even, as reports were coming in on Saturday of up to 100 E-Types having suffered overheating and other breakdowns en route.

Having made it into the circuit there was a lot to see and do. The competitors were split between two paddock areas, the impressive new Silverstone ‘Wing’ acting as home to many whilst others were based in the old paddock at the opposite end of the circuit. That was something of a logistical nightmare for teams with cars based in both paddocks, especially as the only means of getting from one to the other was via Routemaster ‘bus – nothing wrong with that, the buses were run very efficiently but with the sheer number of people, queues and delays inevitably built up and some very unfriendly security operatives would not allow you to walk between the two areas.

Well, with the gripes out of the way, how was the racing? Pretty good actually, with some close and exciting action, most classes getting two races each. The revised circuit was new to many so that was just as well, as even seasoned hands such as former BTCC Champion John Cleland were having to find their way around. Cleland was driving in the Jaguar E-Type Celebration race and got taken by surprise as he turned into the new-look Abbey for the first time – “where did tha-at come from? said the ever quotable Scot afterwards. Didn’t stop him from winning his class for near standard cars though. Jon Minshaw’s well-developed car (even been in a wind tunnel, allegedly) was the outright winner of both races. Such is the value of genuine original E-Type’s that many of the modified cars in this anniversary series of races have been specially built; they’ve still cost their owners six-figure sums however…

Group C got star billing with the first of their races being run as an ‘into the twilight’ affair on Saturday evening. Both Alex Buncombe (Jaguar XJR9) and Katsu Kubota (Nissan R90C) got the jump on Gareth Evans’ Mercedes C11 on the run down to the first corner and set off on a race-long battle over 15 laps. After swapping places several times Kubota led at the most important moment as they crossed the line, Buncombe having briefly been delayed by a backmarker whilst the Merc recovered to finish third.

If Saturday’s race was fast and furious Sunday’s affair was even more so. With Bob Berridge now in the Mercedes and Japanese F3 racer Hideki Yamauchi on board the Nissan the wick was really turned up  –  and remember these cars are now unfettered by the period fuel limitations – and again we were treated to a see-saw race as they swapped places but this time it was the turn of the Nissan to fall foul of lapped cars late in the race, handing the win to Berridge, such was the pace that they completed one more lap in the available time than had been managed the night before. Even so, a remarkable drive by Andy Meyrick saw his C2 Spice take the final podium spot.

Meyrick showed his versatility by taking both Grand Prix Masters counters too in his March 761. It was another version of the 761, built locally in Bicester that was grabbing much of the attention however. Jeremy Smith was giving the six-wheel March 2-4-0 its first ever race. Originally conceived for the 1977 season, it never actually raced in period although it was subsequently hill-climbed.  Unlike the Tyrrell P34, the March featured an extra pair of wheels at the back with smaller tyres than normal, thus reducing the drag. However, March was strapped for cash at the time and was unable to afford the sufficiently robust transmission casing needed to carry drive to the rearward wheels. The affair they did create actually twisted and damaged the internals on a short press demo run, so it was quietly put away. However, according to Mike Lawrence in his excellent history of March it turned out eventually to be their most profitable F1 car as they sold the rights to Scalextric!

Other excitement at Silverstone was provided by such varied machinery as Formula Junior, Under Two Litre Touring Cars (U2TC) and the RAC TT for Pre ’63 GT cars. In the latter Stuart Graham and Richard Attwood stole a lucky win on the very last lap in their Aston Martin DB4 when the leading Ferrari 250 GT crewed by Hans Hugenholtz and David Hart expired. U2TC went to the Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield Lotus Cortina after a nail-biting battle with the similar car of Howard Redhouse/Mike Jordan and the Jackie Oliver/Richard Shaw BMW. In shades of days of old we even had a TWO-wheeling Cortina at one point!  Often overlooked, the FJ tiddlers were thrilling with race wins going to Sam Wilson and Jon Milicevic, both Cooper T59-mounted.

Of course there was so much more to see with small sports cars and big saloons (where do all those V8 Fords come from?). Not all the Mustangs were on the ground either, for one took part in an air display together with a Spitfire. Amongst all the other anniversaries being marked this year, mustn’t forget that RJ Mitchell’s truly iconic design is 75.

Despite our opening comments, Nick Wigley and his team are to be congratulated for pulling together such a massive event but just sometimes less is more.

John Elwin, August 2011