Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Speed Merchants

The few of you who read this blog regularly will know of my enthusiasm for the work of Michael Keyser. Aside from anything else he has the good taste to purchase images from me. Michael had a pretty handy record as a driver, including an outright win at Sebring, he has published many works which capture the essence of endurance racing in the early 70’s. So as the Sun is on its way towards Daytona Beach to herald another 24 Hour race, it is perhaps appropriate to look back to 1970 with the aid of his pictures.

1970 saw a brilliant, if brief, struggle between Porsche and Ferrari with the 917 and 512. The first encounter of the year was on the banking in Volusia County. Five Ferrari 512 entries took on two Gulf JWA 917s, add to this two NART Ferrari 312P coupés, two Matras, another 917 from Porsche Salzburg, and let’s not forget the Volvo 122S. I somehow doubt that in 42 years time the contemporary grid will inspire as much affection or interest………..

Much is made this year of the line up of driver talent that will be on display at the 2012 Rolex 24 and rightly so. However I think that the crop in 1970 was every bit as good, if not better………in no particular order.

Pedro Rodriguez/Nino Vaccarella/Jacky Ickx/Mark Donohue/Peter Revson/Vic Elford/Gijs van Lennep/Dan Gurney/Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Henri Pescarolo/Francois Cevert/Jack Brabham/Jo Siffert/Brian Redman/Mario Andretti/Arturo Merzario to name but a few……….F1 World Champions, Grand Prix Winners, Le Mans Victors, Indy 500 Champs…………what a line up

The race was a triumph for the Rodriguez/Kinnunen/Redman Gulf Porsche who had a winning margin of 45 laps. The crowd were kept entertained by a right old dust up for second place with the Siffert/Redman 917 just shading the 512 of Andretti/Merzario. Gianpiero Moretti made his Daytona race debut and had to wait another 28 years to win the race he coveted above all others. As if to reinforce the cosmopolitan nature of the event a Ferrari 250LM, at least 5 or 6 years old at that point, finished seventh overall and the Volvo retired.

One thing is certain, the 2012 race will be much closer…………….

All the images are courtesy and copyright of Michael Keyser and more can be seen HERE

John Brooks January 2012


Cat With A Hot Tin Roof

The U Haul Grandstand

It is a widely accepted fact that the 24 Hours of Daytona is one of the toughest endurance races on the calendar. Traffic, extremes of weather and the very long night, added to the layout of the infield course at Daytona International Speedway make for a race that stretches man and machine.

Sunset Boulevard

To win takes a heap of intestinal fortitude and a dollop of good fortune. For a team to finish 1-2 is really something special. So achieving that feat in 1990 was a truly great performance for the TWR Jaguar outfit.

Sun Bank

Their opposition came from a bunch of muscular, but ageing, IMSA privateer Porsche 962 entries and a brace of factory Nissans. As is customary at Daytona, the dreams of most of the pre-race favourites were over by the halfway point, tales of woe were to be found up and down the pit lane.

Anyone Fancy A Cuppa?

Despite a 15 lap advantage at one point, even the Jaguar XJR-12 pair struggled to get to the finish in working order. Both of the glorious V12 engines suffering with overheating but TWR’s Guvnor, Tony Dowe, was equal to the task. The story goes that the team’s tea urn was put to good use, mixing boiling water and radiator sealant in sufficient quantities to flush out the cooling system and keep both cars running. In the end the #61 car of Jan Lammers, Davy Jones and Andy Wallace had a four lap advantage over #60 with Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Price Cobb aboard.

Savour The Moment

So the 1990 Daytona 24 Hours was a triumph for one of the truly great endurance racing outfits of any era. Astoundingly the North American part of the TWR organisation was destined to repeat this triumph some months in France. But that, as they say in the movies, is another story……………

John Brooks. January 2012

Money Counts

It all comes down to the money. With it, almost anything is possible. Without it; well, one might as well just stay home –if, of course, there are a few pennies in the pot to keep the lights on and the hearth fires burning. And, nowhere is money more needed than in the techno-end of today’s high speed, highly integrated, technology driven world.

Right now the rules makers at the FIA and ACO are in the process of writing new regulations that are intended to make international sports car racing a showcase. For what you say? A showcase for promoting and developing the advanced technology necessary for the global automotive industry to be able to build products that meet the demands of a greener, leaner, more efficient energy driven planet.

It is a noble pursuit. It is also horribly expensive. Moreover, it is horribly expensive at a time when the world is in an economic crisis, something particularly true for a Euro Zone whose very existence has been threatened by its fundamentally crippling lack of money and worthless amount of debt.

In the end, it is why Peugeot announced earlier this month it was pocketing its marbles (the ones shaped like pumpkin seed prototypes) and staying home. This decision should, if it doesn’t already, cause the movers and shakers to re-think what the role of the sport should be when it comes to not only its long-term future, but its long-term survivability.

P.T. Barnum, the great circus showman once said that if you want to send a message, “use Western Union”.  Today the telegraph has been replaced by the Internet, but the truth of his words remains as relevant now as it did a century ago when he first uttered them. Peugeot’s withdrawal will hurt the ACO and the new FIA World Endurance Championship, not to mention the American Le Mans Series’ Sebring season opener, which is also the debut of the FIA WEC, at the gate and in the pocket.

Until Toyota arrives, the Audi boys will essentially be unchallenged, something which will obviously diminish interest and revenues. Indeed, even with Toyota, one has to wonder how many Frenchmen will reach into their wallets to purchase a ticket for Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans now that their hometown favorite won’t be there. It is time, perhaps, to remember that racing is not a viable venue for testing new theories, or being politically correct. All the major manufacturers have their own facilities to do that far better than they can on a public race track. Whatever motorsport might have been in ages past, it is now is purely entertainment, just as every other professional sport is. If the dog refuses to eat the dog food, no matter how much the producer might want it to be so, it isn’t going to be a best seller. Let’s face it, the revival of the Franco-German contest for superiority, in the form of the war fought between Audi and Peugeot at La Sarthe, was riveting; and riveting sells tickets. Put another way, it is the dog food which can make, and keep racing healthy, and prosperous.

Ironically, the very presence of manufacturers such as Audi and Peugeot, has created problems for the sport by pushing its privateer base out into the cold. The cost of trying to beat the factories has become prohibitive, even for the deepest pockets. All too often those in charge of motorsport forget that car makers are fickle; they don’t participate out of largess, or love of racing, but rather to meet their own perceived goals. In short, they come and go with a distressing regularity, leaving those behind blowing in the wind.

There are no easy answers here. Just ask the folks running the NASCAR Grand Am Rolex sports car tour which opens for business this weekend with the Rolex-backed Daytona 24-Hour show. Grand Am has solved the pesky issue of manufacturer involvement by banning them from doing so, and limiting high cost technology in the process. The Rolex championship is the poster child for a privateer oriented pro-racing title chase. Unfortunately, so far it has failed to gain any respect, or attention, from the bulk of its desired fan base.

When I was growing up in New York City I could watch the New York Yankees play for something under $10. Today, that same ticket costs in excess of $50 because of the salaries paid to the players. When I worked for Volkswagen of America’s Audi Trans-Am and IMSA GTO racing programs at the end of the 1980’s, the costs were but a small fraction of what they would be now.

There is no way to go back to the good old days. But, we can be careful and prudent, and even realistic about how we approach the future. If we do that, if we work at giving our customers what they want, instead of what we think they ought to want, then that future will be bright. If not; if we put agendas ahead of everything else, then, as they say, who knows what will be.

Bill Oursler, January 2012

 

– Bill Oursler

 

 

 

The Heavyweight Champion of the World

Battle Scars

The 2000 Rolex 24 Hours was without doubt one of the most significant races that has been sanctioned by the Grand Am organisation. Even if the race had been terrible it would have a special place in the hearts of those who live down International Speedway Boulevard, it was the first to be run under the new flag.

The Bell Tolls

However the contest will go down in history as one of those that you were grateful to have witnessed. There was a titanic struggle between two motorsport heavyweights, ORECA with their armada of Dodge Vipers against fellow Detroit spinners, Pratt & Miller, fielding the mighty Chevrolet Corvettes. It went all the way to the finish and after 723 laps there was less than 30 seconds separating the Viper from the Vette. Compelling and hard fought by two great teams.

Rolex Seeker

So a fantastic GT race then? Well no, there was a pretty handy bunch of prototypes heading up the grid, state of the art or so we thought. Well that theory was going to be blown out of the water in less than six weeks, when the Audi R8 would appear at Sebring. At a stroke the 333SPs and Rileys were all yesterday’s men, welcome to the 21st Century.

Wayne’s World

As if there was not enough Detroit goodness present in the GTO class, the race also saw the debut of the Cadillac LMP project. After 50 years away from the tracks there was new marketing thrust, “Art & Science” which would launch the brand on a path to develop their range to be the equal of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

Daybreak

Perhaps even more significant in the long term was the debut of 23 examples of the Porsche 911 GT3R. The Porsche 911 has long underpinned GT Racing and here was their latest effort, their first water cooled racer. It demonstrated, that despite withdrawing as a factory team aiming for victory in classic races, that motorsport was still a core element in the Porsche DNA. The presence of movie star, Paul Newman, added lustre to the Porsche contingent, pity that the motto “Excellence Was Expected” seemed to have been forgotten as one by one water pumps and consequently engines failed. Inspection by flustered representatives of Weissach revealed that the sand used in the engine block casting process had not been cleaned out and the residue clogged the water pumps causing them to seize and the engines to go bang. Entries from Barbour Racing, Labre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of this issue. Not good.

Blue Streak

The race unfolded as, one by one, the prototypes struck problems until there just the Dyson Riley & Scott holding the two Detroit GTO outfits at bay. Then this leader slowed as well and was gradually caught by the pack of Vipers and Vettes.

Tres Amigoes

So that was how Grand Am’s first race played out, in absolutely freezing conditions by Florida’s standards, the combination of Gallic flair and American Muscle prevailed. Grand Am was launched in the best possible way.

John Brooks, January 2012.


The Last Hurrah

Daytona Dallara

Mauro Baldi powers the Dallara SP1-Judd through the Turn Three Chicane on his way to the top step at the 2002 Rolex 24. The win was very popular, as once again persistence was rewarded, with long time entrant Freddy Leinhard and co-drivers Didier Theys and Max Papis sharing the spoils. The 2002 edition of the Rolex 24 was the last time that the Florida Classic was run to rules that allowed in non- Grand Am competitors able to aim at outright victory. Since then only Daytona Prototypes have been eligible to run in the top class, though Kevin Buckler made a mockery of this in 2003, winning with a GT3 Porsche.

Aside from the dreadful aesthetics and antediluvian technology involved, the Proto-Turtles, as they are affectionately known, may make some form of commercial sense, particularly with a helpful bank like Sun Trust on board. Undoubtedly the Rolex 24 is much less important these days in an international context despite the stellar line up of drivers regularly lured to the Speedway in late January. This is a pity as the race is a genuine classic and has a great heritage that will be on display this week in the paddock. However even the biggest Grand Am fan will be hard pressed to favourably compare a Riley Mk XI with Jaguar XJR-9 or a Porsche 962, let alone a Ferrari 333SP.

Another issue is that the difference in the rule books with the rest of the world has created a schism in North American Endurance racing, neither Grand Am nor ALMS can afford this dilution of resource but quite how it can be resolved is not clear. I suppose that the question is who benefits from this situation?

Without doubt the racing will be close and competitive this coming week and maybe that will be enough for the fans who show up, but there is the feeling in the old guard like myself that it could, and should, be better. The 24 Hour race at Daytona International Speedway deserves that, no doubt.

John Brooks January 2012

Daytona Cobra Coupés

King Cobras

There will be much talk in the next week, especially from the PR flacks, about the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex 24 Hours. Well back in the 60’s Rolex did not sponsor the event and the race was only extended to 24 Hours in 1966, but hey why get in the way of a good headline? Plus it gives the Good Ol’ Boys down on International Speedway Boulevard an excuse to repeat the celebrations in four years and who wants to be a party pooper?

In 1965 the sportscar endurance event held at Daytona International Speedway was over a distance of 2,000 kilometres or 327 laps. It took over 12 hours for the winner, a Ford GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby, to complete the distance.

In 1965 the real success story for the Ford steamroller was that of the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupés on their way to the FIA GT Manufacturer’s Championship. The opening salvo in that campaign was at Daytona and here are the four cars on the opening lap, flying in formation. #13 (CSX 2299) would finish second overall and top of the GT class with Jo Schlesser and Hal Keck on driving duties. This car was perhaps the most successful Daytona Cobra of them all, with class wins at Le Mans, Goodwood, Sebring and Oulton Park to add to the win on the banking in Florida.

John Brooks January 2012

Volusia On My Mind

The Bank Is Open

In an attempt to distance ourselves from Peugeot’s Napoleonic-style retreat from Moscow Le Mans, I suspect most of us will now focus on the State of Florida and Daytona Beach in particular, in the run up to the 2012 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours due next week.

So as a dedicated follower of fashion I will join the herd.

Here we have the Green Flag Lap for 1987. Klaus Ludwig leads in the Bruce Leven Porsche. As one would expect Bob Wollek is in hot pursuit but neither of these 962s would see the night arrive. Also falling by the wayside would be the third placed car at the start, the Chevrolet Corvette GTP……it was a typical race of attrition at Daytona International Speedway, often cited as the toughest of them all.

The eventual winner is at the rear of this pack, down in tenth; no matter, 24 hours and 753 laps later they would be steering into Victory Lane. Al Holbert, Derek Bell, Chip Robinson and Al Unser Jr. would score a second successive victory for Holbert Racing’s Porsche 962 at the Daytona 24 Hours. Holbert and Bell would repeat the performance a few months later by winning at Le Mans, also driving for Porsche. However it would be the final Floridian Classic victory for Holbert as he would be killed in a plane crash the following year. By any standards he was one of the greatest endurance drivers of all time, three wins at Le Mans, two at Daytona and two at Sebring.

John Brooks, January 2012

 

 

The End Of The Road

 

 

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

 

La Route est Dure

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

John Brooks, January 2012

Traditional Values

As I sit in my office trying to dream up ways of avoiding doing the jobs that are urgent, my mind wanders. Today it struck me that the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, normally great custodians of tradition, have casually let go one of the most popular elements of the great race over the past 30 years. I refer of course to the Hawaiian Tropic Girls.

Back in the mists of time when I first was granted a press pass for Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans, one of the assignments that I had from the agency was to make sure I got some frames of the girls. Well as those of you who know me will attest I am diligent on such matters. The 1984 crop was a vintage one and very well recorded for posterity.

Fast forward to 2008. I got a request from Stuart Radnofsky to go down into the pitlane and shoot some girls around a car. Of course it being Stuart I knew that it was the HT crew.

Oddly enough I had plenty of volunteers to assist me with this arduous task and I could have done with a squad of the SAS to keep the mobs at bay. Nevertheless with the cooperation of the Team Bruichladdich I managed to get material for the client.

I am normally ambivalent when it comes to grid girls at the races. Sure they are for the most part easier on the eye than the mechanics and drivers……and let’s not mention the media……but the spectacle of middle aged guys drooling over pretty girls half their age is repellent and pathetic in equal measure…….you know who you are, so stop it now!

But the Hawaiian Tropic Girls were different, here was a tradition that stretched back into the last century, they should be returned to La Sarthe in time for this year’s contest. And yes, I did get paid to shoot the girls….Living The Dream? Oh Yesssss.

John Brooks, January 2012

I See It Shining Plain………..

The internet has for the most part been beneficial to me. It allows me to conduct what passes for my business in some sort of order and it has introduced me to many good people around the globe. It is also the biggest time waster invented since bureaucrats crawled out of the swamps in Jurassic times, but I digress.

Michael Keyser is someone who should be familiar to sportscar fans, especially the more fanatical amongst you. Real anoraks will recall him winning the 1976 Sebring 12 Hours with Al Holbert, well the few that were sober at that particular event. As the doyen of chassis plate fondlers, Janos Wimpffen, describes the scene in his epic work Time and Two Seats.

“None of the on-track incidents were as thrilling as those of the notorious Green Park spectator area. Several large bonfires had been started, wild parties were in full swing, and one section by Turn Seven had been taken over by a motorcycle gang. In full view of the passing race cars, a woman mounted a bike and performed a striptease. Needless to say, lap times slowed considerably.”

Typical of me to miss fun like that, still ’76 was the long, hot summer of James Hunt and I am sure that he would have enjoyed racing in such conditions. I certainly have some vague memories of a few wild days myself that year, it was the spirit of the time, but perhaps I imagined it all.

Michael Keyser is also known for his work as an author and film maker, in particular “A French Kiss With Death” about Steve McQueen and the making of the movie Le Mans.

Le Mans is certainly a candidate for the Oscar awarded to maddest film ever conceived. No plot to speak of, no dialogue really and obsessively focused on a race that most the audience had never heard of. It was a commercial disaster when released but since has grown to achieve cult status. Partly this is a consequence of the purity of the production, no CGI and McQueen’s insistence on emulating real racing from the time rather than allowing a Hollywood blockbuster approach.

Perhaps the greatest appeal lies in the cast of cars, Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s, surely some of the most evocative racers ever run. Like racing dragonflies they emerged in mid-69 and were gone by ’71. A golden time immortalised on screen, we can all be young again while drinking at this fountain of youth.

Steve McQueen was the coolest guy on the planet when he started making the film, he had just enjoyed huge success with Bullitt and here were the coolest cars, at the coolest race. What could go wrong?

Well that answer to that question judged in the long term, is not much. That is why the original book about the film sold so well, that and the fact it is a well researched and written account.

Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans tends to attract obsessives and Hollywood’s version of the race receives similar attention, hence the raison d’être of this photo book. It is produced to the usual high standard associated with any Michael Keyser project. For those interested in the movie and its background, these images will add to their understanding and enjoyment of the film.

The majority of the shots were taken by the great photographer, Nigel Snowden. I was lucky enough to meet him in my early days trackside. He and his charming wife, Diana, were always very gracious to a complete no hoper like myself. The monochrome images have a depth to them that reflects a master at work. Despite what many of the up and comers of today imagine, there is nothing new in the world of photography. Composition, the ability to see the finished product before firing the shutter, is as important today as it always has been. The images in this book could act as a guide to many, of course they are too talented to see that.

The whole story of the process of making the film is covered from the planned mayhem inflicted on two Lola T70s, disguised as a 917 and a 512.

Art imitates life and as with real racing back then, there were unplanned accidents, this one costing David Piper his leg.

Perhaps the question is why should you buy this book ? That almost answers itself. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in the McQueen epic will enjoy this book, it has integrity and is a faithful depiction of the greatest movie ever made, or likely to be made, about the sport.

And who can resist this iconic, very British gesture, The Longbowman Salute? We have been winding up the French with it since Agincourt. Clearly Steve was one of us………………..

Those who might like to purchase a copy of this book can do so HERE

Apologies for the poor quality of the scans,

John Brooks, January 2012