Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Midnight at Misano – Send Your Camel to Bed

1998 ISRS Misano

1998 saw the ISRS develop into a potentially top line sportscar series and the schedule included a night race at the charming Italian circuit of Misano, down in the Province of Rimini. Naturally I took the opportunity to have an Italian Riviera holiday in the lovely resort of Cattolica and, as ever, had to sing for my supper. Saturday night was spent trying to shoot cars in the dark, and being in the  pre-digital era there was no clue about the likely results except what little I had learned in the past.

The 333SPs were very expressive that night, adding to f-stop confusion. To my surprise some images were almost OK. Here is the Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari, and Angelo Zadra example.

A warming thought in December.

John Brooks, December 2012

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

The phone rings, Oh God, another snake oil salesman? The voice is clear and distinctive,

“Mis-ter Brooks”

Ok it is Porsche Guru, Bill Oursler, there goes an hour at least. After the usual discourse on the happenings in the world generally and the world of endurance racing in particular we get to the nitty gritty.

“What do you know about former Porsche guys being charged this week?”

Nothing, like most folks in the motorsport business I have tunnel vision when it comes to events outside my narrow range. Still two minutes of Google unearthed this:

Ex-Porsche CEO Wiedeking Charged Over Failed Volkswagen Bid
By Karin Matussek – Dec 19, 2012 1:19 PM GMT
Former Porsche SE Chief Executive Officer Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-Chief Financial Officer Holger Härter were charged with market manipulation over the use of options in a failed bid to take over Volkswagen AG. (VOW)
The indictment was filed after more than three years of investigations into claims Porsche misled investors in 2008 when it denied that it sought to buy VW. The company in October of that year disclosed a plan to take control of the carmaker.

 

I suggest you read the rest of this excellent summary from Bloomberg

HERE

 

My thoughts drifted back five years to a time when I ran another website, SportsCarPros with my old buddy, Kerry Morse. We were the Becker and Fagan of our part of the sport, or so we imagined. To be fair we did tweak a few tails and were generally just about tolerated by the grown ups. I recall certain folks getting more than a bit tetchy with one of our posts, I mean what did the Pros from Dover know?

Gardening in Stuttgart: Porsche Hedges It’s Future

As an auto enthusiast and a Porsche fan, I remember when the most important, relevant, and exciting discussion surrounding this unique and successful manufacturer revolved entirely around its cars. However, today it seems the cars are yesterday’s news.

The most intriguing articles about Porsche in recent weeks involve comment and speculation surrounding the company’s financial results and have nothing to do with their cars. This is not to say that Porsche’s commitment to its iconic sports cars has in any way wavered, but we can scarcely be surprised that the market’s attention lies elsewhere. After all, if any manufacturing company in its past fiscal year made 3.6 Euro trading stock options with allegedly, a further three and a half billion of additional profits in its pocket for the current fiscal year, compared with 1 billion Euro from the operating business, it’s not surprising that the operations are overlooked. Time to trade the automotive engineering degree for an M.B.A.

I do not pretend to understand the analysis in the press concerning the nature of Holger Harter’s option strategy. However, while writers in the Financial Times and other journals are clearly pulling their punches in deference, presumably, to the marque and its legacy (hey it’s also a profit, not a loss!), they raise some legitimate questions which non financial readers (and Porsche car fans) should take note of. It’s been suggested, for examples, that, given loopholes in European stock exchange reporting regulations and Porsche’s ability to deflect pressure for greater transparency in financial reporting, they used their credibility, reinforced with a bid (a bid allegedly designed from the outset to fail), to increase the value of VW stock, the value of their VW holdings acquired in 2005 and 2006, and, unseen to outsiders, the profit of their option trading strategy. The announcement in November that they would postpone their acquisition offer (the stock price was too high!!) took that card off the table but by then it appears the 3-4 billion Euro of option profits was in the bag. Some might construe this as a little too cute. At a minimum, most observers, while restrained in their comments, construe this as a spectacularly aggressive trading strategy which has little to do with making cars and makes many of the world’s hedge fund managers look like underachievers.

With no more information with which to better explain the future options or hedging strategy of Porsche A.G., most financial writers have advised caution aimed at Porsche management and, presumably, analysts and followers of Porsche and VW. Quite apart from the impact that deteriorating economic conditions may have on consumer spending or credit and equity markets, it is virtually certain that these extraordinary returns cannot be repeated and that the “hedging in the normal course of business” explanation cannot be justified by the underlying activities of the group (if you exclude the possibility of ‘Texas hedging’, of course).

There can be few, and I suspect no, industrial companies in the world that in the last few years have, with or without hedging, generated the same ratio of financial profits to operating income that Porsche demonstrated in its recent fiscal year (and is likely to demonstrate in the current fiscal year). This alone should serve as a warning that any continued earnings from this source and of this magnitude suggest far higher levels of pure financial risk than can be possibly be warranted. Hopefully, that will not be the case and we can instead give credit to Porsche for having used this one off strategy to finance, at essentially no cost, a significant increase in its VW stake, now worth 14 billion Euro. No harm, no foul – the market has a tendency to forgive speculation if it’s successful, despite all the initial tut-tut ting.

If indeed this was a one-time phenomenon, it is good news for us automobile types. We can now get back to evaluating Porsche as an auto company, confining our interest and even our concerns to the preservation of that brilliant heritage built around its legendary sports cars and honed with studied diversification into vehicles like the Cayenne. We can also focus, as we should, on the strategic decisions Porsche faces given its now substantial 31% holding in VW. What is the role of this strategic stake? Is it merely a financial play or is this to become Porsche’s platform for a global footprint as a volume manufacturer? In the latter case the nature of Porsche may change forever. The investment could prove to be a major distraction from the company’s past and present mission; note for example, current rumblings from Berlin aimed at protecting VW’s labor force. This might militate against attempts by Porsche management to restructure parts of VW and divert important management energy away from the sports car business. To Porsche followers this should perhaps be the question of the hour.

Whatever happens I hope we will see less of these financial profits and more of Porsche as the company we know and cherish. However, and just in case, I will re-subscribe to the Financial Times that will join the raft of auto magazines which arrive every month.

Lindsey Harcourt-Lathrop
January 2008
Sandy Bay, Gibraltar

So what has this to do with anything in our sport? Well the vultures are circling as hedge funds and other investment groups aim to recoup their losses, remember for Porsche to make a profit, someone else had to take a loss. The sums involved are counted in the billions and if the charges against the ex Porsche pair are proved, then some very heavy hitters will be looking not only for their pound of flesh but also an arm and a leg, perhaps even the whole carcass.

The immediate or short term future of the FIA World Endurance Championship could be in question, given that the current intention is to have both Audi and Porsche duking it out in the top category with anyone brave enough to challenge them. What happens if the money men come calling, they will not be satisfied with two sacrificial lambs doing time, they will want serious amounts of hard cash. The Volkswagen Group has been on the crest of a wave in the past few years, strong sales growth reflected in sustained profitability and extremely positive cash flow. They probably have the resources to ride out any tsunami but the flag should at least be waved. Maybe it will all be a storm in a tea cup, but that’s what “folks in the know” told us five years ago. Maybe it’s time to call Lindsey again.

The Long Walk

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

On the first public day of the Windsor Concours of Elegance the scale of the event was extended by the presence of several car clubs bringing a fantastic selection of their members’ vehicles.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

As might have been expected the thoroughbred British brands were to the fore, Aston Martin sending a brace of cars to support the efforts of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club. And what a pair? An Aston Martin V12 Zagato and an Aston Martin V12 Vantage – shaken and stirred.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The AMOC had come up with an appropriate salute to Her Majesty on her Diamond Jubilee, an example of the marque from each of the 60 years. Leading the way was the 1952 Aston Martin DB3, chassis 5, that raced that year at Monaco, Le Mans, Sebring, the Mille Miglia and Goodwood. This actual car actually triumphed in the Goodwood Nine Hours that year driven by Peter Collins and Pat Griffith.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The rich heritage of Aston Martin was fully illustrated under the blue Berkshire skies, in the shadow of Windsor Castle.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

From 1985, the Aston Martin Lagonda, certainly marching to a different drum stylistically. This very expensive saloon was the first production car in the world to use digital instrumentation and computer management, but the whole affair was prone to terrible reliability problems.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The exhibition was not solely a British affair with Ferrari showing a fabulous display of their supercars that have been produced during Queen’s reign.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Completely different answers to the same question, a Ferrari Dino 246 GT and Ferrari 275 GTB/4. Both from the 60’s and illustrating performance and style, both utterly desirable.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Just look at the wheels, how they match the Ferrari red, takes one back to the 512S, one of the stars of Steve McQueen’s film Le Mans.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

A unique product from Maranello that was on the lawn was this Ferrari Dino 208 GT4 Spyder.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Styled by Bertone this car was a one off exercise in looking at how the 208 might look as a soft top. It never made it into production.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Completely original and unrestored since its production in 1975, it was a rare beast, even in the Windsor setting.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The Ferrari F40 still has shock and awe qualities even some 20 years on.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The same might well be said of the “Batmobile” aka BMW 3.0 litre CSL

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

The Bentley Drivers’ Club was also well represented. Not every item was factory fitted.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

This Bentley Continental S2 Drophead particularly caught my eye.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

With the famous track only a short distance from Windsor it was inevitable that the Brooklands Museum would put in an appearance with a reminder of the days of The Bentley Boys.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Power behind the legend.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this part of the Windsor Concours of Elegance is that it was free and completely open to the public. Combined with the beautiful weather and the strange spirit of the country in the wake of Jubilee and the Olympics it made for a fantastic weekend. More tomorrow.

John Brooks, December 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth?

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

To have been in the UK during 2012 was to be in a place at a very special time. Dominating the August and September months were the London Olympics and Paralympics, never has a city and a nation embraced the Games with such fervor and passion, we surprised ourselves, we amazed others.

Perhaps the positive mood of the British public was set in the months before the Games when there were prolonged celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ΙΙ. Over the length and breadth of Britain, events were held to commemorate 60 years of service to the Nation. Some of these were on a huge scale like those in London, some more intimate like street parties, but all with a common purpose, a collective thank you from the British people to our Monarch.

2012 Salon Prive

The Automotive aspect of our culture was naturally also part of these celebrations with an event that claimed the status of “Instant Classic” without any shadow of doubt. In early September Windsor Castle was the setting for a new show, the Windsor Concours of Elegance. A simple concept really, bring 60 of the world’s finest automobiles into a unique setting, Windsor Castle. Of course creating such an meeting is no simple matter, meticulous planning and years of sheer hard work went into the preparation, we should give thanks to those involved, they know who they are.

2012 Salon Prive

The setting, Windsor Castle, is one the Queen’s three Official Residences and is widely thought to be her favourite. Originally built by William the Conqueror after 1066, the palace is both the oldest castle in continuous occupation and largest inhabited castle in the world. The public can visit large parts of what is Her Majesty’s home and there is the added attraction of ceremonies like the Changing of the Guard. In fact Windsor Castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK, around a million visitors each year. Staging a Concours at such venue was a major coup for the organisers, almost beyond value and typically the event was to benefit a number of charities that deal with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

2012 Salon Prive

Almost beyond value could also be a description applied to the cars on display both within and without The Upper Ward and the Cambridge Gate and down The Long Walk. After clearing security, a standard procedure for any visitors to the Royal Palaces, it was time to make the trip up to the George ΙV Gateway.

2012 Salon Prive

There was a small display of Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover and McLaren cars both old and new, it set the tone for the weekend.

2012 Salon Prive

Woking’s finest were on parade including the debut of the latest model, the 12C Spider, stunning even in this august company.

2012 Salon Prive

The latest version of the GT3 racer was parked up.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

A little further on was an old friend, the Bentley Speed 8 that TK, Dindo and Guido Smythe raced and triumphed in at Le Mans in 2003.

2012 Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Still showing signs of battle, it was a moment when the brand recaptured the spirit of the WO days and his legion of “Bentley Boys”. Five wins in seven years in the 20’s is an Audi or Porsche like performance record, perhaps it most appropriate that the revival has taken place as part of the Volkswagen family.

2012 Salon Prive

And on that note……………….

2012 Salon Prive

It was time to leave the display behind and head up to The Upper Ward………………

2012 Salon Prive

Where some truly sublime cars were awaiting – Embiricos Bentley 4¼ Litre Pourtout Coupé and Avions Voisin C-25 Berline Aérodyne anyone?

More tomorrow.

John Brooks, December 2012

Another Day at the Office

1998 ISRS Kyalami

December 1998 and the ISRS (aka Mango’s Barmy Army) finale at Kyalami. I had been to the original track back 1981 but the revised version was very different, much like the whole country.

Dominant that year, and indeed for most of the seasons that the competition ran for, was the Ferrari 333SP. This elegant racer is being guided through the pit entrance by Vincenzo Sospiri, Champion in both ’98 and ’99.

John Brooks, December 2012

It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum

2012 FIA WEC Bahrain

One of the benefits (?) of travelling the world in pursuit of the FIA WEC is associating with the other boys in the band who make up the media corps. Despite their frequent grumbles and moans, they have a generally good time, working hard and playing hard.

The Sun seems to have got to them a bit early in the day or perhaps it was the double Brasso on the corn flakes. Hark, I hear the Temple Bells, they’ll all be open now………….

Compliments of the Season to all of my fellow travellers.

John Brooks, December 2012

Missing In Action

2000 Le Mans 24

In an outburst of the festive spirit the ACO have launched a competition to mark the 90th Anniversary of the race, assuming that we get to next June that is. Three cars have been selected for each decade that the race has been run and the public is encouraged to vote for one from each set and in return there are some big prizes.

2001 Le Mans 24

The competition can be accessed HERE

2002 24 Hours of Le Mans

However a quick glance at the contenders raises a few questions. Why the Porsche 908 that failed in both 1968 and 1969? Why the Renault Alpine A442 or Rondeau M379 instead of the three time winner (and twice second) Porsche 936? No hint of a Tricolour being waved then.

2004 24 Hours of Le Mans

The same logic is at work when the Peugeot 908 is included but not the Audi R8, a five time winner and arguably one of the greatest endurance racers of them all.

2005 24 Hours of Le Mans

Sacre Bleu! And including the Delta Wing…………..bandwagons and jumping methinks. Still it is the Season of Goodwill to all Men and the prizes are well worth having, just salivate to the top one.

Winner: prizes with a value of 3 570 Euros
Two pitwalk passes for the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours plus the complete collection of the Le Mans 24-Hours Yearbooks from 1978 to 2012 plus the book of the Le Mans 24 Hours 1961-1973, as well as the 2-volume set celebrating the centenary of the ACO, and two invitations for the exhibition whose theme will be the winning cars.

I have the Yearbooks, well all bar 1983, and can attest to them being an essential part of any Le Mans fan’s library. So enter and hopefully enjoy. Just thought I would remind folks of the R8’s record at La Sarthe.

John Brooks, December 2012

Inside the Beltway

2002 ALMS Washington

Continuing with the theme of witnessing great performances, a high ranking must go to the ALMS race held in the parking lot of the RFK Stadium, Washington DC, an unlikely venue for a motor race, let alone a great one.

2002 saw the Audi R8 at the height of its powers in North America with two cars from Audi Sport North America backed up by another example from Champion, set against two of the aging Panoz LMP01 Evos. The Panoz outfit operated on a fraction of the Audi budget but pushed the Germans hard at every opportunity. One of the most potent weapons in their armoury was their leading drivers, David Brabham and Jan Magnussen.

2002 ALMS Washington

The race was held in very hot and humid conditions, a late strategy call to change tyres and stick the Dane back in the car towards the end of the race cemented an unlikely victory but the Panoz had been competitive right through the race. I recall in Brab’s stint him being threatened by both Capello and Biela on either side of the Panoz for several laps. I remarked to him later that he must have looked like Marty Feldman trying to see what the Audis were up to in his wake.

It was the final win for the Panoz and the race was a one off as the locals complained about the noise, pity the track actually worked as a street circuit. And for Don Panoz victory in DC with a car in a Spirit of America design must have been one of the sweeter moments in the decade of the ALMS.

John Brooks, December 2012

All the Sizes, All the Colours

2003 FIA SCC Spa

2003 saw the end of the road for the FIA SCC, whose competitors were affectionately known as Mango’s Barmy Army.  Numbers on the grid dwindled and even John Mangoletsi himself was no longer on the scene. Stéphane Ratel and Patrick Peter joined forces with Martin Birrane and David Kennedy in an effort to breath some life into the Championship but matters were beyond all help. The bright light on the horizon was the prospect of the quartet joining the ACO to create the Le Mans Series, the first step on the road to a proper World Endurance Championship.

2003 FIA SCC Spa

The penultimate round of the FIA SCC was held on the majestic Spa Francorchamps circuit, a truly cunning plan was hatched to increase numbers, step forward the British GT Championship. So 24 GTs were added to the 11 prototypes to give the grid a fig leaf of numerical respectability. Of course SRO’s definition of a GT was typically elastic, so there was both a VW Golf GTI and Renault Clio V6 in the mix, seen here interfacing with Jan Lammers in the Dome and Tom Kristensen in the Audi R8. Utterly bizarre and thankfully not repeated.

John Brooks, December 2012

On the Crest of a Wave

Jean Rondeau and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, on top of their Rondeau M379 B, struggle through the hordes trying to get to the podium to celebrate their famous victory in the 1980 Le Mans 24 Hours. I was down in the thick of it, a proud member of the rabble, determined to enjoy every minute of the world’s greatest race. Little did I imagine that future visits to the event would be in a professional capacity, some days the dreams do come true……………….and yes they did get to spray the Champagne, metaphorically speaking.

John Brooks, December 2012