Here at DDC Towers I get to see thousands and thousands of motor sport photos, almost exclusively they are cars on track. I suppose that’s what we are all focused on, the glamorous bit. So it is unusual to say the least to get an edit that is concerned in the main part with the unsung heroes. Twenty years ago the 12 Hours of Sebring was a hot, dusty affair as it frequently is. Dyson Racing pushed the factory BMW right to the limit with James Weaver finishing less than 20 seconds behind Tom Kristensen after half a day of competition.
James and his team-mates, Butch Leitzinger and Elliot Forbes-Robinson, got to stand on the podium and spray the Champagne and accept the applause. They were keenly aware that the result was built on the hard graft and skills of the Dyson Racing crew, a no Bull outfit. Their story that day was captured for posterity by Brian ‘Doc’ Mitchell and it is fitting that on Sebring race-day 2019 we get to salute a memorable performance.
Malcolm Cracknell was one of the pioneers of sports-car racing media on the internet as the World-Wide-Web was known in those innocent times. SportsCarWorld,TotalMotorSport and finally DailySportsCar were the introduction for most of us to the concept of paperless information in real time rather than on a weekly cycle. I joined Crackers on this journey at the start and now as we head for the winding down laps we spend time looking back as well as forward.
1999 is the target this time round for the Tardis……….
John Brooks and I are quite proficient at nattering away on
the telephone. We call it “living in the
past”, because we always return to discussing racing in a previous era.
For various reasons, I’ve been thinking about 1999
recently. Conveniently that’s two
decades ago, but with the state of my brain, I’ve inevitably forgotten things
that I wish I could remember – so I’ve had to consult the reference books (and
What I do remember is that in late ’98, I was planning a
trip to the season-opening Rolex 24.
Presumably, finances dictated that it was either the Rolex or the
Sebring 12 Hours (in early ’99). I have no idea why I chose the first of the
two endurance classics): perhaps it was simply a desperate desire to escape the
British winter for a few days? I’m
guessing that I hadn’t absorbed how the maiden Petit Le Mans in ‘98 was going
to set the tone for US
endurance racing in years to come. Had I
had any clue, I would have undoubtedly chosen Sebring.
But I certainly didn’t regret going to Florida in January. The first person I met after stumbling into
was Andy Wallace. Oddly, I’d not yet met
Andy: our paths simply hadn’t crossed.
But I was encouraged to find that he knew who I was and that he’d seen
the last news item I’d posted, before dashing to Gatwick. That was an image of the new BMW prototype,
which would make its debut at… Sebring.
Andy and I were both a little perplexed by the BMW’s single, pointed
roll hoop: the governing body was trying to mandate full width roll hoops, but
BMW (and others, subsequently) had presumably found a way round the wording.
I loved Daytona! It
was relatively straightforward to cover the race, live and single-handed, on
the internet – by dashing to the nearby pit-lane every hour or two to grab a
pitstop photograph and, hopefully, a comment from a competitor, then rushing
back to the media center, to pick up the threads of the race.
I was delighted when Dyson Racing took the overall win (AWOL,
Butch Leitzinger and, appropriately, the way the season would evolve, EF-R) –
and also with Brit David Warnock being part of the winning GTS crew in Roock’s
Porsche. This was the event that saw the
debut of the Corvettes, and thanks to a fortuitous bit of timing, I managed to
grab 15 minutes with Doug Fehan, before the track opened. He talked me through the technical aspects of
the car – and immediately planted a soft spot for the Corvettes in my
brain. They weren’t race winners yet,
and anyway, I always liked to see privateers beat the factory cars, which is
just what the Roock Porsche managed.
Years later, James Weaver told me what he thought of the
power output of the (restricted) Ford V8s in the Dyson R&Ss. ‘You can come past the pits (at Daytona) flat
out, take your seat belts off, stand up, turn through 360 degrees, sit down, do
your belts up – and still have time to
brake for Turn 1’, was the essence of his complaint!
170mph+ was nowhere near fast enough for James. He wanted to reach at least 190. My only conversation with James during that Rolex
meeting was a snatched “Stu Hayner has binned it (the #16) at the chicane,” at
some point during the night.
Right, I’m getting near to the point of this piece now: the
1999 ALMS season, and the influence of one (great) man. I’m not about to review the whole ’99 season:
I’m just going to refer to Sebring, the Road Atlanta sprint race and the finale
at Las Vegas.
I think I’ve already told you that I finally ‘discovered’
youtube last year: I moved house, had to buy a new TV decoder thing, and really
by accident, found that I could watch youtube on the TV (I can’t look at a
laptop for any length of time, because of my illness). And there on youtube are highlights of all
the ALMS races! Brilliant!
Sebring in ’99 was clearly an epic event, and I should have
been there. A huge crowd, a fantastic
entry (58 cars) – including van de Poele / Enge / Saelens in that gorgeous
Rafanelli R&S Judd, a car that Eric vdP described somewhere (at the time)
as, paraphrasing here, ‘the best car I ever drove’.
The admirable Belgian leapt into the lead at the start, and
kept the BMWs at bay for 11 laps, before pitting with a misfire (it eventually
retired after 185 laps). BMW tried to
‘shoot themselves in the foot’, which enabled the EF-R / Leitzinger Dyson
R&S to stay in touch with the surviving factory entry of Lehto / Kristensen
/ Muller – which set up a great finale, with Weaver plonked in the R&S to
try and chase down TK. He came up short
by about 17 seconds at the flag. Great
Audi finished third and fifth with their original R8s – and
a year later, the ultimate R8 would transform prototype racing. Porsches took the GTS and GT classes – as
Corvette Racing continued to develop the C-5Rs.
I’ve no recollection of how (as it was then)
sportscarworld.co.uk covered that Sebring race, but for the Road Atlanta event
in April, the site had the benefit of Philip XXXX’s reporting skills. Alas, I can’t remember Philip’s surname, even
though we have since been in touch on Facebook.
How frustrating! Sorry
Philip. But what a classic race you saw
Andy Wallace led from the start for Dyson (the BMWs were
absent as they prepared to win Le Mans),
but was called in during the first caution period, which turned out to be the
wrong move. vdP and David Brabham (this was the debut of the mighty Panoz
roadster) started well back, after some kind of ‘qualifying times withdrawn’
nonsense – and while the Panoz was a handful during its first run ever on full
tanks, the Rafanelli entry was going like a dream. vdP picked his way through virtually the
whole field and took the lead, which set up a conclusion in which partner Mimmo
Schiattarella saw off Didier Theys in the Doran Lista Ferrari, to win by 25
The V12 Ferraris seemed handicapped by their restrictors in
’99, in ways that the V10 Judd-powered R&S wasn’t. The commentators (rather unfairly) suggested
that the V10 might fail in that last stint – but it was as simple as an
over-filled oil tank blowing out the excess.
I wonder if Dyson Racing ever considered converting their
cars to Judd power? Kevin Doran eventually
did just that with his 333 Ferrari, creating the famous ‘Fudd’.
EF-R / Leitzinger finished third, as their points tally grew
steadily, while Don’s LMP Roadster S finished a fine fifth on its debut.
The Schumacher and Snow Porsches had a great race in GTS
(the former just winning), while PTG won GT – with none other than Johannes van
Overbeek partnering Brian Cunningham. Is
Johannes the longest serving driver in the series?
Don’s series. That
was a sad day, back in September last year, when we learned that Don had passed
away. The greatest benefactor that any
series has ever had? Did he ever get
annoyed if his cars didn’t win? To my
knowledge, he never did. He genuinely
seemed to simply love a great event, his event, attended by huge numbers of
I know how much he loved it when the orange, Lawrence
Tomlinson, Panoz Esperante won its class at Le Mans: when his bellowing (prototype) monsters
beat the Audis, he was clearly thrilled – but he didn’t seem to demand race
wins, the way others might.
My Don Panoz story came a few years later, in the spring of 2004. For the full story, you’ll have to wait until my book is launched (I think enough years have elapsed for the tale to be told), but in essence, Don was grateful for a story that I didn’t write. Don and Scott Atherton approached me in the Monza press room (it was the ELMS race), and Don expressed his personal thanks to me. I was touched!
Incidentally, I’m hoping the book will be launched at Brands Hatch on May 25. Anyone who reads this is invited to attend – and I’m sure you’ll announce it on DDC nearer the time, once it’s confirmed. Thanks in advance for that!
Right, back to 1999.
Don’s cars took a 1-2 at Mosport (Tom Kjos had taken over reporting
duties – and what a great job he did over the years), won again at Portland,
lucked into the win at the second Petit Le Mans (that man Wallace joined
regulars Brabham and Bernard), lost out at Laguna Seca – and all the while,
EF-R had been racking up the points.
The proposed San Diego race
didn’t happen, replaced by a fanless Las
Vegas – and I was determined to be there. With the help of Brooksie, Kerry Morse and
Cort Wagner, the trip was on.
The TV highlights of that race don’t match my memories in
one, significant respect… Having qualified eighth and ninth, the Dyson entries
experienced very different fortunes.
AWOL and Butch in #20 were out after just 22 laps with gearbox trouble,
but James was EF-R’s ‘wingman’ in #16.
In the opening exchanges, my memory is James really going for it – but
the highlights on youtube don’t really show that. I can still picture the Riley & Scott on
a charge, its driver all ‘elbows out’ as he battled to give Elliott a chance of
the title later on. Jean-Marc Gounon was
almost as boisterous in the DAMS Lola: it was fantastic entertainment.
But #16 then suffered with a fuel pressure problem, and it
looked as though the Panoz drivers (B & B) would be title winners – until
their engine failed with 17 laps left. BMW finished 1-2, but EF-R limped home
sixth and he was the drivers’ champion.
I surprised James Weaver by appearing in the pit-lane
wearing his old, ’96, BPR
Gulf overalls (lent to me
by Kerry Morse – I’ve no idea how he got hold of them).
“You’re wearing my overalls!” said an otherwise speechless
Oh, the Rafanelli R&S was first retirement,
unfortunately, with overheating. Was it
the right move to park that car and race a Lola in 2000?
Cort Wagner was the champ in GT, while Olivier Beretta took
the honours in GTS, in an ORECA Viper, a car that I haven’t mentioned in this
tale (Le Mans
was the initial priority). Wagner and
Muller won their class at Las Vegas,
with the red and white Vipers 1-2 in GTS.
My last thought here is connected to youtube, again. Something I’ve been getting interested in is
the whole 9/11 thing. I’m not going to
ram my thoughts down your throat – but I would like to suggest that you look up
Rebekah Roth, Christopher Bollyn, Barbara Honegger and / or Richard Gage, and
listen to some of their views on what really happened in September 2001. The more you find out, the more extraordinary
that tale becomes. If you find that lot
interesting, you might also consider looking up ‘Operation Mockingbird’.
Now, I’ve got to go and look up my favourite ALMS race on
youtube: Laguna Seca in 2005. I think
that was the one when John Hindhaugh ‘did his nut’ when the overall leaders
came up to lap the scrapping Corvettes and Aston Martins. Great memories (or just plain “living in the
The last visit to the territory of NoRight was for the first American Le Mans Series round of 2001. Arriving from the wintery UK and expecting a repeat of the sweltering heat previously encountered in September I got a shock. The conditions in Texas during March were more Donington than Dallas, damp, cold and grey.
The series had lost the Vipers of ORECA, the BMW V12 LMR had retired and Schnitzer now had M3s to join PTG in the fight with the Porsches for the GT class. Overall the numbers were down, 34 entries had participated at Las Vegas, here in Texas four months later that was reduced to 22. Certainly the grid was not helped by the competition at Grand-Am who had 35 cars turn up at Homestead the same weekend. A big incentive was not having to take on the Audis or the Panoz, Dyson Racing could bring along the Riley & Scott to win, that would have been unthinkable in Texas. The vastness of the Texas Motor Speedway and the reduced car count gave a feeling that the ALMS was somehow losing momentum, in danger, perhaps, of stalling.
On a positive note Champion Racing had acquired an R8 to give the Joest pair a run for their money, though they would take some time to get up to speed, including drivers who could take full advantage of the Audi’s potential performance.
Perhaps most importantly, at least it seemed that way at the time, there was a new Panoz, the LMP07. In addition Doctor Don put his hand into his pocket and ran a pair of the old LMP1 cars to pad out the field at the sharp end.
One thing that was familiar was the lack of a crowd and the lack of decent locations or backgrounds to execute my art…………..even the light deserted me until the race started.
I do recall a few things about the second ALMS race at Texas Motor Speedway. The Australian Grand Prix was also running that Saturday evening after the track action had finished, time zones are a wonderful thing. So we all got in our rental cars and drove 50 miles (all journeys in Dallas are 50 miles or more, it’s the Law) to a sports bar where the Grand Prix was being televised. I had just acquired my first digital camera; it was powerful Juju back then, the ability to see your work instantaneously, no waiting for the film processors to do their work. Instant gratification, how very 21st Century?
I was sitting with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto watching another dull Schumacher/Ferrari procession when I piped up.
“Dindo, did you damage the car today, during Qualifying?”
“What do you mean, damage?” said the completely innocent Italian, butter would not melt, his eyes showing the hurt he just endured when such an outrageous suggestion had been aired.
“When you hit the chicane and scattered the poles”
“No, no that was not me”
“Well, how do you explain this?”
I flicked the back of the camera to show cart wheeling poles from the chicane that Dindo had driven over. It was a magic show, that Michele had been keenly observing as Dindo squirmed, his mistake now public.
Michele seized the moment, grabbed the camera and got all the Audi crew to see the evidence of his friend’s indiscretion. I recall it cost Dindo a round of drinks. From that point on Michele and I got on like a house on fire.
Another new car making its début in Texas was the Callaway C-12 R, it was a handsome beast even if the results never reflected the potential.
In real terms the race was largely settled before it began, the Pirro/Biela R8 had its pole position time disallowed as their Audi’s rear diffuser was 2mm higher than the rules allowed, so they would start at the back of the field. Dindo Capello led away at the Green Flag, he was joined in the Audi for 2001 by Tom Kristensen as Allan McNish had jumped ship to Toyota in preparation for their 2002 Formula One campaign.
Most cars start slowly and develop but the LMP07 went the other way. The race at Texas was the only time that it looked like a winner, a late race stop for fuel denying a début win for Brabham and Magnussen, thereafter it was a dog. The team dropped the car after Le Mans, reverting to the trusty LMP1, a decision justified with victories at Portland and Mid-Ohio.
Kelly Collins had a massive crash in the factory Corvette after a puncture, he was lucky to walk away after the heavy impact. The guys at Pratt & Miller faced some sleepless nights to get a new car built up for Sebring less than a fortnight later.
GT was the property of Alex Job Racing with the paring of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen overcoming the BMW challenge.
Tom Kristensen brought his R8 home for yet another Audi 1-2 and the Panoz was third. Once more the crowds stayed away in droves missing another good battle and a tight finish. Plans to run again at Charlotte late in 2001 were quietly dropped and that was the end of the Roval experiment. And yet the ALMS had not finished with stadiums as we shall see in Part Four.
What went wrong? Why did ‘Takin’ It to the Streets’ not work? I can offer some thoughts………….
Simply that sportscar races held on these hybrid tracks were artificial, driven by TV and marketing demographics, planned by those who had little feel for what they were doing. We would all show up with the “Hey another day at the office attitude” and none of the anticipation that the mention of Le Mans or Nordschleife or Spa brings. Sportscar fans are usually amongst the sharper knives in the block and even the dumber ones could sense that this was ersatz racing, endurance lite and avoided it like the plague. If the real fans did not care why should casual spectators spend their time and money?
This failure and the failure of street events such as Miami and Washington (for different reasons) pose a question. Is there a future for sportscars given the need to increase attendances to get greater coverage, to get more sponsorship $$$, to get greater coverage? Or should we just give up and admit that F1 and NASCAR have sucked the life out of the sport below their Augean stables? Perhaps the answer lies with a different question. Instead of chasing new markets should we not just consolidate our existing strengths and concentrate on improving the show……….sort of “Build it and they will come” philosophy?
Blonds Have More Fun
Well the numbers that attend Le Mans and the other classics attest to the popularity of the endurance form of racing……sometimes. There are many who would no more stop breathing than fail to turn up at their favourite event be it La Sarthe or Sebring; these folks would no more go to a Grand Prix or Daytona 500 than fly to the moon. Some of the more extreme cases plot their trips throughout the year and there are many websites run by the fans for the fans. Even the absence of a historical lineage is no obstacle to success as the instant classic status of Petit Le Mans proves.
Maybe that is it, in this age of hundreds of cable channels, the internet and all day drinking hours, for us to get off our backsides and go to a race meeting without the incentive of making a buck, requires that the venue/event has a sense of occasion, a promise of a place in history ……….most of us Sartheophiles reference our personal index of the years by the who-what-why of 24 hours between 3.00 pm on two days in June. I suspect the same is true of the guys on Sebring’s Turn 10, even for the most part, like the 60’s, if you can remember it you weren’t there.
Our fables are not of dragons and wizards but of Ickx in 1969 or 1977 or Andretti in 1970 or of Pedro and Seppi just about all the time. In an age when almost everything is pyrite to find the genuine article is exciting and precious, so seeing a McNish or a Lotterer on a charge is the real deal but only given the right setting.
It would seem that the best hope for the healthy future is to learn from the past, successes as well as failures and go for fewer “classic” events at the remaining few real tracks. Quality over quantity……..F1 and NASCAR are on the opposite course, so that’s proof enough for me.
LMES…….this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
John Brooks December 2004
Excuse some of those conclusions, hindsight is a wonderful thing or a complete embarrassment. The answer would appear to be the FIA World Endurance Championship……………..
Another shot from the McNish era, this time from 2010 Petit Le Mans, vainly chasing the Peugeot pair a lap ahead up the road. Why? Dindo Capello made an unexpected pit stop after a slow lap because his balaclava slipped over his eyes while behind the wheel. That was one excuse I had not heard before, it happened when a piece of protective foam within the helmet became detached as I recall. Races are won and lost on such tiny margins.
Continuing my look back at the fabulous Ferrari 333SP, here back in 1999 Max Angelelli blasts around the wide open spaces of Las Vegas Motor Speedway in one of a pair of Doyle-Risi Racing cars. It was the team’s last appearance in the ALMS with the open topped Ferrari, which was struggling to keep pace with the Panoz and BMW prototypes. Seventh and eighth places for the team was about all they could expect.
The Sage of Charlotte is back, considering the the 911’s early years and the dilemmas faced by those crafting the rules for the USCR.
When Porsche’s 911 made its public debut at Frankfurt’s 1963 Auto Show its promise as the foundation for a new era in the economic fortunes of Zuffenhausen were obvious. Less obvious though was its motorsport future, for while the era of Ferdinand Piech would not arrive for another two years, the factory’s engineers were already gearing up for a new generation of sports racing prototypes; an effort that precluded the necessary transformation of the new six-cylinder coupé into a serious GT racer.
Not until 1969, and after the aborted lightweight 911R program had been consigned to the dustbin, did Porsche start the at first slow progression of making the 911 into the dominant player it would become in the production-based side of the sport. The delay in the acknowledgement of the 911’s competition potential centered around two words, “mission statements.”
Arguably, in the latter part of the 1960’s the mission statement for Zuffenhausen’s motorsport program focused on developing and building ever better prototypes that would transform the company from a supporting role on the sports car scene into its headlining star, and with it Piech to the overall industry leader he has become today as the chairman of Volkswagen AG.
Indeed, the 911 played little or no role in the Piech’s ego-centric universe because fundamentally he had virtually nothing to do with its conception. Put another way, it wasn’t his “baby,” and in those days he had little interest in other people’s offspring. For him, his mission statement was one of self aggrandizement. So while he pursued his own objectives, the 911 languished in motorsport hell; not released from its purgatory until Ernst Fuhrmann took the company’s reigns in the beginning of the 1970s, when, as its new President, he pushed the prototypes aside for the firm’s long neglected marketplace best seller.
On its 50th birthday year, the story of finding a mission motorsport statement for 911 resonates in the upcoming debut of the NASCAR-owned United Sports Car road course tour that will open its doors with the Daytona 24 Hours next winter. Created from the amalgamation of the Grand Am Rolex and American Le Mans Series championships, their new replacement has, as yet, to release its details of its technical regulations, even though testing is little more than three months away as this is being written.The problem, like that of the 911 is in defining its “mission statement.”
For the Grand-Am’s Rolex tour, even though everybody on the NASCAR side will deny it, the mission statement was pretty clear: coral the pool of “gentleman” drivers so necessary to the success of any North American road racing series in order to put the ALMS out of business. Given that essentially the NASCAR folks bought out the Don-Panoz title chase, it was a strategy that worked. But now, having “won the war,” what does NASCAR do with the peace? More specifically, what does it do with the Rolex Daytona Prototypes?
Given the hundreds of millions it takes to field a headlining sports racer these days, the Grand-Am emasculated their prototypes in terms of the technology, thus cutting cost to the point where the rich gentlemen participants could come and play without worrying about their financial security. Ironically this approach has since its 2003 introduction produced some of the best, closest racing in the sport’s history. On the other hand, it has drawn little more than collective yawns from its audience base: the world inhabited by sports car enthusiasts.
Collectively, unlike their stock car counterparts, they prefer high technology overt tight, equalized competition, and so far, to a huge extent, they have eschewed the Grand Am and the Rolex series. Up to now, their lack of enthusiasm has not been that much of a problem, given that the ultimate Rolex consumers weren’t the fans, but the participants. Now, however, if new championship is to prosper, the mission statement will have to be refocused on the techno savvy audience which up to now the NASCAR camp has ignored.
In light of the fact that NASCAR wants to keep the Daytona Prototypes as the foundation for its top ranked category, there are some hard, but simple choices to be made. Do those behind the new championship dumb down the performance potential of the present LM P2 prototypes and possibly of the Le Mans GTE production contingent scheduled to race next year far enough so as not to overshadow the DP community? Or, do they bring the DP’s performance up to a level where they’re not embarrassed by those surrounding them on the grid?
The first will please the “rich kid” gene pool, the second will satisfy United Sports Car Racing’s larger, and perhaps more necessary, audience base. At this point the time to make the decisions is growing ever smaller. And, while someone is going to be disappointed, there will be chaos and true disappointment if something isn’t do soon. In the end, like the case of the 911, it’s all about the necessity for mission statements.
Sebring and its warm weather seems but a distant memory as the Ice Age gets a rerun here in England. One of the positives that could be drawn from the Floridian Endurance Classic was the arrival of the BMW Z4 GTE into the already hyper competitive GTE class. Whatever the future brings, the North American sportscar fans are going be treated to the spectacle of BMW taking on Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche and Viper for the rest of the season. This could well be a contender for the best racing on the planet this year, enjoy it while you can and celebrate the American Le Mans Series for all it has given us along the way.
Sounding like a basic MS-DOS command AutoExe (remember that nightmare?) is actually a Japanese tuning company marketing after sales performance parts for Mazdas. So what? The interesting bit is that it is owned and run by Yojiro Terada, a proper Le Mans’ Legend. Why so? Well he has 29 participations in the world’s greatest race to his credit, only Bob Wollek and Henri Pescarolo can beat this score.
Appropriately he was also in Sebring back in 1999 for the opening round of the American Le Mans Series. He brought his Autoexe LMP99 Ford, a relabeled Riley & Scott MKlll to be part of the support cast to the werks efforts. Who could ignore the Rising Sun livery? As I said Terada-san is a proper Le Mans’ Legend, may we have many more of them.
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.