Monthly Archives: January 2017

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ASI 2017 and all that

The endurance season has kicked off, Dubai 24 a few weeks back and yesterday the Rolex 24, both preceded by the Autosport International at the charmless Birmingham NEC. ASI is under new owners and that can only be a good thing, the format is tired and dull, and frankly it is difficult to get any enthusiasm for the event. That being said, the display of Lotus 49s and the history line provided by Williams Grand Prix were worthy of attention, so I will be generous and hope that the show can get back to its former glories.

One constant is the excellent work of Simon Hildrew…………long may he continue.

John Brooks, January 2017

Thirty Year Itch

The Daytona 24 Hours in 1987 was an almost exclusively Porsche affair in the leading GTP class, no less than nine 962s chased victory. Five of these were powered by a 2.8 litre flat six and the other four a 3.0 litre version of the classic Porsche unit, power was traded off for less fuel stops, a bit of a leap of faith at Daytona.

Leading the charge was Jochen Mass in Bruce Leven’s 962 posting a pole lap of 1:41.005. The German star shared the car with the owner and Klaus Ludwig. They led the first four hours or so of the race but contact while passing a back marker on the banking led to a big shunt and retirement.

Also in the wars early in the race was the other front row Porsche of Jim Busby sharing with Bob Wollek and Darin Brassfield. Valve failure after 89 laps put the BFGoodrich 962 out.

Three 962s were left at the top contesting victory. The American road-racing royalty of Rob Dyson, A.J. Foyt and Al Holbert each had a car capable of winning. Dyson shared with his regular co-driver Price Cobb and they were supported by Vern Schuppan.

Holbert, running the same #103 chassis that had been the winner in the 1986 race, was on a roll, chasing a third consecutive 24 hour win with co-driver Derek Bell, having triumphed at Le Mans the previous June. Initially Holbert did not plan to drive leaving that to Al Unser Jr., Chip Robinson and Mr Bell. The demands of the race would change that strategy

The legendary A. J. Foyt, twice a winner at the Daytona 24 Hours was looking for his third win, running with Danny Sullivan and Al Unser Sr. The race would come down a dog fight between the #1 and #14.

Best of the non-Porsches was the Chevrolet Corvette GTP-T710 of Sarel van der Merwe and Doc Bundy but they went out in the night with engine failure after running in the leading pack.

Another car that succumbed in the darkness to engine problems following a fire was the Jaguar XJR-7 of Bob Tullius, Hurley Haywood and John Morton after running as high as second.

Less impressive in the GTP ranks was the Zakspeed Ford Probe GTP of David Hobbs, Whitney Ganz and Momo Moretti. Not really competitive, they also disappeared in the night with engine maladies.

IMSA GTP Lights were the property of the factory entered Spice-Pontiac Fiero.

Bob Earl, Don Bell and Jeff Kline overcame electrical issues in the night to run out winners.

IMSA GTO class was hotly contested. The Roush Ford Mustang was chasing a hat trick of wins at Daytona. NASCAR star Bill Elliott ran with Scott Pruett, Lyn St. James and Tom Gloy.

More NASCAR talent was on show in the Protofab Chevrolet Camaro of Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte and Greg Pickett. They led the class at the halfway point but lost a wheel out on track and that was that.

Another strong Camaro was the Rick Hendrick-entered Peerless version for Jack Baldwin and Eppie Wietzes but they were another victim of engine issues.

Dan Gurney had a pair of Toyota Celicas, #98 for Chris Cord and Steve Millen, #99 had Ricky Rudd, Jerrill Rice and Juan Manuel Fangio ll on driving duties.

Problems late in the race struck both All American Racing cars with #99 retiring  and #98 clinging on to second spot despite rear suspension issues.

All of which propelled #11 to the top step of the podium. A sweet victory for the Roush Ford outfit.

Back at the head of the field things appeared to be going the way of Foyt’s 962 but there was not much margin in it. The Unsers engaged in an early morning Father and Son duel after which they had breakfast together. There were epic battles between the two teams and any advantage gained was soon pulled back.

Al Holbert had to change his strategy as both Al Unser Jr. and Chip Robinson were exhausted and Derek Bell needed time to recover for the final stint. Al jumped into the Porsche to take the fight to rival 962.

The race was decided in the final hour when the normally bullet-proof Porsche motor in the #1 car let go with 50 minutes left to run. Victory for the Holbert car, huge disappointment for Foyt’s outfit.

Second place fell to the Brun Motorsport 962 that had lost 14 laps in the first hour with a faulty weld on a pipe. Once that was fixed they began the long climb back from 54th place. They were the quickest car on track during the night, sometimes as much as five seconds a lap! Once the Foyt car stopped they were elevated to the podium just ahead of the Dyson 962 with the unfortunate Texan effort classified as fourth. It was a just reward for Walter’s team of Oscar Larrauri, Massimo Sigala and Gianfranco Brancatelli.

Messrs Holbert, Bell, Robinson and Unser Jr. celebrated a famous victory, a really tough race for them. The race was flat out from the start and the winning crew covered 753 laps breaking the previous record set in 1986 by 41 laps or 146 miles. The race average speed was 111.6mph, a champion performance by any standards.

 

 

A Champion Porsche

Over the years I have found that seeing old race cars for the first time in ages is a bit like bumping into an old flame or at least I imagine that’s what it might be like.  There is a natural tendency to don the rose tinted spectacles, remember the good times and forget the bad. Racing imitates Life.

A while back I was a guest of Porsche AG at their Leipzig Factory. Like all good hosts they made me feel very welcome and when they showed me up to the museum/display area it was an opportunity to meet up with some old friends, the Dauer 962, the TWR Joest WSC and of course the Champion Porsche 911 GT1 Evo, chassis 005.

The distinctive livery of Dave Maraj’s team is unmistakable, having graced many Porsches and Audis in endurance racing both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in a overall win at Le Mans in 2005 as well as multiple ALMS Championships.

Not only did I get to shoot the 911 but none other than Norbert Singer explained what made this car special.

But back to the 911 GT 1………..where did it come from? What caused this evolution of the iconic 911 to be created?

1992 saw the premeditated destruction of Sportscar World Championship by the FIA under the control of Mosley and Ecclestone. They were determined to promote Formula One at the expense of endurance racing, only Le Mans was strong enough to survive. The final SWC formula of 3.5 litre engines cars and high tech machines proved way too expensive even for manufacturers and there were no cars for privateers to buy, despite a valiant effort from Lola, so the grids dwindled to single figures. There were projects from Konrad, Brun and BRM but they were too little, too late.

The impulse to race long distances as opposed to sprints still existed and, as ever, where there is a will there is a way. To the rescue came ‘Three Musketeers’ in the form of Stéphane Ratel, Patrick Peter and Jürgen Barth and they launched the BPR Series in 1994, having dabbled with GT Racing in the previous seasons. BPR was firmly aimed at the gentleman driver as opposed to factories, providing 4 hour GT races with 911s and Venturis as the staple diet on track, with the spice being provided by a Ferrari F40.

Barth, an ex Le Mans winner, was Manager of the Customer Competitions Department at Porsche, Peter was a well respected race promoter and Ratel was an executive/investor in the Venturi project.

In 1995 the BPR expanded in both numbers and importance with the début of the McLaren F1 GTR. Of course the arrival of the Woking super-car made the 911 somewhat second class even in the fearsome GT2 spec. A BiTurbo variant was explored but in reality there was no way that a 911 was going to get on terms with a F1 GTR with its carbon fibre chassis, mid-engined layout and central driving position. Finishing down the order is not what Porsche or their customers had come to expect, so as the saying goes “Something must be done”.

The solution was to create their own mid-engine racer, which had as much in it in design terms from the 962 as the 911, no matter what was said at the time. The front unibody and windscreen (derived from the current model 911 and taken from the production line) was attached to a steel sub-frame and behind that was a 3.6 litre twin turbo engine.

In reality the 911 was a proper racing car but in order to get the car homologated as a GT car a road going version had to be produced. This completely undermined the principles that BPR had hitherto been run on, ie. take a real road going GT and adapt it for the track, not homologate a racing car for the road. It would prove the undoing of a very fine race series.

Initially the plan was to run the car at the 1996 Le Mans with outright victory the aim. However the opposition was not just the slower GT cars such as the McLarens and F40s but also prototypes such as the Ferrari 333 SP and the TWR Joest Porsche WSC95.

The latter would prove to be too well run, too fuel efficient and too fast for the Werks GT. So the 911 GT1 had to settle second and third overall, triumphant though in the GT class.

After La Sarthe the fun and games really started. Porsche stepped up the pressure on the BPR to allow the 911 GT1 to race in BPR, Jürgen Barth’s position was somewhat compromised with his dual roles and conflicted loyalties. The existing teams, still reeling from the drubbing they had received in France, were adamant that the 911 should stay away, it was not eligible they argued and was outside the spirit of the regulations.

As a temporary solution, and in order to not destroy the 1996 title race, eventually the Porsche was allowed to start but would not be able to score points. At the first race after the decision held at Brands Hatch, Stuck and Boutsen drove away from the opposition as if in a different class, a feat that they repeated at Spa a few weeks later. It was a Sunday drive in the country with both pilots barely breaking into a sweat.

The atmosphere in the paddock grew increasingly rancorous and poisonous, a split was on the way. The BPR would lose Patrick Peter and mutate into the 1997 FIA GT Championship under the guidance of Messrs Ratel and Barth, where it flourished till 2009. There is an old saying warning those who desire something strongly to beware of getting what you wish for and Porsche Motorsport got that in spades for 1997.

From the outside the 1997 FIA GT Championship was fantastic, factory supported GT racing featuring super-cars cars from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Lotus, Chrysler and Panoz. But there was a rotten core to all this, in theory a road car was to be built as the foundation for homologation of the race version but the time limit for presenting the road car to the FIA was eventually set at December some months after the Championship was decided. BMW were outraged at the advantage handed to their rivals from Stuttgart just as the season got underway.

As to Porsche they did not fare so well, with the regulations on engine power favouring normally aspirated entries, and despite a development to an Evo specification (at a significant upgrade cost!) they were not really competitive with the Schnitzer McLaren BMWs or the AMG Mercedes squad. Furthermore they had sold 8 cars to privateers who also found that they were bog slow, and having spent a small fortune, collectively they were not happy bunnies.

So as ever Porsche looked to victory at Le Mans to rescue their season, a win in the French Classic covers a multitude of sins. The main opposition was again the prototype Ferrari 333 SPs and the TWR Joest Porsche plus a trio of Nissan R390s run by TWR. The tactics of the 1996 winners had been taken into account by the Werks, now the 911 GT1 had the speed and the fuel economy to handle the Joest car, did it have the reliability? The simple answer was no. Bob Wollek hit the barriers at Arnage with 8 hours to go while comfortably leading his team mate and the rest of the pack, a driveshaft failure caused the disaster. Some 6 hours later Ralf Kelleners was in cruise mode heading for the Chequered Flag when cresting Les Hunadières Hump swarf in the oil cooler caused a failure and the car went up in flames, leaving the way clear for a second Joest win. Incroyable!

The disaster of 1997 led to the development of the 911 GT1 98 for the following year. Initial reliability issues handed the AMG Mercedes team the first two races and thereafter with the introduction of the CLK LM it was a clean sweep for Stuttgart in the FIA GT Championship. At Le Mans however the reverse was the case. Against the strongest opposition (BMW, Mercedes. Toyota and Nissan factory efforts) Porsche triumphed………..who remembers the ’98 FIA GT Championship now?

The old 911 GT1s were stuffed into barns or sold across the Atlantic. In North America for 1998 there were a multitude of series and races sanctioned by SCCA, USRRC and PSC that the 911 GT1 appeared to be eligible to race in. And this how I first encountered the Champion car, at the 1998 Daytona 24 Hours.

At that race there were two other 911 GT1s, an Evo entered by Jochen Rohr and a old spec car for Larbre Compétition. Late rule changes (imagine that at Daytona!) imposed on the GT1 class, and aimed at the Panoz GT effort, effectively excluded them from a real shot at overall victory. Politically it was expedient for a prototype to be the car driving into Victory Lane at the Daytona International Speedway and certainly not one of Doctor Don’s cars.

Despite there being three Ferrari 333 SPs and a brace of Dyson Riley & Scott Fords, all of whom had much greater pace than the Porsches, the GT1 nearly snatched victory in the time honoured tortoise/hare mode.

Late in the race suspension problems for the Moretti Ferrari 333 SP caused a few missed heartbeats but repairs were completed in time for the Italian to take a very popular win. Second place was the reward for the Rohr Motorsport outfit with their 5 driver (?) team of Allan McNish, Danny Sullivan, Jörg Muller, Dirk Muller and Uwe Alzen who finished 36 laps up on the Larbre 911 back in third. The Champion car retired with overheating issues – very un-Porsche like.

My next encounter with the Champion car was at the inaugural Petit Le Mans held at Road Atlanta in the fall of 1998. This race was to be the overture for the American Le Mans Series, which was so successful till 2013. The day-glow car was outclassed by the more modern GT1 cars such as the factory GT1 98 and the Panoz GTs but at the finish the old girl was still there up on the podium with a third overall and another class win. It had not fallen apart or flown unlike its more modern rivals.

And that might have been that, but Dave Maraj’s car reappeared at Sebring in 1999 to challenge for the GT class of the ALMS, except that the 911 GT1 Evo was judged to be a prototype and forced to compete with the BMWs, Audis and Panoz in the top class. So despite having Thierry Boutsen, Bob Wollek and Dirk Muller to steer the beast there really was no hope of a decent result, a fourth place was as good as it got in 1999.

1999 was the first season of the ALMS and like many Europeans I flew back and forth across the Atlantic as the races had a strong European element to them, the series was always been cosmopolitan by American standards.

Sears Point, Portland, Laguna Seca, Las Vegas – the circuits rolled on and on, the air travel getting less and less “Jet Set” as I clocked the miles clocked up but still #38 would be present in its dayglo warpaint. Even Allan McNish could not drag the Champion 911 on to the podium, it was time for retirement.

Except that it wasn’t, #005 reappeared at the 2001 Rolex 24 run by my old mate, Kevin Jeannette. His underrated son, Gunnar was lead driver, supported by Wayne Jackson, Mike Brockman and Paul Newman, yes THE Paul Newman. An oil leak forced the old girl into retirement and somehow she was shipped back to the factory for me to encounter some years later.

The Porsche 911 GT1 has come to symbolise a wild era in endurance racing, when the factories slipped the leash of the regulations to create some of the greatest Gran Turismos ever built. I am grateful to have been a witness to this period of excess.

John Brooks, January 2017

 

Ferrari at the Castle

A late summer day spent at Blenheim Palace for Salon Privé was followed 24 hours later by a grey autumnal day, also in the company of fantastic cars, this time the venue was Windsor Castle. The reason for this was attending the 2016 Concours of Elegance, repeating its visit to Berkshire back in 2012. Using my Ferrari test what was the level of the show?

 

In a word, sublime. This Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione aka Daytona is typical of the rare and authentic gathering of Maranello’s finest seen in the Upper Ward. Chassis 16425 was the final Competition Daytona to built, car number five in 1973 and number fifteen overall. Jacques Swaters was the customer and, as was his tradition, his Ferrari was painted in a distinctive yellow or Giallo Fly.

The Daytona raced in two major international events in ’73, Spa 1000Kms, finishing 12th overall in the hands of Teddy Pilette and Richard Bond. A month later Bond shared a run to 20th place in the Le Mans 24 Hours with Jean-Claude Andruet.

The Daytona made its way across the English Channel where it has resided ever since, running in national events, usually with Mike Salmon driving. It is believed to be the only unrestored Competizione Daytona and is almost completely the same as it was leaving the factory.

Not all the 60 cars on display were completely unfamiliar to me, this unique Ferrari Testarossa Spider was built for none other than Gianni Agnelli, the President of Fiat, on the occasion of his 20th anniversary at the helm of the Italian industrial empire.

Indeed I had encountered this special car back in February at the Rétromobile and wrote about at the TIME

The Testarossa Spider was by no means the only car that was specially made for Agnelli by Ferrari. In 1955 he commissioned this famous Ferrari 375 America that made its first appearance at the Turin Show. The nose resembled a Facel Vega, the A-pillar is tilted forward, there are fins on the rear deck and a transparent panel in the roof.

Add in a red-green paint job and you have a striking car that attracts admiration when seen in person.

Almost as rare as the Testarossa Spider is this beast, the 288 GTO Evoluzione, dating from 1986. Just six of these fearsome contraptions were built by Michelotto in anticipation of the FIA Group B regulations being applied to the tracks as well as the forests. My previous POST gives a fuller account of why the FIA cancelled their own regulations leaving the Porsche 961 and the 288 GTO Evoluzione with nowhere to play, though the Porsche did make two appearances at Le Mans in ’96 and ’97.

Actually, according to Joe Sackey, the MAN when it comes to the 288 GTO, Ferrari dropped the 288 from the Evolution model so it should be referred to as GTO Evoluzione but hardly anyone pays attention to that.

The figures for the GTO Evoluzione are staggering considering what the opposition were doing at that point 30 years ago. Power of 650bhp meant accelerating 0-60mph in just 4 seconds and a top speed of 229.9mph was quoted, Mamma Mia!

Perhaps the most important role that the GTO Evoluzione played was in acting as a test mule for the F40 that would be launched the following year. To see one of these elusive wonders of the Maranello World in the flesh is truly impressive.

There are few cars that have an entire book dedicated to them, much less by a historian as respected as Doug Nye, but Ferrari 250 GT SWB, chassis #2119, is one of such a select group. The Ferrari was delivered to Rob Walker and Dick Wilkins in mid-1960 and Stirling Moss was scheduled to drive it at the Goodwood Tourist Trophy in August. This despite not being fully recovered from his serious injuries sustained in the Belgian Grand Prix two months earlier. Moss ignored the pain and put on a fantastic show to crush the opposition, with the performance passing into legend as Moss turned on the car’s radio to hear the BBC commentary on his race.

In an earlier book about the Ferrari 250 GT SWB, Nye found that Moss was really enthusiastic about the car. “It was quite surprising how good it was – a really comfortable Grand Touring car; with good brakes, a super engine and crisp gearbox, and unusual in that it would not lift its inside rear wheel despite that old-fashioned live axle……. quiet difficult to fault, in fact.”

Moss took two further victories that season and #2119 was sold on to Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour who scored another three wins in 1961, with promising new-boy and future Ferrari Grand Prix driver, Mike Parkes, behind the wheel.

Several well-known owners followed for the Ferrari such as Neil Corner and Sir Antony Bamford till in 2014 #2119 was acquired by Ross Brawn, the legendary engineer who was an integral part of the successes of the Schumacher era at Ferrari. Subsequently Brawn ran a team under his own name and won the Formula One World Championships in 2009. Brawn GP was then purchased by Mercedes-Benz and has formed the foundation for their tremendously successful team that currently dominates F1.

For Brawn #2119 is a dream come true. “When #2119 came up for sale I decided it was such a unique car that I had have it as well; I had to muster everything I could to buy it. To me it’s as aesthetically perfect as you can get for a sports racing car of that era. The historical connection means a lot to me because when I drive it I think of Stirling.”

The Ferrari 250 GTO succeeded the SWB as Ferrari’s GT standard bearer and has now become the most valuable and desired car in the world. Just 39 examples were built and #3729 was ordered by John Coombs, the Jaguar dealer from Guildford, who was a prominent driver and entrant in the ’50s and ’60s.

The line up of drivers who got behind the wheel in the ’62 to ’64 seasons was pretty special, Graham Hill (in the year that he won his first World Championship) , Roy Salvadori, Richie Ginther, Mike Parkes and Jack Sears. A second place in the ’62 Goodwood Tourist Trophy, courtesy of Graham Hill, would be the highlight of #3729’s career.

Somewhere along the way #3729 was repainted red but the current owner had the distinctive off-white colour restored recently, and it is much the better for this.

A decade before the GTO, Ferrari were turning out very competitive racers such as this Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale Coupé. It proudly sports number 52 as running under that designation it finished first in the 1953 Coppa InterEuropa held at Monza and driven by the Ferrari agent for Milan, Franco Cornacchia.

A few weeks later #0237EU scored a class win in the Bologna-Raticosa Hillclimb. Subsequently the 212 was sold on to Venezuela and then to the USA, finally returning to Europe in 1986, since then it has become a regular in the historic racing scene.

Ferrari was not just about racing, the line of fast and luxurious Gran Turismos became another thread of the legend of Maranello. The Ferrari 500 Superfast has been compared to the Bugatti Royale and in the Tanner/Nye master-work Ferrari it was described as; “This was the ultimate in front-engined Ferraris for those who like the Rolls-Royce touch with their performance.” 

The 500 Superfast was popular with royalty, The Shah of Iran ordered two, the Aga Khan and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands each had one. Other notable owners that give the Rolls-Royce reference such substance included, Gunter Sachs, Otis Chandler, Barbara Hutton and Peter Sellers. It remains one of the most sought-after Ferraris.

One very special Ferrari that was on display at Windsor Castle is this gorgeous 250 GT SWB California Spider. What makes this example unique is that the first owner from Milan specified it with right-hand drive and it is the only example of the 57 cars built with this configuration. He wanted to race the car and felt that RHD would be the optimal arrangement.  In fact he did compete in just one race, the Trofeo Pacor in ’62, finishing 5th.

Although the California Spider was not intended for competition both the LWB and SWB variants did race at a range of venues including Le Mans, Sebring and Targa Florio as well as club events and hill climbs. The best result for the SWB brigade was 12th overall for Allen Newman, Gaston Andry and Robert Publicker in the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring, widely regarded as the toughest endurance race of them all.

The 250 GT SWB California Spider attracted many owners from the creative arts, in France these included Alain Delon, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot, Johnny Halliday and François Sagan. In the US Bob Hope, James Coburn, Barbara Hershey and Ralph Lauren all have enjoyed the pleasures of driving the California Spider. The jaw-dropping good looks and almost perfect proportions will have appealed to these stars of stage and screen, that and it being a Ferrari.

The Concours of Elegance has passed my Ferrari test with flying colours, the question is what will we find when the circus assembles again at Hampton Court Palace 1-3 September? My advice is to grab a ticket and go along, it is truly one of the great motoring displays.

Finally, on behalf of all who toil at DDC Towers, may I wish our readers a happy and healthy 2017.

John Brooks, January 2017