Monthly Archives: January 2013

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The Opening Lap

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

It seems inconceivable now but back in 1999 Audi were rookies in endurance racing. They rocked up to the first American Le Mans Series race, the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours with two of their Audi R8Rs. In typical Audi fashion both cars finished the race, the above example of Michele Alboreto, Dindo Capello and Stefan Johansson managed third and the sister car two places back. Audi learnt a huge amount from the experience, and a year later saw the debut of one of all time greats, the R8, they were one their way.

John Brooks, January 2013

Trend Setter

1998_LeMans24_jb_0049

Back in 1998, Don Panoz was persuaded that one way of improving the performance of the GTR-1 was to create a hybrid version, known as the Q9. Well that idea foundered on the available technology, too bulky and too heavy for any advantage to accrue. Try as he might James Weaver could not qualify the sleek coupé at Le Mans. It did race, and finish, later in the year at the inaugural Petit Le Mans. Of course from 2014 hybrids will be all the rage…………being a pioneer has its drawbacks.

John Brooks, January 2013

The Inauguration

2000 Rolex 24

It’s late January and a familiar yearning comes over me, there is a 24 Hour race about to happen but I am on the other side of the Atlantic. There are, of course, good reasons for this, mainly financial, as revenues fall and costs rise, so my current involvement with the Rolex 24 is confined to looking back over the years……………….

2000 Rolex 24

Now undisputed master of motorsport in North America, NASCAR entered the endurance arena just over a decade ago setting up the Grand-Am organisation to sanction and run its blue riband endurance event, the Daytona 24 Hours. This was of course the 2000 edition of Rolex 24 Hours held at Daytona International Speedway.

2000 Rolex 24

For most observers the first race was one of the high points in the whole story of Grand-Am, starting the project at the top level. There were big battles everywhere, in the various prototype and GT classes but nothing was more keenly anticipated than the fight in the GTO category between the Dodge Vipers and the Chevvy Corvettes.

2000 Rolex 24

Two full factory outfits pitted three French ORECA run Viper GTS-Rs against two American Pratt & Miller C5-Rs, each with top line drivers, it was a Detroit Heavyweight Championship of the World Contest. An automotive “Thrilla in Manila” – Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy/Donohue/Amorin/Archer/Belloc/Duez versus Fellows/Bell/Kneifel/Pilgim/Collins/Freon – enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

2000 Rolex 24

That would be more than enough excitement for most races but there was more. After a gap of some 50 years Cadillac was back in competition running a Riley & Scott built prototype with victory at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans the aim. Why, did this conservative brand feel the need to return to the tracks? While other automotive brands were at that time heading towards nostalgic retro-style designs like the Beetle, the Mini and Thunderbird, Cadillac had decided to march to a different drummer. Under the rallying cry “Art & Science” the brand was launched on a path to develop their range to be the equal in every respect of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

2000 Rolex 24

Another point of view expressed to me at the time was that Cadillac had to change and aim at a younger market, their existing customer base was dying off………..and fast.

2000 Rolex 24

The 2000 Rolex 24 also witnessed the debut of the customer version of the Porsche 911 GT3-R, there were 23 examples that would take the Green Flag at the Rolex, all that dot.com money was burning holes in pockets, or so we speculated. The GT3-R would be the car that would carry GT Racing forward around the world for the next few years. It had the first water cooled engine in a Porsche 911 based racing model.

2000 Rolex 24

Another GT3-R was in the hands of of the youngest driver in the race, 17 year old Gunnar Jeannette and the oldest, Paul Newman. Newman was utterly charming as long as you confined the talk to racing, when at the tracks he just wanted to be another driver and not the movie superstar. Newman won the GTO Daytona 24 title on his last attempt in 1995 and he said at the time, “When we won it in 1995, when I was seventy, well, I’ll give it another five years and come back again.” When asked why he would enter such a grueling contest of speed and endurance, the 75 year old actor responded, “Just for the hell of it.”

2000 Rolex 24

There were five classes of cars that were eligible to run in the 2000 Rolex 24, two prototype and three GT. The prototype rules were based on John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup and had SRP and SRP 2 categories depending on power, engine size and budget. One of the most popular models with the fans was the Ferrari 333 SP, here the Risi Competizione example with Allan McNish on a busman’s holiday from Audi duties. There were three       333 SPs on the grid, the howl of the 4 litre V12 was worth going a long way to hear.

2000 Rolex 24

The Ferraris were outnumbered by six Riley & Scott MKlll powered by either Ford and Chevrolet V8 engines. This is the Philip Creighton Motorsports entry.

2000 Rolex 24

Also making a first appearance was Johansson Matthews Reynard 2KQ Judd. This advanced customer programme was a new departure for the world’s biggest race car constructor. The year before Reynard had acquired Riley & Scott who, aside from providing the MKlll cars, also built and ran the Cadillac programme. A tangled web.

2000 Rolex 24

The prototype scene was finely balanced in 2000, the workhorses of the past five or six years, the Rileys and the Ferraris, were getting long in the tooth but were expected run reliably at the notoriously tough combined infield and banking layout of Daytona International Speedway. Both models had success in the past and would form the foundation of plans to run combined Grand-Am events with the Sports Racing World Cup. The plan was for John Mangoletsi to bring the cream of European prototype racing over to create a set of world class events. A truly Cunning Plan.

2000 Rolex 24

However in the background, however was the the American Le Mans Series, running to Le Mans rules, that allowed full factory participation, specifically outlawed in SRWC land. Well, not so much outlawed as price capped. The top class of the category, SRP, had an on the track price limit of $640,000 including engine, SRP 2 was pegged at $201,000. The logic being that no constructor such as Lola or Reynard would sell cars at a loss, however, a manufacturer like Cadillac could just factor any excess cost into their overall project budget and still sell cars under the price limit to any customers well heeled enough to afford them.

2000 Rolex 24

After a promising first season in 1999, the ALMS was set to expand with Audi due to bring their latest car, the R8, to the tracks of North America to take on BMW and Panoz. Would that prove to be a bigger draw than watching privateers in Grand-Am? The attractions of keeping onside with the ACO, organisers of Le Mans, and the halo effect of the top class factory battle meant that both Viper and Vette would direct their attention to the ALMS.

2000 Rolex 24

Mention of the SR2 class? Well only the Pilbeam of Martin Henderson turned up, a bit disappointing but given that these cars were not originally intended or engineered to survive 24 hour races it was not a surprise.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three GT classes, GTO translating roughly to the Le Mans LM GTS class. Top of the list were three Chrysler Vipers from ORECA, full factory supported entries. Based on the Viper GTS the GTS-R was one of the most successful GT cars in history. Oreca had achieved back to back domination during 1998 and 1999, winning the FIA GT Championship, and taking class wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours plus the American Le Mans Series Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles in ‘99. The French team were going to be very difficult to beat.

2000 Rolex 24

The Viper had first appeared on the tracks back in 1994, powered by a V10 8 litre engine, which not surprisingly produced power and torque in abundance. The chassis had originally been massaged and built by our old friends, Reynard, but by this stage in the project, Oreca had taken things in house.

2000 Rolex 24
The main competition would be two Corvette C5-Rs run by Pratt & Miller on behalf of General Motors. During the 1999 season the Vettes had gradually got closer to the Viper squad, going into the Floridian classic they were quietly confident of coming out on top. The Corvette, first raced in 1999 at the Rolex 24, had 7 litres of Detroit V8 muscle to propel them along, it would be a mighty contest.

2000 Rolex 24

But if some disaster befell the factory squads then the out-gunned but still fearsome Porsche 911 GT2 would be around to pick up the pieces but that outcome was not expected.

2000 Rolex 24
The second rank of GTs, GTU was expected to be a walk over for the phalanx of new Porsches but they would face determined opposition from the successful PTG BMW M3 squad, previous class winners at the Rolex.

2000 Rolex 24

The ‘Run What You Brung’ brigade were catered for in the A-GT class. They were tube framed, home built specials, regarded by the leading lights as mobile chicanes and not expected to feature in the grand scheme of things.

2000 Rolex 24
Practice and qualifying dragged on through Thursday and Friday, giving everyone a chance to get back into the groove after the winter break and especially to get used to running in close proximity with 79 other cars.

2000 Rolex 24

Traffic on the banking was manageable but on the infield and at the Bus Stop chicane at NASCAR Three great care had to be taken to avoid problems arising out of speed differentials between the quick guys and the not so quick.

2000 Rolex 24

During the night sessions the problem was even more acute. Somehow the drivers sorted it all out.

2000 Rolex 24

Meanwhile down in the garage areas the teams were racing against the clock to prepare their cars for the struggle ahead. Here Dick Barbour and Tony Dowe try to fettle what was widely regarded as the leading Porsche GT3-R.

The European teams are always pleased to find the strict curfew regulations enforced at Daytona International Speedway meant no all-nighters, no matter what Sociopaths who tend to run teams wanted. The Shark Lounge had its siren call……………

2000 Rolex 24

Pole position went to James Weaver in the old faithful #20 Riley & Scott MKlll Ford who rattled round in 1:41.002. Actually the Dyson team entered their No. 20 car as being Lincoln powered. The team’s Ford engines were prepared by Lozano Brothers Racing Engines. “We’re just trying to work with our engine builders and engine developers to see what we can create, and maybe we’ll create something,” said team owner Rob Dyson. “You never know.”

2000 Rolex 24
This was trying tempt the Ford owned brand to come and fight with their American rival, Cadillac. Perhaps Dyson should have painted that car black with gold piping and called it a Cartier Town Car………white walled Goodyear slicks please for P Diddy Weaver……….Yo!

Dyson had run one of the new Reynards at the early January test sessions at Daytona but reverted to their Rileys for the race itself. “We were planning to have two Reynards,” said Dyson. “Due to a number of problems, we were not able to get even one chassis working. Right after our test here we had to make the decision to run the Riley and Scott. Our objective is to win races. We just felt that we had a better chance of winning the race with the Riley & Scott rather than the Reynard. This is the Super Bowl of sports car racing. This is a race where we’ve been fortunate to win it, and that’s our objective this time.”

“We’ve got high hopes for the Reynard, I think any new car takes three or four months to get sorted out. I think Cadillac need a little more time as do Reynard,” Weaver added.
The Ferrari of Alex Caffi was second on the grid just a tad slower than Master James. A battle royal was in prospect.

2000 Rolex 24

The Italian, nicknamed “The Disco Kid” during his F1 days was typically lyrical about his prospects, “This is a big event, I raced in Formula One, the top of racing cars, but this is a beautiful day in my life because Daytona is very famous, also in Europe. Especially in Italy, nobody forgets the finish of the three Ferraris in the late sixties. This is one of the most famous races and I’m very happy to be here.” A local newspaper reporter’s dream.

2000 Rolex 24

Also pretty content with the way things were panning out was the Reynard team, lining up fourth on the grid. They were confident of being on the race pace and felt that they could be dark horses in the hunt for victory.

2000 Rolex 24

The lead Cadillac was one place down on the Reynard, it was clear that there was plenty of work to do on these elegant cars.

2000 Rolex 24

GTO pole and first blood to Ron Fellows and the Corvette with a lap of 1:45.889. Ron, one of the smartest drivers you will ever meet, was pleased. “This is our first pole with the Corvette so we’re pretty happy. We really didn’t do much since the test. We found a pretty good set up there. This morning we made one little change to the back and off we went to qualify. Right at the end of the second set of tires, I had a perfectly clear lap. The guys sent me out exactly at the right time. I was able to maximize the grip we had with the tires for one or two laps right at the end.”

Corvette 1, Viper 0 but still all to play for.

Fellows was still realistic about the race, “We’re still the underdogs here at the Rolex 24, these guys have won two straight Le Mans’ titles and we’re still chasing them. But we’ve got the package together to race for 24 hours. It’ll be a long race and the fastest car doesn’t necessarily always win, anything can happen. You’ve got to be smart with so many cars. It really won’t thin out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The biggest thing is traffic, just staying out of trouble.”

Prophetic words, indeed.

2000 Rolex 24

1:52.028 was good enough to secure pole in GTU class with Dirk Müller on qualifying duties for Dick Barbour Racing’s GT3-R. The loudspeakers were ringing out Friday at 6.30pm telling the faithful all to leave “The World Centre for Motorsport” for the day and head off to get rested in preparation for the race day. What would the Green Flag bring?

2000 Rolex 24

Saturday morning and the Sun punched its way West across the Atlantic, for those of us with business at Daytona International Speedway it was time stop admiring the colours over the ocean and head to the track. The weather was forecast to remain dry but it would get cold, even by European standards.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three clear contests in prospect, SR1 prototypes would head the field and all things being equal win the race. GTO would be a vicious bar brawl between the Detroit duo but if the boys up front did not watch it the Viper-Vette combo could get close, a podium for the fast and reliable GTs was a distinct possibility. GTU was almost certainly a Porsche walkover, numbers and speed would see to that.

2000 Rolex 24
There were, and possibly still are, two schools of thought about how to approach competing in the Rolex 24 Hours. The question is simply, is this a race or an endurance? Flat out racing or stroke it round looking after the car and hope to finish?

Some driven by bitter experience favour the latter approach.

2000 Rolex 24

Take Mike Brockman, Paul Newman’s teammate in 1995, who was back to help his friend attempt to win again. “I’ve done this race a lot of times, I led it once for 13 hours, unfortunately it was the first 13 hours. It took me 15 attempts before I won it, and that was in 1995. Jack Roush, who we drove for in 1995 said it best, we were talking in the morning before the race, and we were talking about race strategy, he said, ‘there will be no racing here until the sun comes up, and not until I say so. ‘If we make it, and the sun comes up, and we’re still alive, then we’ll talk about racing.'”

Well that’s one way of going about things.

2000 Rolex 24

The other strategy is go flat out and devil take the hindmost.

James Weaver, who was as hard and fast a driver as ever graced the tracks, expressed it this way.

“The top sports cars, they’re more than strong enough to race flat out for 24 hours. There’s not much you can do to nurse one of these cars along. If you’ve got a good driver in it, you might as well drive it as fast as you can because you won’t break it. When you’ve got to race against people like Alex (Caffi), they’re going to be going flat out, we’ll take the fight to them, and they’ll be coming after us. It’s just a question of, don’t get too hot headed in traffic. That’s always the game here.”

2000 Rolex 24
Anyhow all the planning in the world usually goes out the window as soon as the Green Flag drops and the field of prototypes were soon flat out on the banking. The initial pace was set by the Lista Ferrari 333SP driven hard as ever by Didier Theys. Almost from the start one of the main contenders for victory, the Risi Ferrari, ran into problems, Caffi spinning to the back of the field on lap 2, then within the hour there were transmission issues and fitting a new gearbox was the time consuming cure. Scratch one top prototype from the race.

2000 Rolex 24

With 79 cars starting the race, traffic, and how the leaders manage it, was always going to be a major factor. Given the disparity in speed and performance between the classes especially into the braking zones it was vital that the top drivers balance out ultimate pace with due circumspection. The best drivers really embrace the challenge of threading their way through the maze of cars in front of them.

Once again, James Weaver, explains things in his own, unique way. “Personally, the traffic element at Daytona, I find tremendously exciting and a real challenge. It’s like a high-speed video game or racing back from the pub through Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. It’s just tremendously exciting. You try to judge all the closing speeds, what the other guy is going to do, see if you can recognize the helmet, determine who it is. When a car goes off line in front of you, you see if it’s throwing up dust, so you can tell if you can go off line. There are a thousand and one tricks you can do to make the race work for you.”

2000 Rolex 24

The battle raged up front between the Lista Ferrari and the Lola Ford of Konrad Motorsports with the evergreen Jan Lammers leading the charge. This conflict continued for the first three hours until an oil leak delayed the #31 car. The #20 Dyson Riley & Scott took up the challenge shadowed by the leading Cadillac.
The gradual erosion of the lead prototypes propelled the GTO class battle into the the top ten positions overall. The #3 Covette of Ron Fellows, Justin Bell and Chris Kneifel pushing the #91 Viper of Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominic Dupuy very hard and in case they stumbled there were the three support cars from the the Detroit duo in close attendance.

2000 Rolex 24

The only sign of weakness in the ORECA camp was that Olivier Beretta was ill with the after effects of chicken pox, which meant that Wendlinger in particular would have to take up the slack. He rose to the occasion in a champion’s style.

2000 Rolex 24
GTU was, as predicted, a walk over for the Porsche 911 GT3-R armada with the head of the pack being the Barbour Racing example with Lucas Luhr, Bob Wollek and Dirk Müller behind the wheel.

2000 Rolex 24
Around 6.00pm, just before sunset the leader slowed up with smoke coming from the engine bay. The Lista Ferrari limped back to the pits but their race was run.

“We had an air box fire,” said team manager Kevin Doran. “It’s kind of a documented problem with the Ferraris. It’s happened six or eight times before with different teams. It happened to us once before, at Portland last year. In a downshift deceleration mode you get an over-run of fuel in the air box, and for some odd reason, you get a backfire out of an air trumpet, and it ignites it, and all that excess fuel burns, and it takes out the injection wiring harness.”

The engine had ingested some of the debris so even re-wiring would be in vain as there was damage to the pistons. Didier Theys reflected on a race win that had got away. “The engine caught fire. We had a backfire and the backfire burned the wire harness, it melted a couple of trumpets, it even melted one of the butterflies. Too much fuel was going into the engine. I don’t know what happened. We’ve had one problem like this in the past, but that was after a pit stop. When you do a pit stop and you don’t clean up the engine properly, too much fuel goes into the engine and it starts to burn.”

2000 Rolex 24
The misfortune that had struck the Ferraris meant that the #20 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford of James Weaver, Rob Dyson, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Max Papis assumed the lead but the big surprise was the pace of the #5 Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

Indeed at the 6 hour point the #5 car was at the head of the field with a 30 second advantage over the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott but it was not to last. A series of problems with transmission, brakes and suspension blunted the Cadillac challenge, but the team just kept repairing the cars and sending them back out, retirement was not even contemplated.

2000 Rolex 24

The head of the field was not the only place that problems were found. Porsche was having something of a nightmare with their new GT3-Rs. Water pumps and consequently engines were failing and in numbers. This was not the way that Porsche does things, “Excellence was Expected” was something of a company motto right from the early days, so to introduce the first water cooled 911 based racer and then have water pump failures caused red faces throughout the paddock.

Bob Wollek summed up the situation ” There was no warning, no light, no temperature going up, it just went ‘BANG’ on the straight.”

2000 Rolex 24

The explanation was simple enough, sand that had been used in the engine block casting process had not been fully cleaned out and the residue was clogging the water pumps causing them to seize and then the engines to fail. In short order entries from Dick Barbour Racing, Larbre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of engine problems. Not good.

2000 Rolex 24

During the long hours of darkness the race stabilised with the Dyson Riley & Scott having a ten lap lead over the chasing pack of Vipers and Vettes.

2000 Rolex 24
The 2000 Rolex 24 was run under unusually cold conditions with the temperature hovering just above freezing for most of the night. This put extra strain on the already exhausted crews who would take whatever rest they could between pitstops.

2000 Rolex 24

A routine pit stop for the leader, EFR out, Rob Dyson in. Behind the Dyson car and the factory Vipers and Vettes the privateer Chamberlain Vipers ran strongly, moving into the top ten overall as the Porsches failed.

2000 Rolex 24

The Corvette #3 ran flat out to keep up the pressure on the leading Vipers but could not quite close the gap. Here Justin Bell heads out for another stint in the dark.

2000 Rolex 24

Around 3.00am point the race changed course again. The #20 was 13 laps up on the #93 Viper but trouble was on the way as the leader started to slow. A pitstop to investigate led to the team removing the valve covers in order to find what has become a persistent but slight misfire. No broken rockers or valve springs were discovered but the restriction in pace and the unscheduled time spent in the pits cut the lead over the pack of GTO cars to 8 laps.

2000 Rolex 24

Another strong performer was the #6 Cadillac of Butch Leitzinger, Franck Lagorce and Andy Wallace. Early race problems had dropped them down the order to 69th but by 5.00am they were up to second place overall. They were seven laps down on the Dyson lead car and were scrapping with #91 and #93 Vipers. Then problems with the gearbox meant a complete change of transmission which cost them around 30 laps and any chance of victory for Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

The sun came up to a sick Riley & Scott up against a charging pack of Vipers and a lone Vette, would Dyson make it to the finish line and score a second win in the Rolex 24 Hours?

2000 Rolex 24

GTU class was firmly in the grasp of the G&W Motorsports GT3-R but shortly after 18 hours they too suffered the dreaded Porsche engine failure. Uwe Alzen was not happy, “We were more than 10 laps ahead and the car was running perfectly. The only problems we had were with a broken seat and something wrong with the jacking system.”

2000 Rolex 24
A surprise at sunrise was to see the Johansson Matthews Reynard still running. Four gearbox changes plus numerous other repairs had seen the crew exhaust themselves. However the warming rays of the Sun gave fresh hope to the survivors still running.

2000 Rolex 24

For the Dyson team the agony continued as the leading Viper and Vette chipped away at their lead till they slipped behind with just two hours of the race to go. The team could see this fate coming as they lost around ten seconds a lap to the GTO pursuers. Rob Dyson was philosophical about the situation, “Specifically, what happened was an exhaust valve had a crack in it starting about one in the morning. We had a high-speed misfire that was due to a crack in an exhaust valve, and those things don’t heal themselves.”
#91 held an advantage over #3 of around a lap but Pratt & Miller were not done yet. There would be a sprint to the finish.

2000 Rolex 24

The #3 Corvette got back on to the lead lap with an aggressive pit strategy and was really pushing in the final hour. Ron Fellows rung the neck out of the Vette but Karl Wendlinger was up to the task in hand and was 32.7 seconds in front when the Chequered Flag dropped at 1.00pm Sunday. Victory, the closest margin in the race’s history, for Viper and Oreca.

2000 Rolex 24

The team had remained calm even during the late onslaught from the #3, “Before I left the pits for the last half hour of the race, I knew the Corvette could be very fast, and that Ron Fellows was a very fast driver,” said Wendlinger. “But I also knew that throughout the race we’d learned how fast our car could run, and that we could win the race with the pace we’d set.”

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Celebrations then in Victory Lane for the French team and much later in the Shark Lounge………………….Hughes de Chaunac, Team Principal of Oreca, was ecstatic, “It is hard to imagine you can win a 24-hour race by 36 seconds. The entire Oreca team did a fantastic job all weekend, Dodge gave us a tremendous racecar and it was our job to perform. The Corvette proved to be a tremendous challenge to the Viper and we respect their programme. It sets up an epic battle for when we race Le Mans.”

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Beaten by the narrowest of margins, the Corvette team was disappointed but rightly proud of their performance, it was the first of many such displays in the following seasons.

2000 Rolex 24

Surviving the carnage in the Porsche GTU ranks was the Haberthur 911 GT3-R driven by Fabio Babini, Luca Drudi, Gabrio Rosa and Fabio Rosa. They finished 8th overall and were worthy class winners.

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Adding to joy in the Dodge camp was the top ten finish for two of the customer cars run by Chamberlain Motorsport.

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The top brass at Chrysler were very pleased, John Fernandez, Director of Engineering and Speciality Vehicles, had this to say. “This is a historical moment. An outright win in one of the world’s most prestigious endurance races by a production-based car like the Dodge Viper GTS-R is rare and hard-earned. In fact, the Dodge Viper GTS-R – now a Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour race winner – is remarkably like the Vipers that you can buy from your neighborhood Dodge Dealer. Not only does it look the same, but it uses the same basic engine, chassis, transmission and suspension. If push came to shove and we needed to, we could have gone out to the Viper Owners’ Club Parking Paddock in the Infield and swapped parts with our customers’ cars. The only significant differences are a full roll cage for safety, a carbon fiber body (versus composite plastic bodywork on the street cars), a dry-sump engine and racing slicks. But having a great production car to start with gives us the edge on the track. And conversely, having a great racing car makes our street cars better.”

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Grand-Am had kicked off their existence and what a way to start.

Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson and his team were overjoyed with the first event, ” The Rolex 24 at Daytona was not just a great first race for Grand-Am, it was an outstanding motorsport event by any basis of judgement.”

Those of us who had shivered our way through the cold Floridian night would agree whole heartedly. Grand-Am was on its way.

John Brooks, January 2013

Heat and Dust

The first endurance race of the 2013 season took place last week in Dubai. With a huge entry of good quality it can certainly be counted as a success. Our Special Correspondent was out in the Emirates, here are some of his reflections on the event. 

Reflections on the Dubai 24 Hours

The Dubai 24 Hours for GT, Touring cars and 24H Specials is a wonderful race. Entry for the public is free, yes free, with free use of the grandstands, free entry to the paddock and a generous grid walkabout before the start. The rest of the world, take note! Being run in mid-January, the race provides an ideal opportunity for manufacturers and teams to try out new cars, new parts etc., with adequate time to make changes and modifications before the start of the full international season.

Two years ago the Mercédès-Benz SLS made its 24 hour début at Dubai with a team of three factory-supported cars – the SLS has won the race ever since. And there is none of that confused safety-car nonsense in this race – whenever there is an incident requiring the cars to slow right down, the marshals wave the purple Code 60 flags and every car is compelled to slow down immediately to a maximum of 60 kph on pain of stiff penalties; it does not pay to disobey! Thus the relative intervals between the cars are maintained and drivers who have built up a lead over their rivals don’t lose it as is so often the case with the safety-car system. Code 60 works a treat and is much fairer for everyone. The rest of the world, take note! The weather for the race is invariably pleasantly warm and there is almost a guarantee of no rain; some sand blown onto the track sometimes but that’s racing. And 81 cars started this year’s race, with a variety of classes and sizes, just as endurance racing should be. The circuit is 5.39 km long with two 1 km straights, quite able to accommodate the different performances of the cars. Below are some of the cars which caught my particular interest:

2013 Dubai 24

This is the new VDS GT 001-R from Belgium, making its race début. It is said that Tony Gillet influenced the chassis design and, like the final racing version of the Gillet Vertigo, this car also uses the 4.2 litre Maserati V8 engine (built by Ferrari). It not surprisingly for such a new car encountered all sorts of problems during the twenty-four hours but was still running at the end, albeit way down the field.

2013 Dubai 24 The Jones brothers, former British GT Champions, came to the Dubai race for the first time, enabling their three sons to share their Mercédès SLS AMG GT3 with them. The family finished a creditable fifth overall and second in their class. Totally unforeseen was their influence on the final outcome of the race. The Black Falcon team had their number one entry seriously damaged in a testing accident on the Wednesday and the Jones brothers made their spare car available to them. This was to entail much hurried work because the spare car was set up in sprint mode and needed to be adapted to undertake an endurance event. The Black Falcon team stripped the car right down and transferred their engine and transmission etc. to the replacement car, a major undertaking with practice on the Thursday and the race at 2pm on the Friday. Here is the “interim” car in practice where it took an astonishing pole position:

2013 Dubai 24

The full conversion was ready for the start and history records that this car went on to win the race outright;

2013 Dubai 24

here it is cresting the brow at Turn 15 with a typical Dubai backdrop.

2013 Dubai 24

The field included several “tiddlers”, especially Clios and Minis but this little Citroën C2 was going particularly well in the early stages – alas, it did not reach the finish.

2013 Dubai 24

Nissan made a big effort with a team of two 370Zs in the GT4 (SP3) class. This one fell back after an off-course excursion but its team-mate took 2nd in the class.

2013 Dubai 24

Picture DB3  Two of the 24 Hour Specials. They are GC Automobile GC10 models which hail from Pézenas to the west of Montpellier in the south of France. No. 131 has a 6.2 V8, the other a 3.5 V6.

2013 Dubai 24

It gave me great pleasure to see this Lotus Evora GT win the GT4 class. Evoras have been quietly notching up such successes in the last two seasons or so in GT races.

2013 Dubai 24

The battle-scarred Aston Martin Vantage GT4 run by the Barwell Team on its way to fourth in the class. This is an example of a car that was trying out some new parts.

2013 Dubai 24

Picture DB3  Ferrari has never won this increasingly significant race but this AF Corse 458 Italia came very close to doing so.

2013 Dubai 24

Picture DB3  It is a charming tradition in the Dubai 24 Hours that one of the drivers from each of the first three finishing cars is brought to the podium on a camel. Here they are arriving prior to receiving their awards.

This was the eighth running of this race and it is good to see how it is growing in status. It attracts both very professional teams and drivers and the atmosphere reminds me of Goodwood in the Fifties when there were no petty restrictions! And as a privileged member of the media I have to say that the hospitality extended to us is second to none. The rest of the world, take note!

David Blumlein, January 2013

A Case of the Benz

2013 Dubai 24

The eighth edition of the Dubai 24 Hours took place last weekend. The event has matured nicely and even in these financially perilous times could boast 81 starters, someone must be doing something right.

At dawn we have a brace of SLS coupés, with the Jones’ example on its way to a fine fifth place overall. More from the race during this week.

John Brooks, January 2013

Keep Your Friends Close, Keep Your Enemies Closer?

GRAND AM AT LE MANS?

If you’re a sports car racing fan, you’ve most likely given little respect to the NASCAR owned, Grand American Rolex-backed, series led by the dowdy, less than pleasant looking Daytona Prototypes. And, while those at the Grand Am may disagree with your opinion, you’re not alone.

For the most part the DP concept was conceived as a cost containment exercise that would allow the rich gentlemen drivers in North America to indulge their desires to race in the higher, more exotic reaches of U.S. road course sandbox without having to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to win at places like Le Mans these days.

The problem for the Grand Am and its competitors is that the rules have so reduced performance that what emerged from the NASCAR kettle was something that no one other than the participants themselves cared much about. In short, while the Rolex series and its premier event, the Rolex 24, retained their prestigious names, that’s about all they kept.

Put another way, the Grand Am championship retained the bun, but threw out the meat. Well, boys and girls, get ready for a shock: the Grand Am may be going big time. Following on the heels of last week’s announcement that an upgraded version of the Daytona Prototypes will be merged with current crop of LM P2 cars to form the top division of the combined ALMS-Rolex successor title chase in 2014, came rumors that the DP set may well be headed to Le Mans.

What insiders have been saying quietly for months, namely that such talks between Grand Am officials and their ACO counterparts have been ongoing, peeked into the daylight with a report on SPEED TV’s website not long after the Grand Am-ALMS press conference in Daytona Beach.

Whether or not those supposed talk produce a substantive result remains to be seen. As with all things concerning the merger of the two American road racing camps, when it comes to the details there is only vagueness; vagueness that for the most part is justified given the disparity in the basic philosophies behind the Rolex and ALMS championships.

What is not so vague, however, is the major league problem facing the sports car segment of the motorsport industry. Put in a single word it is “cost.” Up into the early years of the 21st century, privateers such as South Florida’s Champion Racing, which won Le Mans with its non-factory Audi R8, could obviously play and equally obviously be successful at the highest levels. With the coming of today’s computerized, electronically dependent prototypes that require crews measuring in the hundreds that is no longer true.

The creation of headlining programs now rests solely with the manufacturers, some of whose resources have been stretched beyond the breaking point; as witnessed by Peugeot’s abrupt department in 2011. For The ACO limiting the pointy end of the finish order at the Sarthe is a desired intention. However, it is also one that pushes championships like the ALMS, and even the Rolex down a notch out of the so-called “Big Leagues” where, for promoters the money is.

Of course there is an answer to the dilemma, cheap horsepower and lots of it, which is readily available not only in the engines used by off shore powerboat racers, but in NASCAR’s stock car world as well. However, in the current “green” environment the horsepower solution is path not likely to be taken, even if most fans might like to see it become reality.

So, what does all this come down to? The answer is “dog food,” or how best to sell it. No matter how good the salesmanship, if the dogs don’t like, and won’t eat, the dog food, its maker might want to consider changing the recipe. Will the public flock to Le Mans to see the Daytona Prototypes scurry around for a class victory? Probably not. Would they pay more attention if those same DP’s had a chance at beating the sophisticated manufacturer prototypes? You bet.

Returning to America in 2014, if fans knew they were watching cars with such a potential, would they pay more attention, and perhaps more importantly for promoters pay to watch in person in larger numbers? That is the question. After all, car racing is a professional sport first and a testing ground second. Given a choice, one suspects that people will make their choices based on their preferences. One can only hope that those in charge read the tea leaves correctly.

Bill Oursler, January 2013

Signature Toon

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

One of the better features that the ALMS introduced to ACO-style racing was the Autograph Session. The drivers all grumble about it, especially the cool pros, but most are secretly pleased to get the recognition and admiration from the fans. Of course some driver line ups are more equal than others, so one feels sorry for Audi’s crew when Team Impala are in town, how could they compete?

“Life’s a bitch, then you die…..”

John Brooks, January 2013

A New Year’s Resolution

Been a little quiet here at DDC Towers since the New Year but our Special Correspondent has been out and about. Attracting his attention was the traditional New Year’s Day gathering at Brooklands. He shares with us some of the hidden gems that were on display around the old race track.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Volvo PV444

Probably the best and toughest of all the Volvos, the PV444 was conceived during the war (Sweden was neutral) and was first seen in Stockholm in September 1944. Volvo had been persuaded to purchase a 1939 1.3-litre Hanomag to study its unitary-body construction and this in turn influenced the new car and also the engine which was a 4-cylinder overhead valve with pushrods unit with a 3-bearing crankshaft and gear-driven camshaft. The car had coil spring suspension all round, independent at the front.

Production could not get underway until a flow of supplies was assured and this gave the company time to subject the car to the most rigorous test programme and when cars started to be produced in February 1947,Volvo had a really tough 2-door saloon.

There were no thoughts of competition for several years but when drivers like Gunnar Andersson started to work wonders in rallies with the car Volvo had a change of heart and signed him up as a “works” driver.
The successes were too numerous to list here but mention must be made of Andersson’s victory in the European Championship in 1958, Tom Trana’s two outstanding wins in the R.A.C. Rally in 1963 and 1964 and Joginder Singh’s win in the 1965 East African Safari in a second-hand car!

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Ford Popular
Based on the “sit up and beg” Anglia shown at the 1948 Earl’s Court Motor Show, the Popular was introduced in 1953 but with the 1172 c.c. side-valve 10hp engine which found its way into so many competition cars at that time. It was a very basic car aimed to provide cheap reliable transport – it came with no heater, vinyl trim, only one vacuum-operated windscreen wiper (you could opt for an extra one for the equivalent of £2.47), very little chrome (even the bumpers were painted) and was offered only as a 2-door saloon.
Production was transferred from Dagenham to Ford’s Doncaster factory in 1955 and the car was made until September 1959 by which time over 150,000 had been sold. This 103E model was the last British car to be produced with a side-valve engine.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Reliant Sabre 6

We normally think of Reliants as 3-wheelers and these constituted the company’s main source of activity but by the Sixties they were also making some sporting 4-wheelers. The Sabres with 4-cylinder engines were the most common but Reliant also offered a six-cylinder version, the Sabre 6.
Despite the company’s limited resources it was felt that this car was both powerful and rugged enough to be thrown into international rallies. It had a Ford Zephyr 2553 c.c. engine with Raymond Mays head and three Weber carburettors. In 1963 two of these works cars took the first two places in their class in the gruelling Coupes des Alpes, the second placed car driven by Roger Clark who was having his first works drive.
Just 77 Sabre 6s were eventually made in 1962-63.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Jaguar XK120

Here is an unspoilt example of the beautiful car which stunned the world at the first post-war Motor Show at Earl’s Court in 1948, complete with those lovely rear wheel spats that were worn by the early production cars. Indeed, Jaguar left them on when the factory took three of the cars in red, white and blue to contest the first Silverstone Production Car Race in August 1949, giving the XK120 a début win.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Austin Seven Swallow

And here is how Jaguar effectively began. William Lyons had started by making sidecars for motorcycles in Blackpool and by 1927 he was making 2-seater car bodies on Morris Cowley and Austin Seven chassis; the idea was to tap into the market for more individual cars at low cost. When he showed his Austin Seven Swallow to the London dealer Henlys, they ordered 500 provided a saloon was added to the range. This was done in 1928 and by the November Lyons was seeking larger premises in Coventry so as to be nearer the centre of motor manufacture. He went on to make attractive bodies on other chassis such as Fiat, Standard and Swift and all this led to his launching in 1931 his own marque, SS, which grew into Jaguar.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Singer Roadster

Before the war Singer made their famous Nine sports cars which did well in rallies, races and trials and were serious rivals to M.G., all in addition to their wide range of production family cars. After the war they replaced their sporting cars with the Roadster which was a 4-seater touring model rather than a competition-based car. It had the sound Singer overhead camshaft engine and coil spring independent front suspension but did not create the sporting successes of its forebears.
Rather interestingly a privately-entered Roadster was the last Singer to run in an international sports car race when it finished 13th in the 1953 Tourist Trophy at Dundrod fifty years after the little 4-seater Nine made its first appearance at Le Mans where it too finished thirteenth!

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

A.C. Zagato

Here is a car we know little about so far! Its formal title is the A.C. 378 GT Zagato and it is a product of the Brooklands Motor Company. It has a tubular steel space –frame chassis and is powered by a 90 degree aluminium V8 of 6.2-litres (378 cu.in.) driving through a 6-speed manual gearbox. The body is by Zagato and that firm’s characteristic double humps on the roof can be seen.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day

Tatra 603

Good to see a Tatra 603 which has finally escaped from its communist influence for these cars were not available to the buying public, being reserved for the ruling authorities and eastern European presidents. They were first seen in the 1955 International six-day motor event in Zlin.

2013 Brooklands New Years Day
They did, however, put in some unexpected appearances in the West when they were allowed to compete in the tough variations of the Marathon de la Route during the Sixties. In the last Liège-Sofia-Liège in 1964 their entry came 15th. This rally was by then causing all sorts of complications passing through different countries so it became an endurance event on the famous Nϋrburgring. For 1965 contestants ran for 82 hours and Tatras came 3rd and 4th in the GT category; a year later in the 84 Hours they finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the GT class, winning the Trophée des Nations. Their final success was in the 1967 84 Hours when they finished 4th and 5th overall. Perhaps we should not be surprised because the Czechoslovakians always made very strong cars.
The picture shows its unusual rear-mounted air-cooled V8 of 2.5-litres.

Tailpiece
2013 Brooklands New Years Day
A beautiful early Bentley 3 Litre

David Blumlein, January 2013