Monthly Archives: September 2016

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The First Steps

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Most of you will know that Petit Le Mans runs this weekend, bringing down the curtain on the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It is also the final performance in the career of the Daytona Prototype class.  Who could have imagined back in 2003 that we would still have evolutions of this class of car racing for victories and titles?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The DPs, as the more polite members of the racing community referred to them, made their début at Daytona International Speedway running in the 2003 Rolex 24 Hours.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

There were just six cars entered in the class with four chassis types and five different engine suppliers. Three of these were Fabcar FDSC/03s and two of these were entered by Brumos Racing and were, naturally, Porsche powered. #59 in the famous red, white and blue livery had Daytona 24 Hours legend, Hurley Haywood, leading the driving squad, with J. C. France and Indy Car hired guns, Scott Goodyear and Scott Sharp in support.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

#58 had David Donohue, Mike Borkowski, Randy Pobst and Chris Bye behind the wheel. Brumos had an air of quiet confidence having had an extensive test program and a recent 27 hour test that all went as well could be expected.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Cegwa Sport entered a Toyota powered Fabcar for Darius Grala, Oswaldo Negri, Josh Rehm and Guy Cosmo.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Lined up against this trio were the Italian built Picchio BMW DP2 for Boris Said, Darren Law, Dieter Quester and Luca Riccitelli, entered by G & W Motorsports.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

A familiar face at the Rolex was Kevin Doran and, although his team was not there to defend their 2002 crown, he had built the Doran Chevrolet JE4 for Bell Motorsport. It would be driven by Terry Borcheller, Forrest Barber, Didier Theys and Christian Fittipaldi. The team was on the back foot from the start as the project was late in completion and had virtually no testing, not the way to approach the Rolex 24.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final DP entered was the Multimatic Ford Focus MDP1 from Larry Holt’s Canadian outfit. He had regular  team drivers Scott Maxwell and David Empringham with David Brabham completing the line up.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Just six cars in the “top class” and they were not even the fastest round the track at Daytona, that honour fell to Justin Bell and the Denhaag Motorsports Corvette running in the GTS class who posted  a 1:49.394, over a second faster than the class leading Multimatic.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Let’s consider the situation, short of numbers, slower than the previous top prototype class, visually challenged and despised by legions of internet forum heroes, why did Grand-Am persist with this exercise in motor sport time travel? Tube frames in an era of carbon fibre, mocked as Proto-Turtles, what was the point? Indeed why did the mighty NASCAR empire devote time and resources to endurance racing when the core business was so successful and all consuming?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final question is easiest to answer. Bill France Snr. had launched the Daytona sports car events back in 1962 and by 1966 that had morphed into a 24 hour that attracted a top international entry, Ferrari even had one their most famous Gran Turismos nicknamed after Daytona. So it has become part of the Daytona tradition to kick off the Speed Weeks with an endurance sports car race and by continuing the tradition it is honouring Bill Snr.’s legacy and memory. There is also the practical point that the Rolex 24 acts as a rehearsal for the Daytona 500 in getting the Speedway staff and other interested parties up to speed before the huge crowd arrives on race day for the opening event in the NASCAR calendar.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

OK, why did the folks on West International Speedway Boulevard take the route of Daytona Prototypes? The answer is simple; cost, control and safety. Grand-Am was born out of the vacuum created by the demise of IMSA as run by Andy Evans and the subsequent rise of Don Panoz’ American Le Mans Series. This was perceived as a threat to hegemony of Daytona Beach in North American motor sport circles. Don owned Road Atlanta and Mosport and had manufacturers such as Audi, Porsche, Corvette and Viper beating a path to his door. He was serious and had the resources to match his ambition. The link with the ACO and Le Mans 24 Hours gave him and the ALMS instant credibility.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Something had to be done. In 2000 Grand-Am kicked off in the best possible manner with a great edition of the Rolex 24. Anyone interested in reading about that race might enjoy THIS

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

For the 2000 season Roger Edmondson, President of Grand-Am, attempted to forge links with John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup from Europe to increase the number of prototypes available to populate the grid. This initiative failed, “Mango” could not deliver his side of the bargain, only a few cars made the trip across the Atlantic to the mid-season races at Daytona and Road America.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Audi R8 prototype was rampant in the ALMS and at La Sarthe and would run at astronomical speeds if let loose on the banking at Daytona International Speedway and the consequences of something going wrong were only too easy to imagine. The open cars also had a potential safety issue, highlighted by the fatal accident of Jeff Clinton at Homestead early in the 2002 Grand-Am season. The flurry of legal action that followed that accident focused minds in Volusia County.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Cost was also a problem, even manufacturers of the size of Cadillac realised that they could not outspend Audi in the spiralling arms race that motor sport has always been. Detroit would not sanction such expenditure that had little return on investment and in the face of a declining financial situation that would eventually require a US Government bail out. There was very definitely a finite limit of what competitors could be expected to spend.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The only realistic solution to the issues of cost for Grand-Am was to write the rule book themselves giving them total control over all aspects of their series and not being dependant on outside parties building cars to others’ regulations and also not having manufacturers dominate proceedings.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The high tech and costly solutions involving carbon fibre, Kevlar and electronic wizardry were out except on bodywork and ancillaries. The traditional tube-frame construction would the basis for all the cars. Seven different chassis were approved, along with engines that were also tightly regulated. Another benefit to Grand-Am was to lock in those teams that invested in Daytona Prototypes, there was nowhere else to race these odd machines.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Well that is how members of the media like myself and the fans that flock to DIS in late January first encountered the Daytona Prototypes in the flesh. They looked awful, especially compared with the Audis and Bentleys that would run at Sebring a few weeks later but they were affordable and a business could be made running them. In any case no one at Grand-Am was going to pay any attention to a bunch of whiny Europeans that only showed up once a year to enjoy some Floridian sunshine.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Mind you it was not just us Aliens that did not care for the first iteration of the DP. I have been in recent correspondence with one of the drivers who lined up at the sharp end of the grid on February 1st. His verdict was “Damn, that’s an ugly car!”

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The half dozen Daytona Prototypes were stationed at the head of the 44 cars that started the Rolex 24 in 2003. Flags were at half-mast around the track as news came in that morning of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia over Texas as it headed for for its base at Cape Canaveral, it was a sobering moment.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The early laps were led by Maxwell in the Multimatic with the Brumos pair keeping a watchful eye.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the problems began as the Doran headed for the pits suffering with all manner of issues, it was too new to be racing at a place as tough as DIS. Retirement was the fate after 67 laps.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Picchio ended up behind the wall with overheating issues that plagued it for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the Multimatic suffered a broken throttle cable which was repaired but cost the team many laps that they struggled to make up, the days of a big speed differential of the prototypes over the GTs were over.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Fabcars were leading as the sun set with the Toyota powered car following the Brumos entry.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Disaster struck the #58 as the normally bullet proof Porsche engine suffered a failure, perhaps the bit that was most expected to last. Two DPs out as the long dark night arrived.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

More throttle problems for the Multimatic during the night ended their challenge for overall honors.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best of the DPs was the #59 but a trip off track to avoid contact with a stationary, stranded GT caused all manner of issues that dogged the car for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

All of this misfortune handed the Rolex 24 to the Racer’s Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the hounds had outlasted the hare.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best result for the Daytona Prototypes was a fine fourth overall for Multimatic, always playing catch up after their unplanned pit visits. The drivers had the consolation prize of new Rolex watches.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Daytona Prototype era had got off to a shaky start but they would assert their authority over the GT classes in the future and by the Gen3 they looked like proper racing cars. They have provided the foundation for Grand-Am and now the IMSA championships. Few would have bet on that back in 2003 but they have earned their place in the history books.

John Brooks, September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Takin’ It To The Streets

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The streets of London have seen most things during the several thousand years that settlements have existed by the banks of the Thames but even for such a cosmopolitan place today was a bit special.

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Early morning workers on their way to toil and extremely well refreshed revellers lurching back to base were treated to the vision of a pair of Porsches running round the streets of the capital.

The Panamera 4 E-Hybrid would not have turned heads, fine vehicle that it is.

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Its companion on the run round famous London landmarks such as Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square will have caused the revellers to curse that last drink and the workers to reach for another expresso.

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Normally confined to the race tracks the Porsche 919 Hybrid was takin’ it to the streets in the hands of Mark Webber, a top bloke.

This Porsche recently took the German marque’s 18th victory at Le Mans and its purpose this morning was to “demonstrate how Porsche is translating its race-winning Hybrid technology from the track to the road.” At least that was what the press release said.

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My take on things is that winning at La Sarthe accrues a sizable amount of bragging rights, and why not display them on the streets of the world’s number one international city? A chance to demonstrate how performance motoring will look in the future.

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There were no road closures just a police escort on the run across Central London. Next stop is Japan and the 6 Hours of Fuji.

John Brooks, September 2016

Past Pleasures

2016 SH General

Summer starts to take its leave for another year and September arrives bringing in its wake a flurry of motoring extravaganzas to keep our spirits warm during the long dark times ahead. One of the highlights of these autumnal automotive celebrations is the Goodwood Revival. A report will be forthcoming in due course but our old friend Simon Hildrew was prowling the premises and has come up with this fantastic set of images for our enjoyment.

John Brooks, September 2015

Best Supporting Actor

h5787_ferrari_512_front_cover

In the movies, and indeed in life, there are the stars and then there is the supporting cast, those of us who do not top the bill but nevertheless are part of the script, without whom the plot would be diminished.

Since the beginning of motor sport there have been the headliners and the grid fillers and also rans. The Porsche 917 was a pure mega-star from the day it was revealed at the 1969 Geneva Salon to the end of its life at the top in August 1975, when Mark Donohue rattled round a lap of Talladega SuperSpeedway at a record breaking 221.160 mph.

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So the question is who was the supporting act that allowed the 917 to display its fantastic talent, the answer is obvious, the Ferrari 512. This racer only had a brief career in 1970 and 1971 but was immortalised in Steve McQueen’s epic movie “Le Mans” where it was the foil for the Gulf 917s, Michael Delaney versus Eric Stahler.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

 

As if on cue, last week there was a ring at the door, the postman handed me a package from Haynes Publishing and the content was revealed to be a Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual for the Ferrari 512 S/M (all models). I had given some small assistance to the author, my old friend Glen Smale, and he had generously repaid this with a copy of the book, so a review is in order.

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Books on the 512 are in short supply, I could only find one that fitted the bill, part of the Cavalleria set on various notable Ferraris, and the 512 book fetch prices around £250. So this comprehensive account of the 512 represents amazing value at £22.99.

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For those not familiar with the concept Haynes Publishing made their name and fortune on producing a series of manuals aimed at assisting owners repair their own cars. A while back someone with a sense of humour extended the range beyond Mondeos and Allegros to include all manner of things that no one would ever work on, even if they owned the item. So subjects as diverse as Concorde, Titanic, Chickens and even Dads now have a Owners’ Manual.

Ferrari 512 M (1970)

Glen sets the scene with an introduction to the endurance racing scene in 1969 when the attempts by the FIA to limit the speeds and cost of the leading prototype class were utterly defeated by Ferdinand Piëch and Porsche building 25 Porsche 917s thus qualifying under Group 5 rules. Enzo Ferrari followed suit and thus the fabulous Ferrari 512 S was born.

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There is detailed look at all aspects of the Ferrari’s interior and exterior and matters mechanical. Nick Mason was his usual generous self in letting Glen examine his example, 1026, arguably the most important 512 of them all. It was badly damaged in a fire during the making of the McQueen movie but rebuilt by Mason. Prior to that it scored an amazing victory in the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours, regarded by Mario Andretti as one of his greatest ever drives.  It also finished third at Daytona and fourth at Monza that year before being sold to Ecurie Francorchamps.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

There is a chapter giving the engineer’s view of the 512. Dick Fritz, team manager of Luigi Chinetti’s NART outfit gives an insider’s perspective as does John Woodward of Penske Racing Team.  From the contemporary classic racing scene both Bob Houghton and Ben de Chair describe the challenges of running such a valuable racer, all in all a warts and all tale from the guys behind the scenes.

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The role of being an owner is also chronicled with Kirk White recalling his partnership with Roger Penske and the iconic Sunoco 512, arguably the best known Ferrari never to win a race. Nick Mason tells the reader how he came to acquire his 512 and the experiences of owning such a legend.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

The drivers are also part of the story with Mario Andretti, Sam Posey and Derek Bell getting a chapter, recalling their races behind the wheel.

Ferrari 512 S (1970)

Finally, there is a summary and brief history of all the Ferrari 512 chassis, whether in S or M form.

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This book is a comprehensive, well researched and well written account of a Ferrari that is often overlooked, especially when compared with the interest in its principal opponent, the Porsche 917. At twice the price it would be a bargain…………buy it today.

John Brooks, September 2016

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Haynes Publishing

 

 

 

 

Top Dressing for the Lawn

The arrival of September signals the shift in the seasons here in England. It also heralds the final flourish in the automotive events’ calendar with the best left till last. I looked at Windsor Castle’s Councours of Elegance briefly and here is a similar overview of the Salon Privé, held in the magnificent shadow of Blenheim Palace. A more detailed appraisal will appear later this month.

John Brooks, September 2016

 

Elegance Was Expected

Now in it’s fifth incarnation the Concours of Elegance returns to its birthplace, Windsor Castle. More about this fabulous event in detail later this month………..but for now a gallery to illustrate a Friday well spent.

John Brooks, September 2016